Horror Writers Association

MHI: THE BARRETTE by Douglas Gwilym


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.

by Douglas Gwilym

I suffer from social anxiety. You might not know it, because I’m lit up by performance. I love presenting my stories in public, singing and playing bass in bands. But I did not always have a handle on playing to a crowd. Overcoming stage fright is a process, and it happens by degrees. But I have a good friend to thank for the one breakthrough I won’t forget.
Way back when I was working on my MA, I was in a stressy place. I was at a job 30 hours a week as a background investigator for airlines and nuclear facilities, had a graduate assistantship and a full course load, and was playing in two bands. One of those bands got the chance to be in an old-fashioned “battle” with cash prizes and studio time if you won.
Instead of just having fun, I convinced myself it was a big deal. An opportunity I couldn’t miss. My chance. When I do that—when we do that—it’s like dipping our toes in quicksand. Oooh—feels good. Might as well try standing up in the stuff, right?
So I spent weeks working myself into a frenzy. Moments before the show was to begin, I showed my buddy Chloe my hands. They were “shaking like milk,” if you know your Cure references.
She said, “You can do this,” and stuck her hand in my hair. Snapped a bright pink barrette there she’d apparently stolen from a first-grader.
I took a deep breath. Found myself grinning. Got up and played.
Sometimes something simple or stupid can help you break through. Friends are a good place to look for the kindness you need, and for a reminder that it’s not such a big deal. Not so big you should forget to have fun, anyway.

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