Warning right off the bat: this is gonna be personal. Probably uncomfortable. Possibly triggery. If reading about depression is a trigger for you, then I suggest you don’t read.
I promise this won’t be a long, drawn-out post with weird personal details and too many paragraphs to skim. I’ll keep it really short and really sweet.
On we go.
Where it Always Starts: Bullies
Never mind being female in a rural farming community clotted with gender issues. Never mind being a bookworm in place where kids were encouraged to quit school as soon as the law allowed to go back to the farm.
I was also a fat kid. An unathletic fat kid from a pastor’s family. I was a fat, unathletic, SUPER BOOKWORM kid from the local pastor’s family who loved Star Wars but was taught to feel guilt about it, and could not hold normal conversation because on top of everything else, I was homeschooled.
Freak. Fatso. Weirdo. It shouldn’t be a shock that I struggled with depression, loneliness, and social anxiety.
I had no friends my age. I had a few adults who tried to mentor me, and I’m grateful for them, but for me, the real world just wasn’t a good place to be.
That’s where fiction came in.
Fiction gave me an identity worth having.
I took bookworm and made it mine, decided that geek meant smart, and tried with all my heart to transform the sorrow and pain and rejection and mockery and bullying into a badge of honor.
Of course, reading so much isolated me further. I used words the kids around me didn’t know (which made them laugh at me), or I pronounced them wrong (which made the grownups laugh). But I’ll tell you what: I kept reading.
- In books, I could be the stubborn prince battling through monsters (more on prince vs. princess later).
- In books, I could be the strong one. The smart one. The beautiful one.
- In books, I could be the one people listened to instead of the one they hated.
As my understanding grew, fiction grew with me.
- In books, I saw purpose in suffering. When the people I read about suffered, there was a higher cause, and it brought about SUCH GOOD THINGS. When they suffered, there was hope for them in the end, even if they didn’t always see it.
- In books, fighting and trying my best mattered. Even if the protagonist(s) didn’t “win” in the traditional sense, what they did made a difference that stretched beyond their own lives.
- In books, I could still be the ignored/mocked/unpopular/lonely one, but instead of being a cast-off, I was meant for something more. In books, I didn’t even have to be the “star” to play a needed part.
My favorite heroes did not quit even when things seemed hopeless.
Yes, I could see the difference between an exciting life of swords and dragons to my own. I could see that I wasn’t the hero I wanted to be.
In fact, I went through a period of really regretting I hadn’t been born in a book… until I hit my late twenties, and some interesting reality began to dawn on me.Like my fictional heroes, I WAS in a war facing challenges and tyrants and problems – just without swords. Click To Tweet
- There are still dark times.
- There are still challenges that require growth and hard choices.
- Those choices matter.
- There are still failures to overcome, to choose to move beyond instead of being crushed.
- Those failures and victories matter because they aren’t all about me.
- There are still people who betray and people who are faithful, friends who fall behind and friends who walk with to the end.
- All tunnels come to an end.
I realized the reason those books meant so much was because the struggle I saw there reflected real life, and my favorite heroes did not quit even when things seemed hopeless.
Hope in Fiction
I love fiction because it gave me hope in real life.
It’s also one of the reasons I write. I want to be able to give other people the same kind of hope it gave me.
I write so readers can escape for a while, and when they come up for air, things seem a little less bad.
Those books didn’t lie. One way or another, all tunnels have an end.