Mental Illness, Trauma, and Writing as therapy.

*May contain slight spoilers

*contains frank discussion of mental health and self-harm type behaviors

I was asked once why I allowed my characters to have weak moments, particularly Catherine and her ongoing struggles with anxiety.

Answer- Because that’s real life. People struggle. People have mental health issues and they often have relapses. I wanted her to show that. All too often in books do characters go through deep trauma, only to be fine a few pages later. I wanted to show that while she is a strong woman, healing takes time.

The first clear example of Catherine’s anxiety and how deeply she’s buried past trauma is in Displaced. There are hints throughout the book that in her own time, she’d be coping by drinking. Overwhelmed by facing her former abuser she finds herself having what could be described as a breakdown. When found, she downplays it, as many do.

In Unexpected Returns, the evidence is all over the place. Separated from the people who she bonded with, who promised to be with her and support her, reeling from the trauma of seeing what she believed to be the death of a dear companion, she has relapsed into heavily self-medicating. It’s revealed that this is far from new, that its an old habit for her and that she has been using alcohol (and worse) to counter the trauma inflicted by her job as a hunter (seeing victims, not always being able to help) and the trauma of what Lett has done to her. Colt, Graham, Mitchell, and Garrett help, but ultimately it has to be her who makes the decision to get better and to let them help her with that.

When Moving Pieces opens, she and Mitchell have started fresh. They’re having discussions about how she’s feeling, and she’s working on being honest about her anxiety. She comes clean to Colt about having what is most likely PTSD and opens up more discussions about survivors guilt, how they can help each other and more. It was important for me to show her panic attacks in this book. It was important for me to show that even though she’s trying, she’s not perfect, she slips. But she recognizes the behavior and continues to work on improving.

Critical Position- The newest book in the series presented some new issues. Catherine gets separated from her support system. She’s been through more trauma, and her anxiety takes a physical form (balling her hands until they bleed). She has a breakdown after a near assault. Once again, like in Displaced, the thought of ending it crosses her mind. Ultimately, while she has help (and Connelly is a huge support and cares deeply) SHE has to make the decision to keep fighting. To get home. To not let the monster or her own mind win.

I never expected when I started writing these books that they would help me process my own anxiety and past trauma. For the first time, I was able to put into words how I felt, even if the situations were vastly different. The act of writing them, of seeing Catherine fight, helped me fight.

While writing the upcoming fifth book, I took it a step further. One of the characters is a sick SOB. I’m not saying how it’s related to real life, but to have Catherine face her issues with this man, helped me process some feelings of my own.

Catherine is not me. I’m not her. But she has given me strength. And for that, I say ‘thank you’. I can only hope that someone reads these books and maybe sees something of them self in it. That they draw strength from her fights. That they see that while she has anxiety, it doesn’t win. That even badass demon hunters struggle.

If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or mental health struggles of any kind, know that you are not alone. Reach out. There is no shame in getting help, talking to people, and taking medications. Be kind to yourself.