This Writing Journey

Dr. Fuckwit

Whenever I run workshops on writing memoir, biography, and that sort of thing, I instruct participants to keep us mired in the moment.

That means if they’re writing about an experience when they were a twelve-year-old, then all I want to see, all I want to know, is what the narrator saw and knew as that twelve-year-old. Keep the narrative as if it’s unfolding then and there. Don’t let the present-day self butt in with present-day wisdom, opinions, or reflection. That punctures the suspension of disbelief.

I also always say (and stress this also in fiction workshops I run) that unless there’s a justification for it, keep events chronological. It’s confusing when narrative bounces around unless there’s a reason for it to be haphazard. There are plenty of stories I’ve read that ping pong structurally which would work so much better if they were just linear.

Anyway, I am massively going to break my own rules.

I look back at that scared, confused, vulnerable nineteen-year-old sitting in that psychiatrist’s office, listening to that psychiatrist asking him if he heard voices, telling him that writing was a gateway to losing touch with reality, and predicting that nineteen-year-old was heading for a nervous breakdown, and I get angry.

So angry.

I’ll be 54 this year. In the intervening years, I’ve battled anxiety, depression, OCD, depersonalization, agoraphobia, and other mental health issues, on and off. Sometimes it’s been catastrophic, other times it’s been a fight, and sometimes it’s been easier.

When I went through severe anxiety again as a twenty-five-year-old, that first psychiatrist’s concerns, a man I’ll call Dr. Fuckwit, were so rooted in my head, in every bit of me, as not only dangers, but likely outcomes.

I asked a new psychiatrist if I was heading for a nervous breakdown. He laughed dismissively, and told me what I was going through was common – it was called “Panic Disorder”.

I asked him if I’d hear voices – he said I wouldn’t. He said hearing voices was a symptom of a psychosis, while what I had was a neurosis. He told me they had a saying in the psychiatric community:

Neurotics build castles in their heads.

Psychotics live in them.

It wasn’t until I was thirty-five and doing a lot of reading about OCD that I learned that all these repetitive intrusive thoughts I endured – fearing I was losing touch with reality, fearing I might become violent, feeling uncomfortable around knives, saying something inappropriate, among other things – were common to OCD. I’d always thought OCD was repetitive physical behaviours. I never knew they also caused these bizarre, disturbing intrusive thoughts.

Of course, Dr. Fuckwit diagnosed them as symptoms of a possible psychosis.

About five years after seeing him at PANCH, I was back at that hospital for something else. Halfway through my conversation with the consulting doctor, he exclaimed, “You’re not schizophrenic!” I told him, no, I was not, and asked why he thought that was a possibility. He said it was written in my file that I might be.

That was Dr. Fuckwit’s handiwork.

Knowing what I do now, if I could go back in time I would sue that prick for malpractice. To load up a scared kid with potential diagnoses that were so blatantly wrong, to then later overload me with meds (he simultaneously prescribed me an antidepressant, a sedative, and the sleeping tablet Rohypnol), destructively prejudiced the next twenty years of my life when it came to mental health.

And telling me to quit writing, that it was unhealthy for me, was about the worst thing he could say.

Through my life, the only time I’ve felt any peacefulness, any contentment, any focus, is when I write. Nothing else. Meds, meditation, most relationships, have never come close.

Maybe that shows I’m an antisocial loon, but this is me, and nowadays I don’t feel a need to apologize for that.

I could be like the worst writer in the world, writing gibberish, and it wouldn’t matter, because the exercise itself is what makes me feel complete and like I have some purpose.

In that time I quit writing after Dr. Fuckwit’s directive, I felt nothing but emptiness and purposelessness, waking up every morning to meander through the day, until I could go to bed and find nothing to look forward to the next day.



Often, people who don’t write don’t get it – this pursuit of some abstract with no guaranteed reward at the end. Plenty of writers, plenty of artists, make little-to-no money, but keep chasing the dream. The eventual epiphany is always that it’s not about the material reward, but the journey, and how it makes the writer feel.

Without it, there’s nothing.

Less than nothing, because all that exists is this vacuum that nothing can fill.

That surely isn’t the way any doctor should make you feel.