After I published Waiting for You in September, I started working on a sequel to it, Forget Me Not, a Women’s Fiction story that focuses on Kylie’s life as a journalist. I really haven’t gotten much on it — a measly 17,000 words — and have hit a slump with it. I had written a rough outline, but still can’t seem to jumpstart my creativity with it.
For quite some time, I’d been toying with the idea of stepping out of my comfort genres of Romance and Women’s Fiction and dipping my toes into the waters of murder mysteries and Suspense. These are actually some of my favorite genres to read. For some reason, though, I just can’t seem to come up with any solid ideas. I have zero experience writing crime (although I do watch plenty of Criminal Minds and CSI, thanks to my husband).
Instead, I’ve decided (maybe!) on something else — a memoir about my life with bipolar disorder, psychiatric hospitals, and being a shock therapy patient.
I had immediately thought, “Well, I already know off the top of my head about two memoirs that already exist for mental illness. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison and A Memoir of Madness by William Styron. Why should I bother?”
I’ve read Jamison’s memoir of bipolar disorder. Believe me, it’s a superb book. She’s highly regarded as an expert in mental health. I highly recommend An Unquiet Mind. I actually gave it to my husband to read, long before we were married. He has pages marked and dog-eared for passages that helped him understand my illness. I’ve never read Styron’s book, so I can’t really comment on it.
But perhaps I can offer a new perspective as a shock therapy patient. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know the first thing about writing a memoir. I tried to do a bit of research, then just decided to start writing. I’m still undecided if it’s something I’ll ever actually complete, but it’s becoming a nice little break from writing fiction. Mind you, it’s just a first draft, but here is a little of what I’ve written:
“I wanted to teach high school Spanish. Ever since I began studying a state-required foreign language in seventh grade, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
The beeping of the electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram, both diligently displaying my liveliness in unwavering solidarity, have become so commonplace to my ears. Sensory adaptation, I think they call it, is when your body ceases to notice stimuli, minutiae things like the smell of your own perfume or the feeling of your clothes on your skin, because it is no longer deemed a threat to your wellbeing. I’m no longer overwhelmed by the number of nurses and doctors standing around me, all towering over me while I lie perfectly still on the gurney, as they quickly apply electrodes to my head, behind my ears, my chest, my side, even the top of my right foot with surprising ease and familiarity, like they’ve done it thousands of times before. I don’t even flinch when the nurse sticks me with a needle to set up my intravenous line, or when I feel the familiar burn of the anesthesia rushing its way up the veins in my arm and to my heart, where the fist-sized organ pumps the medicine to the rest of my body until, like flicking off a light switch, I’m asleep.
You see, I am a shock therapy patient. Electroconvulsive therapy is the proper term for getting your brain electrocuted, but I won’t get into the semantics of it. As I sit here writing this, I am already gearing myself up for my twenty-fifth treatment, which will be in a week-and-a-half’s time. I guzzle more water and cut back on my superfluous coffee consumption, all in hopes of only having to be stuck once for my IV. My veins are small (and I think they have an affinity for hiding from the impending sting), and for at least one third of my previous twenty-four treatments, the nurses have had a difficult time sticking me. Both my hands and the inside of my right wrist are dotted with faint scars from the IV needles. I am naturally pale and I scar easily, so it’s to be expected.
When the treatment is over and done, five to ten minutes at most, I wake up in the recovery room. Waking up from anesthesia is a bizarre feeling; it’s like stumbling through groggy darkness, and you think, “No! Can I please sleep just a little bit longer? I’m still so tired.” Your entire body feels heavier than an immovable, giant rock, and you wish you could just lie there forever without being disturbed. But then the recovery room nurse bustles over to start waking you up, and you do so grudgingly while she takes your blood pressure and removes the IV. Then she puts you in a wheelchair while your family member pulls the car up to the front of the building, and you are wheeled out and sent on your way. That, at least, is how my outpatient treatments go.
I suppose I should go back in time, back about twelve years ago to my sophomore year of high school, long before I ever knew that one day I would be an electroconvulsive therapy patient.”
What are your thoughts on stepping out of your genre comfort zone? Have you ever tried writing something totally different?