How Do You Write Through Life’s Chaos?

by Jami Gold on February 7, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Shattered mirror

I didn’t want to write this post.  I wanted to be stronger.  I wanted to be professional.  I wanted to hold this pain inside and not let my vulnerability show.

If I can’t handle life’s combination of good and bad events without shattering, how will I survive the huge swings between excitement and disappointment involved with being an author?

However, it had already been a month of emotional extremes for me, what with my grandmother’s death followed by a request from Pitch Your Shorts.  At least those events were spread out by more than a week.

Now double the size of that emotional rollercoaster hill and add a third traumatic event and squish it all into 5 days, and you’ll have an idea of what last week was like for me.

I tried to pretend that everything was normal, that I was okay.  I reposted an old blog last Tuesday, a funny one no less.  I responded to comments with good humor.  I concentrated on last Wednesday’s good news for Thursday’s post, but those who were on Twitter Thursday evening started seeing the cracks.

I posted a tweet:

“Apologies to all I haven’t thanked for RTs this week. I had *another* death in the family on Monday, and this week has been brutal.”

Replies poured in with sympathy, more than I can acknowledge here without adding several paragraphs to this post.  Even then I tried turning it around and focusing on the good news of how Rachel Graves and I had our workshop accepted for the National Conference of Romance Writers of America.

After that, I thought I could soldier through in silence.  I was wrong.  And now I’m here, unable to pretend any longer.

Last Monday, a close friend died after rapid decline over a 48-hour period.  She had been there for me—for decades.  When I was away from my support system for the first time after college.  When I escaped from an abusive relationship.  When I landed on the West Coast with no family or friends within two thousand miles.

She was also there with me when my life turned around.  When I found happiness.  When I finally had a family of my own.  When I started writing.

Yes, she was a cat.  I know some of you are rolling your eyes now, and I don’t blame you.  I know some of you are dealing with the aftereffects of car accidents, friends or family members with cancer, a sick parent, and so forth, and I don’t mean to belittle anyone else’s pain here.

However, my cat was a member of my family.  Not in a shallow, carry-her-around-like-a-baby way, but in a she-was-there-for-me-when-no-one-else-was way.

And she didn’t just die.  I had to make the decision to have the vet put her to sleep after it became obvious nerve damage would prevent her from ever walking, or even standing again.  Combined with her other serious health issues, I logically know it was time, but having to make that decision still tortures me when I stop to think about it.  I killed her.

I cradled her in my arms, where she snuggled close and purred while I failed to protect her from the needle heralding her death.  I died a bit inside that day, and I’ll never quite be the same.

Those emotions left me on shaky ground for the rest of the week.  Last Wednesday’s good news about the RWA workshop gave me something else to think about, but it also meant I didn’t have time to process the bad or celebrate the good.

Then on Friday, major financial bad news hit my family.  I fell to pieces.  It didn’t matter that I know we’ll figure out a way to be okay.  That things will probably work out for the best.  That I have faith things happen for a reason.  The extreme down-up-down of the week was beyond my ability to hold inside.

So here I am, trying to find a way to keep going, to keep writing, to keep myself together by pouring my emotions into this blog post.  I doubt I’ll even post it.  It’s too personal, too much an invasion of my privacy, too…revealing of my weaknesses.

Then again, maybe I will post it.  Maybe the message is that just when we think life is too crazy for us to write, maybe that’s the exact time we should be writing.

We all know writing can be therapeutic.  Some of us try to deny how much of ourselves and our issues end up on the page.  Some of us do a better job at twisting the truth so it’s not “us” anymore.  Some of us write such edgy content that we don’t want people to think about our state of mind while they read.

But sometimes we might need to embrace that therapeutic aspect.  Maybe it’s better to write for therapy than to not write at all, withdrawing into an empty shell.  And maybe the ultimate truth is that writing—all kinds of writing—can help us be better writers.

When you’re dealing with emotional events, do you withdraw from writing or does it make you want to write more?  Are you able to write under those circumstances?  Has writing helped you deal with situations?  What else keeps you going when you’re facing chaos or trauma?

