Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Burdens We Carry or The Upside of Down

My mother once told me that everyone carries a burden. All of us have hurts, pains, shames--it’s what makes us human. Sharing the burdens releases some of the pressure caused by shouldering difficulties by ourselves.

I have found I deal best with my burdens when I use them in my writing. For example: When my eight-year-old dog started having seizures, the news from the vet was not good. When we eliminated toxins and major organ failure, we were left with the horrific possibility of a brain tumor.

The only way to know short of an MRI (a thousand dollar test) was to wait. If she did have a brain tumor, she would exhibit personally changes within six months. So all I could do was wait. (The picture to the side is my dog on a river trip around the time this was going on.)

During that time, I wrote about a character who struggled with the same thing happening to his dog. To this day I think he is one of the most interesting and compelling characters I’ve ever written.

In the midst of my contest diva days, this character was beloved by judges because he was all alpha male but he had this marshmallow heart where his dog was concerned. It rounded him out and made him human. Giving a character a burden takes him from two-dimensional to three-dimensional.

After a year of agonizing waiting we knew my dog did not have a tumor. She was eventually diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy. (Er, Idiopathic is fancy doctor speak for, “Gosh, we have no idea why” it is where we get the word idiot.)

My dog takes two medications to help control her seizures. She will be thirteen this November and I’m grateful for every moment I have with her. I don’t have kids so she is my hairy, bowlegged child. If she were human, I couldn’t love her more than I already do.

My point with all of this is that writing is great therapy. I took my burden and shared it with my character. My struggle became his and we both learned how to deal with the burden. As I helped him cope, he helped me.

Have you ever done something like this? If so, did it help you deal with it or did it only exacerbate the problem?


Lexie O'Neill said...

Lovely blog--and as a psychologist, let me say research says writing or journalling about a painful experience is one of the best ways to handle it. As a writer, I think my constant theme relates back to when I was the kid who didn't fit--all of my main characters so far don't fit for one reason or another.
Of course, they win in the end:)

Savanna Kougar said...

Anitra, cute doggie picture! I always use my experiences, good, bad, ugly or beautiful. This is especially true in When a Good Angel Falls, which is exactly the theme your speaking about, Lexie.
I never fit in either. And, yep, my heroines and heroes get to win in the end.
Of course, it is theraputic -- however, I also find it totally frustrating at times, since it doesn't happen in the real world.

Evonne Wareham said...


I love the air of canine concentration in the piccie. Giving a character a flaw or a problem is what it's about. I liked the bit about the alpha male with the soft centre over his dog. I must remember that one!

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Lexie--That's a great point; I think in every character we create is part of ourselves. I think writing is the best therapy on the planet!

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Sav--Thanks on the picture! I know, I'll use any excuse to print her photo :)

I think on another thread we were talking about how a lot of us writers were misfits in school. Writing characters who succeed in spite of or despite their misfit status helps us feel that we too are okay. And of course we are! ;)

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Evonne--I think there were some ducks off the side of the boat. She was intently watching them but made no move to attack them. I think she was trying to figure out what they were. Knowing her she probably thought they were floating cats!

I love giving men somewhat "feminine" traits--like cooking or caring for children. I think most women like men who are strong but have a sensitive side. :)

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Anitra, sorry to hear about your dog's epilepsy, but at least that is a condition they can treat with medication. Love the pic of your dog enjoying the boat trip, and the doggy lifejacket.