Today I've got author S. Usher Evans on the blog talking about what writing her science fiction novels taught her about mental health! So please give her a warm welcome; this is such a beautiful and personal post. :)
When one thinks of science fiction, one imagines spaceships, gruff characters surviving the harshest conditions, and lots of faster-than-light zipping across the galaxy. Identity crises and learning to love oneself aren't usually at the top of people's lists. Even less so - using a science fiction book to heal emotionally and conquer one's fears. But that's exactly what happened when I self-published my first novel, Double Life.
At the end of 2013, I was in a pretty dark place, and finally decided to seek therapy to help me deal with the war in my head. In the first session, I mentioned how I seemed to have two completely different people living in my head. The first, Whit (my real name), was an intense, marathon-running, dog-rescuing, home-remodeling consultant who had aspirations of executive leadership. The other was a dramatic, creative, fearless (and utterly shameless) author whom I gave the moniker Suni (as in Sunny; Sun's Golden Ray was my first screen name way back when).
The "girls" as I call them, never really got along. So, obviously, the therapist suggested that I consider embracing both halves of myself. In that spirit, I created a Facebook page and told everyone I was releasing a book. Although there are many in the ol' "mind palace," I opted to revise and publish Double Life, the first book in a science fiction series. I chose this story as it was the most complete, not knowing that it was almost a perfect allegory to my own impending dual-identity crisis.
In the book, my main character, Lyssa, is living two distinct lives. She very much would like to be a space pirate bounty hunter, but, being a female, is not allowed to play with the men. To pay the bills, she's stuck in her old life, struggling with a side of herself that is reviled by everyone, including her own family. I never actually saw the parallels between her journey and my own, until I was doing final revisions at the end of the book.
Lyssa travels to a fantastical place between heaven and hell. This netherworld was a plot device to help my wayward main character come to terms with herself, smashing together the two halves of her so she could accept both of them equally. She reflects on the hatred of Lyssa and how many people have abandoned her, and realizes that she, too, has abandoned herself. In fact, she's been the worst offender.
When I wrote that paragraph, it elicited an emotional response so deep I felt it in my soul.
As I sat there, stunned at my own words, I realized that I, too, was guilty of abandoning myself. I had put aside writing and creative pursuits because I was afraid what others would say, afraid of being myself, afraid of being broke, afraid it would result in some catastrophe that I would never recover from. Everything I was doing with my life - even running the marathons - I was doing because I was afraid. But I wasn't going to be afraid anymore (There were a lot of "Let it Go" solos in my car for a few months).
Two and a half years later, I've written nine books and published seven of them. But the biggest change I've seen in myself is my own happiness. Life is not perfect, I am still anxious and have periods of depression. But just as Lyssa learns both halves of her double life can work harmoniously together, Whit and Suni have banded together to rationally (and irrationally, when needed) work through whatever life throws my way. I have stopped letting fear dictate my every thought, finding peace in chaos, courage in the face of the unknown, and confidence that I'm doing what I'm meant to be doing.
I think that the more fantastical the setting, the more truthful the confessions. Science fiction takes readers to the deepest reaches of space to expose real human truths. For me, it took a journey with a stubborn bounty hunter to understand that it's impossible to find your heaven while putting part of yourself through hell.