Horror Writers Association

MHI: A LIGHT IN THE CHAOS by Christopher Ryan


Trigger Warning: This piece addresses mental health

The HWA is pleased to launch its Mental Health Initiative, a coordinated roll-out of events, resources, and activities intended to promote positive mental health, foster the concept of hope, and challenge the stigma of mental illness in the horror genre. The initiative, run by the organization’s Wellness Committee, launches in June, and includes the following blog posts from Of Horror and Hope, a downloadable anthology of poems, flash fiction, and personal reflections on mental health by HWA members.

Christopher Ryan

We buried my mother on my birthday. I was stern throughout, and for weeks afterwards. Resolute that I had made my peace with all the pain she had visited upon our family. I’ve come to understand that none of it was her fault. She was born with special needs that her generation was not equipped to deal with, specifically borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. My father, the dutiful husband, took her to doctors who prescribed the best solutions medicine had at the time: electroshock therapy (she underwent over 20 treatments) and encouraging my father to “keep her pregnant” because “that would even out her chemistry.”
Not surprisingly, we grew up in a psychologically, verbally, and sometimes physically violent household where nothing ever remained logical or fair or consistent. To escape the screeching anger, I stayed in a small room shared with my brothers and read whatever was on the shelf. That led me to horror novels. At first, I resisted. Why would I want to submit to scares when what was going on outside that fragile door was already a nightmare? But curiosity and a need to escape got the better of me, and those stories showed the nobility of regular people in the face of chaos. Horror helped me get through.
These days mental health is understood in much better detail. There are diagnoses that explain what is happening, and more humane treatments are available, offering a safe port in the maelstrom. Doesn’t mean everyone’s lives are easy; there is still plenty of heartache to go around. But we can be more aware these days. And by offering understanding rather than lashing out or ostracizing, we can help keep most of the horror inside the pages.


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