MHI: WRITING HORROR WITH PTSD…AND THERAPY WITH STEPHEN KING’S IT
*The following post contains this writer’s individual experiences and opinions. This post should not be interpreted as mental health diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact your nearest mental health center or local emergency services.
Written by Brooklyn Ann
Disclaimer: What I am sharing is my personal experience in what is working for me when it comes to my mental health issues. Everybody’s experiences and issues are different, and what works for me won’t necessarily work on everyone. I am not endorsing any specific methods or treatments. But I do hope that sharing my story will help someone.
Hi, I’m Brooklyn Ann. I’ve been a published author for ten years and I’ve suffered from severe PTSD for most of my life. However, I was misdiagnosed until the year after my mom passed away and I decided that I should get help with my agoraphobia since I started having a lot of trouble leaving the house. I ended up finally finding a good therapist and she got my correct diagnosis. With therapy and the right medication, I started doing better and was then able to land my first book deal. Full disclosure: although my first love has been horror, ever since the first time I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street at age 2, I was a… ::gasp:: romance writer.
I still found ways to sneak in my love for horror, like having a gothic horror writer as a heroine in my debut novel, and having the hero and heroine’s names combined pay homage to Vincent Price in a different book, a scene paying homage to The Yellow Wallpaper in another, and so on. Another thing I’ve often done was feature characters who had PTSD.
Then I was able to go a step further with my love of horror, in writing a horror romance series. The B Mine series, books that followed 80s B movie plots, but with a Final Couple instead of a Final Girl. These were so much fun to write. They were so cheesy, but so fulfilling. The final book, Her Halloween Party, even managed to scare some readers. It made me think that maybe I was finally ready to write the straight-up scary coming-of-age horror novel that had been haunting my imagination for many years. My agent was on board too, despite primarily representing romance and fantasy.
But then, around 2019, I had a relapse with my PTSD that got worse and worse, which made me write slower and slower, which of course made me feel worse, adding severe depression to the mix. I’m ashamed to say I got almost nowhere with writing my horror book, in spite of my excitement to write it.
I dragged my feet about going back to therapy because it took MONTHS for that good one to go through my trauma timeline and I couldn’t find the good one at the time. I didn’t want to go over all that old stuff with a new person. Those of you who’ve seen more than one therapist in your lifetime know how exhausting it is to start over from square one and rehash all that stuff. I don’t want to talk about my old traumas. I have new traumas to talk about!
Then, back in January, I miraculously found and reconnected with that good therapist who helped me back in 2010! I’d originally planned on having her help me stop what I call “buffering,” which is when I sit at the computer frozen like a webpage that can’t load. Those of you who’ve been there know how demoralizing it is and how hard it is to get going.
And while my therapist is helping me get out of that frozen state and back on track with my writing, she came up with an idea that’s helping even more with my horror novel. Her idea was to read a book together that I find inspiring, so we’re reading IT by Stephen King. I’ve read this book 13 times and counting.
It’s perfect strategy because now I’m looking at the actual construction of the story from a writer’s POV and seeing WHY I like it, and what I can take from that and apply it to my writing. Things such as establishing the setting as a character. I still think IT is the best novel to date that has done that. I also love the way the characters’ strengths and weaknesses are established, and how foreshadowing is used.
Another reason why my therapist’s plan turned out even better than planned is that she’s a trauma clinician, and IT is about childhood trauma, and so is my novel. She is not a horror fan, but she is loving this book and the deep themes it explores.
Finally, I figured out a big reason why I kept holding off on writing my own coming-of-age horror novel. Aside from the nature of the story, I’m setting this book in the time period when I was the same age as my characters, and they live in a town much like the one I grew up in. So, writing certain scenes is bringing back a lot of my old traumas. I really should have seen that coming, but sometimes it’s hard to spot the obvious when you’re so close to a situation.
If not for my weekly sessions and having someone to talk to about these old traumas, they probably would have gotten too much into my head and put me in a bad mental space, thus preventing me from being able to keep writing. Even knowing that I’ll have someone to talk to each week is enough for me to power through those scenes without freezing up. So far, anyway.
Speaking of freezing up, another thing my therapist and I have been working on is me forgiving myself for unproductive days. I was delayed on finishing this piece because a death in the family and the flu set me back for two weeks. Setbacks like this tend to make me panic and blame myself more, which results in me spiraling into further states of freezing up and unable to do anything. But now I’m learning how to break through that, shrug off the self-recrimination, and get back to work. I’m also working on not withdrawing when I’m stuck and feel bad, and instead reaching out, not only to my therapist, but to my crit partner, friends, and even a little bit to my readers in the sense that instead of not sending out a newsletter or posting on social media and keeping myself isolated until I feel well enough to put on my cheery online persona, I’m trying to still update anyway and open up a little bit more. And what do you know? When I hear back from those readers, I feel better and am more inspired to keep writing.
Back to IT, my therapist sometimes asks how I feel about certain scenes that she thinks could be triggering for me, due to her knowing my history. I explain that seeing a character experiencing a similar trauma makes me feel less alone. I hope to do the same in my writing.
Another interesting thing she said was that most of her PTSD clients are horror fans. She’d proposed that maybe it’s therapeutic for us to face our fears in a controlled way. Since I watch and read horror more for fun than to be scared, I’m not sure if that’s my motive, however, given what I’d said about wanting readers who’ve suffered trauma to feel less alone, that could be why I write horror. That, and it’s fun!
I would love to hear from my fellow horror writers with PTSD about why you love horror. And are your reasons for enjoying watching or reading horror different from why you like to write in the genre?
I would also love to hear how PTSD impacts your writing and what strategies you use for difficult scenes or getting through bad spots where you’re too frozen up to do anything.
*To read Brooklyn Ann’s personal review of It by Stephen King, and a second essay by L.E. Daniels, please check out the HWA list of Notable Works: https://horror.org/reviews-it-by-stephen-king/
For other Notable Works visit: https://horror.org/category/notableworksreviews/
The HWA Mental Health Initiative Charter is here: https://horror.org/mental-health-initiative-charter/
About the Author: Formerly an auto-mechanic, Brooklyn Ann thrives on writing romance, urban fantasy, and horror novels featuring unconventional heroines and heroes who adore them. Author of historical paranormal romance in her critically acclaimed “Scandals with Bite” series, urban fantasy in the cult favorite, “Brides of Prophecy” novels, rockstar romance in the award-winning, “Hearts of Metal” series, and horror in the “B Mine” series, horror romances riffing on the 1970s and 1980s B horror movies that feature a Final Couple instead of a Final Girl.
She lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho with her gamer son, rockstar/IT Guy boyfriend, three cats, a few project cars, an extensive book collection, and miscellaneous horror memorabilia.
She can be found online at https://brooklynannauthor.com as well as on Twitter, Facebook, Mastodon, and Instagram.