Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.
Content Note: This essay includes a frank description of depression, suicide, suicide ideation and suicide attempts. Tread with caution.
Fantasy Is Magic: How Fantasy Saved My Life
It’s late afternoon and my mother is telling me to sit down because she has something important to say. My cousin is dead. Suicide. They say it’s always the ones you least expect it of. We certainly never expected it of my shining, beautiful, baby cousin who broke up with his girlfriend so she wouldn’t go through her last year of secondary school as “the girlfriend of the boy who killed himself”. Not the boy who was so popular and well-loved, his pastor livestreamed the funeral because the church was too full. That was several years ago. The church is still too full.
Some days, I wonder what it says about me that I can’t tell whether seeing my family, especially my cousin’s closest kin, makes me happy or sad that I’m still here. If having gone before him, he would have found a way to seek help, to be with my family still. I didn’t know, until the funeral, that I (and he) weren’t the only people in my family to have dealt with suicidal depression. He was the only other person I knew until then, and only because he went through with it.
The first time I almost kill myself, it’s an accident. I was three and sick. The prescription cough medicine was tasty and I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to drink it all. I just thought it was tasty and no child-proof lid was going to keep me away from tastiness. Bananas are now a hard no.
The second time, it’s not an accident. I’m ten, maybe eleven, and my parents have gone out to the store and left me at home on my own. It’s a sunny day and the cherry tree is just the perfect height. You’d think I remember how the skipping rope felt around my neck, but I don’t. All I remember is the feel of the stool against the very edge of my shoe and how it should have tipped over. It didn’t. I couldn’t tell you how, or why, I edged it back. I no longer like skipping ropes as much.
The third time, at seventeen, I know enough to know it isn’t really what I want. Everything about that is a blur, but I remember sitting on my bed, reading and rereading the information about the contraception I’m on, desperate for a line that will tell me this drug can kill you if you take too much at once. It’s not there. I remember the shaking of my body and the utter fear of not knowing what to do. My love of foreign languages and all things linguistics has diminished, but at least suicidal depression didn’t wholly take it from me.
You’d think someone would have noticed and gently steered me to a psychiatrist by then. No one did. Well, not for depression anyway and the psychiatrist I did see as a child spent months observing me, analysing me and sent me home saying I was perfectly well and perfectly fine. Reader, even then I was not.
I don’t remember a day when I wasn’t struggling with depression. To me, in many ways, fantasy was an escape when I was growing up. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved it since I was old enough to understand the fairy tales my mother read to me. I loved it because it was the first and only time my father, who hates reading because he’s dyslectic, took the time to read me a book. Because of that, fantasy has always been magic to me. It’s little surprise, then, that I turned to it when I needed something, anything, to get me through the days.
To the little girl that I was, the fact that the characters were only superficially like me was a blessing. They taught me how to cling on, tenaciously, and never let go. They taught me to keep fighting no matter what the odds because in the end good would prevail. They taught me how to fake being normal, which in hindsight may not have been so great but to the little girl I was, fighting valiantly against a foe she barely even knew existed, it was everything.
Sometimes I wonder what it’d be like if I’d stumbled across a book like Franny Billingsley’s Chime when I was a child or a teenager. If I’d found a character struggling with the same things I did and seen myself before I was an adult. Would it have changed things, to have seen a portrayal of a depressed, self-hating character like Briony that ends on hope rather than death? That ends, not with Briony magically cured of her depression or her depression just a metaphor for something else, but with Briony on the road to recovery, having learned the power of words. It ends on self-affirmation. If it could happen for Briony, could it not happen to me? What would my life had been like had I had that book, or one like it, sooner? Would it have taken what’s kept me going and sent me that one inch further?
The truth is, of course, that I’ll never know what it’d be like today if I had them. I’m grateful I had them when I did. What I do know is that fiction, fantasy fiction, gave me what I needed to keep going even during the times when I’ve struggled on alone. There are a thousand what-ifs I can think of, a hundred but-maybes. So here’s something I know with absolute certainty.
Fantasy saved my life and gave me the tools I needed to save myself. I might not be very good at using them, true, but without them I would be dead.
That’s the power of fiction in a nutshell. And maybe, one day, my work will give that back to someone, do for them what it did for me.
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