With October 1-7 marking Mental Illness Awareness Week, I would like to take the opportunity to share some research I cultivated over the 11 months it took to write my English Honors Thesis at Austin College. The focus of my project was on trauma theory and how creative outlets can be used to cope with trauma in order to resume a functional life.
As I garnered from the studies of Feminist Psychoanalyst Judith Herman in “Trauma and Recovery,” traumatic events are not noteworthy for their rarity of occurrence, since trauma is a shockingly prevalent aspect of human existence. The extraordinary element of trauma instead lies in its devastation of normal life adaptations. The nature of trauma is complex, with traumatic memories often lacking the context and structure of simple recollection, barricading survivors from familiar means of expression.
In order for survivors of trauma to begin the mending process, they must first acknowledge and mourn their loss, rather than attempt to suffocate what they fear. Writers utilize expressive writing as a healthy way to access, vent and overcome their repressed pain. Additionally, just as the person undergoing analysis develops an understanding that enables them to ease the original trauma, both the writer and reader of a conflict or trauma centered text can achieve heightened recognition and healing through textual reconstruction of a traumatic event. By putting their story into concrete words, survivors of trauma are able to reclaim control of their lives and share this realization with readers.
Herman underlines that it is essential for survivors to discover meaning through their traumatic experience that transcends personal tragedy. She claims that trauma can be redeemed through finding a survivor’s mission. This concept refers to the ability for survivors to allow their stories to impact the lives of others to enact beneficial change and understanding. A story—when released to the world—becomes greater than the individual, allowing the survivor to be comforted by the knowledge that their voice has the capability of being heard. The survivor is able to truly gain agency and restoration through the act of textual transference, a process that occurs through narrative exchange.
I encourage people to share their experiences with mental illness and trauma in order to achieve peace and help eliminate shame associated with mental suffering. Additionally, we need to be compassionate and understanding of our fellow human beings, because minds have different ways of coping with and realizing life and all of its complexities.
Though creative therapies can be “curative,” there is not necessarily a cure for mental illness. However this is merely a realistic and in no way a despairing remark. Some of the most innovative and creative minds have been tainted by some kind of mental ailment or trauma. Suffering from a mental illness does not take away from any individual. Human life is incredibly fragile and susceptible to fracture, but the body knows how to endure, and the mind has the ability to come back from even extreme desolation.
Show your support for those who are suffering from mental ailments. Start the conversation in your community so that step by step, we can break down the stigma shrouding mental illness. And if you are suffering from a mental illness, try not to despair.
As William Styron quotes at the end of the magnificent “Darkness Visible,” “And so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars.”
Another memorable line, one attributed to Winston Churchill, is, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
No matter what your boulder to roll up the hill every day happens to be, you are exceptional; you are infrangible. There is awareness and peace to be found in your reality, even if you have to resume the struggle each morning.
Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know.