On Memoirs: Writing About Abuse and Difficult Topics

I’d always loved writing. I’d kept journals, written poetry and short stories and had ideas for books.

I’d never thought about writing my own story but there came a point where I wanted to share it to try to release myself from the past and its haunting memories.

I should explain that I grew up in a dysfunctional family.  Despite many difficulties I left school well qualified and worked for several years before returning to college and then studying at Sheffield University in the UK where I graduated in Political Theory and Institutions.

I’d worked for eleven years in the Civil Service when at 37 and having walked away from  an abusive relationship, I experienced an acute psychotic episode. I was hospitalised for six long months and was subjected to  six treatments of electro convulsive therapy (ECT).  I lost my job and that devastated me. My  recovery was hampered by my absolute loss of confidence.  I had to start again in an unfamiliar place and it felt as if I was walking waist deep in wet sand. But I recovered and started living my life again.

The cover of Judith Haire's memoir Don't Mind Me

I decided to write a short article about my psychotic illness and it was published in Mental Health Practice Magazine in 2007.  At Christmas that year I read about Chipmunkapublishing, the mental health publisher, and contacted them.  I was given a contract to write my book and with a mixture of fear and excitement I set about writing it at the beginning of 2008.

I always imagined writing a book would be different. A struggle maybe.  As it was, it felt as if someone had turned on a tap inside me and I found my fingers flying across the keyboard to keep up with the flow of words. I was writing my own story.  The story of my dysfunctional childhood and teenage depression, my abusive first marriage, my experience of rape and domestic violence, my terrifying descent into psychosis and my recovery.  I called my first book Don’t Mind Meand it was published in E book in March 2008 and in paperback in October of the same year.

“The phone rang and I screamed. I was filled with terror. My heart began to pound and I started to shake.  In my confused mind I had become the deaf dumb and blind boy in “Tommy” a film that had captivated me many years before.  I moved my limbs in a stilted and robotic way.  I was no longer myself.  I was in a different world, the world of psychosis.  I was trapped and could not find my way out.”

As I was writing Don’t Mind Me I could feel a sense of relief that I was getting my experiences down on paper; the act of writing the book was cathartic for me and it lessened the power of traumatic memories over me. I’d thought the treatments of ECT would have wiped away many memories but I found no difficulty in recalling events and writing about them really helped me to let go of the past.

When it came to writing about difficult and painful events I had to consider what I really wanted to share.  There are some events that I considered too painful or controversial to include and I also had to consider other people too.

Since my book has been published there are members of my birth family who do not speak to me – so intense is their disapproval.  Though sad at the break up of my birth family, I do not regret writing and publishing my book.  The effect a memoir such as mine could have on family members is something to consider before publishing.

author judith haire

When it came to tackling the actual content of my psychotic illness, there were hallulcinations that were too complicated or abstract to capture in words so I had to concentrate on the detail I could write about with ease.  I would only write within my own comfort zone and if I found that writing about anything caused me pain, I would stop, as that would have been counter productive.  I wrote my book to help others as well as myself and to inform mental health professionals and anyone wanting to gain an insight into mental illness.  A first person account of psychosis is of enormous help to mental health students.

In 2009 I was one of  20 or more Chipmunka authors who contributed Mental Health Publishing and Empowermentwritten  by the founder, Jason Pegler.  I continue to write about mental health  and have been published in Community Caremagazine, Your Voice Sheffield and One In Four. I was invited to contribute to a mental health text book Our Encounters With Madness edited by Grant, Biley & Walker (PCCS Books 2011) and I wrote about my experience of ECT and my experience of being an inpatient in an psychiatric ward. I’m going to try my hand at fiction next.

I set up my website http://www.judithhaire.vpweb.co.uk in 2009 and have built up a section of links and resources. I also share my book reviews.

I haven’t returned to full time work but have worked in the voluntary sector and studied part time, passing a number of exams.  Currently I am studying child psychology. I love art and to draw and paint.  One of my pieces Pure Colour Guache was auctioned to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Writing is empowering for me and it is important for me to tell my truth and for my voice to be heard. Writing makes me stronger and helps me to feel more resilient and know who I really am.

Visit Judith Haire’s website. Follow her on Twitter@JudithHaire.  Reviews of Don’t Mind Me can be read at http://www.amazon.comhttp://www.amazon.co.ukhttp://www.chipmunkapublishing.co.ukand http://www.judithhaire.vpweb.co.uk



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