C&Q Writers on Mental Health #1: Charlotte Stirling

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One of the first decisions we, as a writers collective, made together was to give the proceeds of our anthologies to charity. As regards our soon-to-be-published first collection, Gifts from the Dark, the money will go to a charity which provides all kinds of support to mentally ill homeless. Why? Because the main theme is dread. It’s only a small step from dread to anxiety, and from there to mental health. And most of us can relate in some way to what it means to be mentally ill, the challenges you face, the prejudice you have to overcome.

One thing that helps, is sharing your experiences. That way, you can allow others to relate, or allow them to see that they’re not alone in their own struggle. That’s one thing we want to do on this blog, starting today with Charlotte Stirling, who’ll talk about postnatal paranoia and how it inspired her to write ‘Flight’, her story for Gifts from the Dark.

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I’m not really a horror writer, I keep telling myself this but actually the themes in all my writing are very dark. It’s odd because I am actually an optimist and quite a sunny character but all my life I’ve battled with mental illness and that is what contributes to the pitchy flavour to my writing. My contribution to the anthology, Gifts from the Dark, is about a woman trying to escape her husband and brother who she is absolutely convinced will separate her from her child.

I wrote ‘Flight’ in hospital, two days after an emergency caesarean when I nearly died. This experience with near-death was terrifying and also completely fascinating. I was currently off many of my psych meds during pregnancy (amitriptyline and lamictal for bi polar) and I think my mind began to implode because of the stress. quote flightI had a baby in the NNU and an eight year old who was distraught at his mother being so ill (he had overheard his parents discussing my health). The paranoia began to take hold pretty quickly.

My husband and brother came up with an idea to take our son to Canada for a little holiday, so I could recover and we could get used to having a newborn. On paper, this was a lovely idea but not one I would have considered even without the paranoia. Having my children around me has always been one of the most healing things I can be granted.

In my paranoid mind, they wanted to section me, take my children and lock me up for an eternity. I could hear whispers in the corridor and obsessed about clandestine phone calls. I called my best friend and asked her to hide us. I started to hide food for the journey and cashed out my credit card at the hospital ATM in secret. Firstly, I knew I had to get the psych team on side and so I requested a meeting.

Can you imagine what it’s like to know you are absolutely off your rocker but incapable of doing anything about it. Can you imagine trying to convince a psych team that you are not in fact, mad? That you know it sounds totally paranoid and ridiculous but you honestly believed your family were going to try to section you.

Can you imagine what it is like to think that you will never see your children again?

I wrote the first part hooked up to a catheter and a drip combining antibiotics and painkillers. I wrote the second part without the catheter but dragging the IVU with me as I limped down to the NNU and my new baby, Georgie.

It was a dark and terrible time and I hope the story reflects that. Thankfully, the reality was different.

But I still wonder sometimes if I would have ever got Teddy back? Because even though it is fiction – there is some reality in there. I never underestimate what people are capable of, particularly family.

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charlotte stirlingCharlotte Stirling divides her time between Germany and Scotland with her husband, two children and a depressed Beagle. Her flash fiction has been published in Literary Orphans, Camroc Press Review and Spelk Fiction. When she isn’t writing or baking cupcakes, she is thinking about writing, reading, designing book covers, gaming or watching dark, blood-splattered dramas like the Walking Dead, Ray Donavon and Sons of Anarchy.

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