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Serena Yung April 2, 2015 at 11:29 pm

Oh my I can’t believe I never read this post! I’m sorry to hear about this, Jami. 🙁 But I don’t at all think it’s silly to grieve for the loss of a cat. I unfortunately don’t have a pet, but I can see how they can be close or even best friends who are with us through thick and thin. There’s that expression “a dog is a man’s best friend”. Well, I believe that can apply to cats as well. Animals are wonderful!

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Jami Gold April 3, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Hi Serena,

Thank you! Since this post, we’ve rescued Raven, who’s entertaining us all. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

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Serena Yung April 4, 2015 at 8:10 pm

Yay Raven!! 😀 She’s so cute! ^^

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Varina Suellen Plonski July 27, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Jami,
Sorry this is such a long post.
Yes, I know this is years later for you. Still, it’s relevant to your readers no matter when they find this post. I know exactly how you felt then, and how you feel now: losing a long-time friend is bad enough; having to make the decision that takes them from you is almost too cruel to bear. I have had to make that call too many times, but at least I have always been able to be there for them at the end.
This past January, a friend of mine (human) had a health problem that put her in a rehab facility for physical therapy. She was there for only three days when she had a massive stroke and died — in the middle of a conversation with me. We had been friends for nearly 40 years. I still do not know how to feel about it; she had many health issues, she was generally coping with them but sometimes her depression took her down. The best I can say is that it was quick. She looked up and said, “Oh, no!” And then she was gone. But she had known I was there, and she always knew I was there for her. This is a good thing. But I didn’t — and don’t — know how to grieve for her. I miss her every day, because every day there is another thing I want to share with her, but she’s not there.
In the past decade I have had a plethora of bad things happen to me. My mother died; I had a house fire that put me out of my home for 11 months; my house flooded two months after I got back in; my father’s health and mental health declined to the point that his apartment building required us to move him, and in the process he broke his hip, which put him in a nursing home until he died as well. I lost my job after 15 years with the company, and 5 years later I am still unemployed and have no income at all. I had two car accidents, and almost died myself of pulmonary emboli — blood clots in my lungs. It’s been non-stop for over 10 years.
While I was out of my house after the fire, one of my cats got pregnant. She had only one kitten, fortunately. But the kitten, which I named Ankhet (Egyptian for Life) became a symbol of rebirth for me, having literally been born out of the ashes. You see, all 5 of my cats had been in the house during the fire, and all 5 of them survived with no injuries or other problems.
Ankhet was thus the “baby” of the family. So when she went into kidney failure a few weeks after my friend’s death and I had to make that call to let her go, I was devastated. Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages of grief notwithstanding, there *is* no way to bargain with that: I didn’t want to let her go, but I could not put her through that pain just because of my selfish wants and needs.
I grieve for her still; I’m crying now.
My point, however, is that writing about them both helps. It helps me cope, and understand, and grieve, and heal. And writing about it helps others, too, as your writing helps me. We see that we all have the same feelings under the skin, that loss hurts but time slowly heals.
I found a pin on Pinterest that has helped me immensely, and I have made it a sort of mantra both for myself and to share with others. It’s about writing, and is exactly on point about writing and loss and pain.
Kim McManus said: “Your heartache is someone else’s hope. If you make it through, somebody else is going to make it through. Tell your story.”
Until I read that pin, I only know I had to write. Now I know WHY I have to write. No matter what we are writing, we are telling our story, and no matter what the story, no matter what the genre, there is something there that is part of the human experience, something that will touch others. No matter what we are writing, there is something there that someone else has been waiting to hear, so that they, too, can find hope and healing.
What you wrote helped me; I hope this helps you somewhat.

Tell your story.

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Jami Gold July 27, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Hi Varina,

Oh my gosh! I am so sorry you had to experience all that. *hugs*

Yes, even though it’s been 2 1/2 years, the tears are never far away. We still miss those who have left us.

Thank you for sharing, and I’m glad if this in some way helped others. That Pinterest quote is perfect. As you said, storytelling of any kind is about connecting with the human experience. And yes, you sharing your story and insights helps me. 🙂 Thank you!

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