I grew up mentally ill.
My Nana tells me that at age nine, she noticed a big change in me. I went from being a chipper kid to being sad and isolated. I don’t know if a specific event triggered it or if it was just prepubescent hormones kicking in. All I know is that’s when my “storms” started.
I’d always been an anxious kid—afraid of getting in trouble. Afraid of a lot of things. But the dark clouds came when I was only a third-grader, still obsessed with princesses and tornadoes.
It runs in both sides of my family—mental illness in different forms: bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders. “A fun mix,” is how I refer to myself now. Autism, ADHD, mental health issues—I inherited some interesting genetics. It’s that “mix” that partly fuels who I am today.
At that young age, when I started to struggle, I also started to write. It started with fanfics of my favorite bands and movies. I had very vivid dreams and poured them out onto page after page. Reading books only satisfied my wandering mind to a certain point, and then I had to piece together a world of my own. In my world, there were princesses and magic and things one could only fathom. In my world, the sun was still shining, even when, in reality, dark clouds hung overhead.
Stories were my escape. They were my comfort blanket, my best friend. Words on a page were more precious to me than toys or my favorite dresses. I collected notebooks like they were priceless jewels—filling them to capacity and begging for more.
I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen (Zaithyr). Based on a dream, it was about an Earthling girl accidentally abducted by aliens, who falls in love with the handsome alien captain. When I wrote it, I was going through a deep state of depression and longed to escape. The main character, Lilly, was a social outcast—the way I felt. She escaped the mundane world for a universe filled with wonders.
Looking back, the novel was largely symbolic of my cry for help. Things felt like they were falling apart. I felt like I was falling apart. At such a young age, most kids are in their prime and enjoying themselves. I was the awkward homeschooled kid with only a few friends.
I wish I could go back in time and hug that little girl and tell her that her stories matter more than she knows; that she matters more than she knows.
Presently, I have a teenage daughter who struggles with mental health. She escapes into her art and the beautiful world of stories she’s created surrounding them. She’s incredibly gifted (also autistic). While we are diligent about getting her the professional help she needs, I also make it a point to support that creative drive.
One of the best things we can do for our children is to be there for them and recognize their abilities. Encourage the things that they are passionate about. Ask about their world. Hold their hand through the storms so that they know they’re not alone. Guide them when the path is unclear.
Being a kid is tough. Being a parent is tough. Sometimes being a writer is tough, especially on days when the words just won’t come out.
I’m still thankful for the words of my past. Those old notebooks got me through some dark days.
And sometimes, we just need people who believe in us when we don’t believe in ourselves.
About the Writer: Heather Carter is a fantasy-romance author who lives in St. Louis, Missouri with her husband, two children, and a very spoiled cat. When not writing, she enjoys creating music and drinking copious amounts of coffee.