Writing as Therapy for My Fears

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

I am a fearful, anxious person. Fright drives me in everything that I do. It’s a constant presence, no matter how calm I might look on the outside. The only way I can dominate this ever-present uneasiness, productively confronting its terrible intrusion, is to write. Something about the act of meaningfully placing words together soothes that persistent terror within to a more managable level.

Fear inspired me to write my upcoming murder-mystery Detached. At the time that I shaped this novel, which went through numerous revisions over several years, I lived in an environment that relentlessly frightened me. Surrounded by continual, questionable traffic, loud parties that always involved excessive alcohol, and aggressive, quite angry voices that seeped into my private space, I never felt safe. This lack of security caused every sound to magnify into a potentially lethal threat. I’m sure that perpetual worry strained various relationships in my life. Unfortunately, I do tend to fixate on particular issues, unable to move past troubling emotions that I just can’t overcome. But I guess this obsessiveness has a positive side. It motivated me to create a story out of raw distress, a dread that I couldn’t shrug off, and confront my own turmoil.

Quite simply, I was incapable of moving past this sense of great danger, whether real or imagined, without the ability to write.

I think that consistent agitation, rooted in years of largely unaddressed anxiety, pulled me into a world where terror is justifiable. It’s probably the reason why I became so immersed in the stories of serial killers from a young age. Before I understood how writing could help alleviate my apprehensiveness, I felt drawn to true crime and its horrific violence. My father expressed amusement at this interest, likely because it appeared strange to pay attention to such disturbing topics back then. He’d often chide me about the knowledge I’d accumulated through exposure to various news stories or articles.

I really couldn’t articulate why that subject matter had any appeal. But my mother understood and put this ghastly absorption into words, clarifying its profound influence on me.

“It’s because it helps her feel some sort of control over her fears,” she explained.

My mother was right. Following those stories, where terror reverberated at their core, relieved my own fright by putting it into better perspective. This awareness somehow diminished the underlying yet undefined panic I personally experienced while also opening my eyes to the stark realities around me. I learned all about authentic reasons to be afraid and how such circumstances were legally tackled, successfully confronted for the common good.

Over the years, my compulsion to understand true crime has only intensified. After watching so many documentaries on real cases, digesting the complex facets of forensic science, and listening to interviews with detectives who have solved brutal offenses of all kinds, this universe is now part of my outlook. It’s also deeply interwoven into my novel Detached, an undercurrent that flows throughout the plot in ways that emphasize my complicated relationship to fear’s incessant grip.

But even with this perpetual anxiety, translated into a ruthlessness that I explore in my murder-mystery, hope shines along the edges. That optimism isn’t immediately apparent, yet it exists as a silent force. I see this rendition of fear in that light because it’s an acknowledgment of the dangers around us, an attempt to confront inherent hazards head-on, to recognize their existence and to act, even in some small way.

While I (thankfully) haven’t endured the personal effects that violent crimes inevitably generate, my imagination fills in the blanks to provide a sense of agency against paralyzing fears. It reduces the helplessness in anticipation of experiencing such terrible threats for the purpose of developing a clear solution.

As I witness the world around me today, seeing the horrors that do exist, knowing the massive suffering that only appears to escalate with every criminal transgression that echoes with such anguish throughout our society, writing has increasingly become the best weapon I know. It doesn’t just put fear into actual words, it provides a prospective pathway out of immobilization, potentially removing the abstractions to uncover realistic answers.

I accept that I’ll always be fearful, that this terror will remain an integral part of my identity. But I’d like to think that by continuing to write, I can resolve some of these anxieties, at least challenge them so they’re not hidden in dark recesses, unable to be adequately addressed. Writing is a definite therapy for me, making my fears far less of an obstacle. It’s certainly a source of hope, though not so apparent at first, especially when navigating a world that’s become much harder to control.

Alisa Burris

Alisa Burris is a literary fiction author whose work depicts alienated lives with glimpses of mystery blended into the narrative layers. Her novel Detached explores how three vastly different women cope with the trauma of a violent murder in their townhome community as they face private secrets of their own. In addition to writing stories that reflect today’s complex world, Alisa holds a PhD in English. Her dissertation specifically examines the fiction of Jewish-American women authors in the context of the cultural estrangement that they personally experienced during the twentieth century.

Leave a Reply