Writing Freed Me from the Hospital

by Karis Rogerson

March 2016

In the end, it will be words that save me.

All my life, when I’ve felt darkness hovering over my shoulders, I’ve turned to words to make sense of the confusion. I have folders on my computer chock-full of poems and prose poems I wrote when I was overcome by depression. Somehow the very act of writing seemed to free me from the darkness, even if all I wrote was I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself.

Words have always been an important part of my life. I began reading before I began school, and writing was a natural progression of my fascination with words and obsession with stories.

It’s no surprise then, that in February 2013, words are what brought me out of the darkest time in my life to date.

It was the day before Valentine’s Day, and I’d been living without medication or counselors for nearly a year. I woke up that morning in a funk, and after my first event of the day – chapel, a three-day-a-week requirement at my Christian college – I decided to skip class. Instead of learning about British literature, I wandered to the edge of campus. The Kentucky hills were draped in mist – a cliché made reality.

Words crowded around each other in my brain, a few strong ones eventually coming to the forefront: it’s time to die.

So I took myself to the bathroom and started trying to kill myself.

Fortunately, it didn’t work. Instead of bleeding out on the floor, I walked to the counseling center and asked for help. The counselors, worried that I would try to hurt myself again, sent me to the hospital.

Even three years after my hospitalization, I still get chills when I think about it. It was more like a prison sentence than a hospital stay. There were no computers, no phones, barely any contact with the outside world. My roommate saw things that weren’t there, and tried to steal my clothes. The public area was filled with ready-made cliques who took a while to warm up to me.

I lugged my giant three-volume copy of Lord of the Rings all over the place with me, holding it to my chest like a shield. I was convinced that words were going to get me out of this fix as well.

And they did.

Halfway through my first lunch, I started to feel depression’s fingers pressing all my buttons again. For no good reason, I was on the verge of tears, on the verge of desperation. I pushed my plate aside and all but ran back to my room.

I curled up under my thin sheets and cried, cried, cried. When I ran out of tears, I stared at the wall.

There was a painting hanging right across from my bed. I barely remember what it was of – I think there were leaves and a bridge, and all in all it represented a beautiful, tranquil spot. What I do remember are the words that marched through my brain: I want to go there someday.

That’s all it took to loosen the gears in my mind and get me writing again.

When I first got to the hospital, they gave me a composition notebook and a pencil. Those had been sitting, unused, at the side of my bed. I grabbed them, opened them, and began writing.

First I made a list, all the places I wanted to visit before I died. I wrote about my dreams of traveling, and it dawned on me that I couldn’t do those things if I were dead. I couldn’t go to the Olympics in Russia the next year, or the journalism conference in New York City the next month, if I weren’t alive.

That was the moment I realized I wanted to live.

See, I left the bathroom because I didn’t want to die, but it took another 24 hours for me to realize that I actually wanted to live. It took 24 hours, a pencil, and a piece of paper for me to make that connection.

Once the writing floodgates opened, I kept going. I wrote out all the things I was afraid would happen once I got out – what if I lost my job, or my position on the school newspaper? What if they made me leave college and go back to South Carolina, where I was born?

Panic filtered into the edges of my consciousness once again. Determined not to let it ruin me, I put pencil to paper again and wrote some more.

I wrote down each possibility and my reaction to it. I wrote down what I would do to keep that from happening and how I would convince my parents to let me keep doing what I wanted.

The next day I was released from the hospital. Armed with the words I’d penned and the conviction they’d given me, I convinced my parents, my boss, and my editors to let me keep living life the way I had been before the hospital.

Two and a half years later, I was in another hospital. Once again, I turned to words to solve my problems: this time, I plotted out a novel. That was all it took to get me excited again, to get the blood pumping from my heart to my brain and give me that little kick of motivation that I needed to keep going.

Writing has always been there for me. Whether it was writing a poem about my pain, a long letter to someone who hurt me, a list of reasons to live, or a novel about my experiences, writing has gotten me through some of the darkest chapters of my life. I tell people writing is my soul. It is who I am. It’s saved my life time and again, and I don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.

Karis RogersonComment