My unconventional journey to living my dream.
I am a writer. It’s an uncomfortable sentence for me to say when I’m asked what I do for a living. Part of me still can’t believe it’s true, much less trying to convince other people. This is the career I’ve dreamed of having since I was eight years old. Believe me, I never imagined this would happen, especially not to me.
The truth is that I’m a high-school dropout. I only attended through eleventh grade, when my mother told me to turn in all my school books and get a job. It wasn’t completely her fault I dropped out. I’d been skipping classes every day due to my extreme anxiety. Trying to hide and control it was exhausting, and my solution was not to show up at all. Those were in the days before Prozac, back when nobody admitted to anxiety or depression. I barely understood it myself.
The only class I missed after I left was English. I loved reading books and writing essays, and I regularly received A’s on my work. Anything that had to do with words was interesting to me ever since I was a young girl. It wasn’t something I told my peers about, just in case they thought I was uncool, but reading books was more worthwhile to me than going to keg parties and school events.
After I dropped out, I made my first attempts at writing poetry. I wrote about my ex-boyfriends, my childhood, and the way I saw the world at age seventeen. I married young at only twenty years old, and my writing went by the wayside as I learned how to become a wife. Instead, I started a career in medical transcription. I spent five days a week typing what the doctors said and not writing anything of my own.
Medical transcriptionist would be my job title for the next twenty years. For most of that time, I didn’t write a single word of my own because I already spent hours on end typing on my computer for other people. My husband and I got divorced after sixteen years, and I married somebody else who turned out to be extremely abusive. He was a master manipulator and gaslighter, and I barely got out of the marriage with my mind intact. I was constantly anxious and walking on eggshells, and when my new husband brought drugs into the mix, I didn’t say no.
I spent nearly a decade wasted and numb. During that time, I couldn’t even sit still to read a book, much less write one. When I finally got away from the relationship, I entered the AA program and began to work the twelve steps. One of the steps involved writing down the people, places, and things that had influenced my life. Doing that helped me to start healing from the trauma, but it also got me in the habit of writing every day.
It seemed like once I started writing again, I never stopped. I didn’t want to just complete the step in AA but wanted to tell my story as well. I’d been through a several-year ordeal with my ex because I didn’t have the strength to go elsewhere. It made me think of other abused women who believed the lies their husbands told them. I wanted them to know that a way out was possible. Because I’d been through it, I wondered if I could write something like a road map to help others get out of toxic relationships.
I began working on a memoir that would eventually become, “When I Was Lost: A Mother’s Struggle With Bipolar Disorder.” At first, some of the stories were too difficult to tell. I remembered everything that happened but still found it traumatic. I’d sit in my chair with my knees shaking when it came time to actually write. Sometimes I’d have to run out of the room, but I always forced myself to go back. I suspected something great would come from writing everything down. Maybe I’d finally be able to heal.
In the meantime, I started taking a writer’s class in my city. Everybody would bring a few pages they had written and read it to the other members, who would then critique their writing. I spent the first five weeks observing everything and barely saying a word. What did I know about critiquing anybody on what they’d written? My impostor syndrome reared its ugly head every time I attended. When I was invited to share my writing with the group, I was so nervous I almost threw up, but to my surprise, the response was positive.
That writing class helped give me confidence when it was previously at zero. If I could hold my own with a bunch of real authors, maybe I was on to something. A man once asked me after class where I went to school to learn how to write. He was surprised when I told him I was a dropout, and then he said my work was good enough to be in an actual book.
“You have a gift,” he told me, making me blush wildly.
Later, I thought about what the man said. I didn’t really feel gifted. I just knew I loved to write more than anything. Then again, whenever I wrote, it never quite felt like it was me writing it. I’d end up in one of those “flow states” people talk about, and when I came out of it, there was writing on the page. It’s the same feeling as when you’re reading a book and you “fall” into its pages. You no longer see the things around you because you’re immersed in the world of the book. That’s what writing felt like.
When my memoir was about halfway finished, I decided to try my hand at blogging. Medium turned out to be the perfect place. The idea that I could write anything I wanted anytime I wanted amazed me. There was even a payment involved, but that wasn’t my main concern. I began to tell my stories in the articles I wrote and tried to connect with people. Even though writing honestly left my personal life exposed, I thought it was worth it if a reader out there could relate to what I’d been through. Despite the many mistakes I’ve made in my life, I always wrote my heart on my sleeve and told the truth, and it turned out people appreciated it.
My memoir came out in 2019, and I’m proud of it. Not only that, it really did help me heal from a terrible time in my life. Once I looked at everything objectively, I could see where I went wrong and the things I did right. It felt like a huge weight off my shoulders. I’m in the middle of writing my second memoir about growing up in a family that suffered from alcoholism and mental illness. It’s slow going, but it’s enjoyable to write, and I feel fortunate to be able to do it.
I don’t think you have to be an English major to be a writer. Having some books handy on punctuation and grammar helps, but the rest boils down to what’s already inside all of us. For me, writing is like an itch to be scratched, and I hope I always love it the way I do now. It helps to trust the voice inside you. There’s a certain amount of bravery that happens when you write honestly from your heart. Your readers will know it, too.
Sometimes writing is an extra struggle because I suffer from bipolar disorder. There are days when I’m too depressed to write and other days when I write two articles at once. I’ve learned to work around my moods and get extra writing done when I feel stable. That way, when writing is too hard, I can let myself take it easy for a day or two.
I’m not happy that I dropped out of high school all those years ago, but I’m thrilled with the path my life has taken. Being a writer is my dream come true and something I never expected to happen. As I said, it’s still hard to say those words sometimes. Still, I’m grateful every day that I have a chance to express myself through the gift of writing. Sometimes our wishes do come true.