Monday, November 3, 2014

NaNoWriMo and PTSD

Let me start by saying, I promise every post in November will not be about NaNoWriMo, and I doubt I'll be sharing much, if any, of that writing in this space.

I wrote almost 1400 words on Saturday (11/1) and was surprised at how quickly I began to struggle with PTSD symptoms -- shaking hands, racing heart, roiling stomach. It's difficult to want to write things out, but still be so overcome with emotions while doing it. Unfortunately it also makes me question how "healed" I truly am. I think there is still a part of me that believes I will get to the point where talking about it (or writing) will not induce any emotional response -- that is how I will I know I have arrived at healing. Not very realistic. 

So the question becomes "How do I write it out without suffering from it?" I pulled out my journal from the beginning of therapy Saturday night to check some details and dates. As I began to read I was drawn into denigrating myself from that time. I shook it off and reminded myself to think kindly on this person, as I would for anyone else with a traumatic story to share. When I set the pages aside, I realized I had no idea what time or day it was. That is how quickly I fell back into the old coping mechanisms.

I reached out for help. I posted a query on the help thread at NaNoWriMo --

Okay I'm new to this whole thing. I am writing a novel/memoir based on healing from childhood sexual abuse. I REALLY want to do this, but already this morning I'm getting hit with dizziness, upset stomach, and mild panic from just beginning to write about specific episodes.
I have been blogging about this topic for 5 years, and I really want to create something more lasting that will get my story out and hopefully help others.
Here's my question: How do I pace myself and know when to take a break? I know I need to write around 1700 words a day to complete this thing. So do I break it up in smaller timed sessions and just walk away when the timer rings, or do I just keep writing even when the PTSD symptoms start to kick in?
Any insights would be greatly appreciated.
And these are the responses I got --
"Agh, I can't answer your questions.  But I'm suffering from the same thing, although very much milder.  So just wanted to give you a hug."
"My sympathies for your situation.  :'(  
I'm not sure what to offer, but I think the MOST important thing is that your mental health > NaNoWriMo. Maybe you'll be better off writing something like this over a longer period of time so it doesn't inflict too much. Remember, NaNoWriMo is just a self challenge, and if it becomes too distressing to force yourself to do it, you aren't under any obligation to carry on. 
Other than that, take breaks, and make sure you always put yourself as a priority. Maybe, if writing one scene is painful, you could switch to writing a lighter & more positive scene if you still want to make up that word count."
"Normally I'd not message someone in a generalized place like this site, but...  
Considering I just had to take a full dose of xanax (I prefer half) and beta blocker to get a ptsd episode under control by an accidental triggering (got to love random conversation just triggering ya out of no where, hmmm?), I can thoroughly relate to your comment about not knowing if ptsd/bouts would wreck your NaNo efforts.
Of course the good news is I got some caring responses. Comments that validated the same things I had been thinking. Give myself some grace. This is ultimately for my benefit, so I can set whatever rules and guidelines work in my particular case. 
Yesterday I talked with Alan about it, and he used those exact words -- Give yourself grace. He also reminded me that the writing didn't need to be primarily about the episodes of abuse. It's not a recounting of horrors, but rather about how I became who I am in spite of the abuse. He also "gave me permission" to stop and change subjects at any point. There is no need to stay with a particular arc if I need a break, but that doesn't mean I have to stop writing. Just switch gears.
Yesterday I took the day off -- one of the recommendations from other writers. Today I am setting up a way to establish a routine for getting the requisite time in to accomplish this goal. I need about 2 hours a day of writing time to get in my 1700 words a day. What I'm realizing is that for the sections specifically about the abuse, that time will need to be broken up into much smaller portions, maybe 5 to 10 minutes. But that's okay, because it's my story, my method.
I keep coming back to that Anne Lamott quote --

And that keeps me going.


  1. Man, that's a big undertaking. I wish you the best in your efforts to get the story out. And I agree, give yourself grace and take care of yourself. =)

  2. Wow, I'm impressed that you're attempting NaNoWriMo, and even more impressed that you're tackling such a difficult subject. I agree with your husband, though. Give yourself grace. The story will come out eventually.


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