Stories Can Change the World: Writing, Mental Health, & a DNA Test

I took a DNA test last year.

If you’re a genealogist, you’re probably thinking, Oooh cool! Where do you come from?

Alas, it was not that kind of DNA test. This was a DNA test prescribed by my doctor, and it came back with the results that I am predisposed to a mood disorder.

What My DNA Test Means

This was not surprising, as I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I in 2010. It has been a long road ever since, but through counseling and medication, I have learned to thrive in life, and the DNA test, like one a genealogist would be interested in taking (that I will also someday take), well, it helped me understand myself - and my ancestors. Because it is my ancestors’ DNA that was passed down to me to enable bipolar disorder to manifest in my life.

There’s always the “nature/nurture” question in mental illness. My DNA test told me that “nature” plays a big part in my mental condition, but “nurture” also has a part to play. And here is where I bare a bit of my soul to you in a way I’ve not done on this blog, but I promise, it has to do with the theme.

In May 2010, I was graduating from college with a degree in Elementary Education. I was scared to death of finding a teaching job, and anxious beyond all belief. And every May, many high schools in our area put on their spring musical, so to relieve some of this stress, I went to see one of my favorite musicals – Aida – at a local high school.

Oh. The music. The acting. The costumes. The dancing. The story.

It took hold in my mind and wouldn’t let go. I was inspired. I was in awe. I couldn’t believe what I had just experienced in that theater. There it was – kids – high school kids – had just put on a work of art that was more amazing than almost anything I’d ever seen kids create. And I knew that using a story to teach kids was the key.

But it was more than inspiration. My mind spiraled out of control. I couldn’t sleep. For days. My mind reeled, my body was like the Energizer Bunny, I didn’t stop. I knew that using a story – especially a story with music, with art – could save education. It was what I would do in my classroom, when I got one. It would be how I would teach.

This was my first manic episode. My mind and body were supercharged, until finally I collapsed, literally, and was unable to walk and my husband and parents took me to the Emergency Room, because they had no idea what was going on. They said I wasn’t myself, but I told them, I had never felt more myself before in my life.

The Roller Coaster of Bipolar Disorder 

But if you know what bipolar disorder is, you know what was inevitably coming.

Depression.

Deep, dark, terrifying, isolating, depression.

It’s been a roller coaster ride ever since. Through medications, my moods have mostly stabilized, but even through a medication regimen, my mind still ebbs and flows… but I have learned to stay in my “effectiveness range” through counseling. I embrace the waves and ride them out instead of sinking and succumbing to them.

Stories... and Writing 

It is in embracing my mind that I have learned to write. My characters are deep, confusing, and also confused. The main character that I am writing now is also bipolar, and learning to live life with this condition in her own way. All of my writing comes from the depths of depression or the calm waves, or the heights, the weepiness and inspiration and passion that flows from a mind that is compelled through mental illness. I write because I must. I write because the world is full of beauty. I write because I want to connect people, children, adults, grandchildren and grandparents and ancestors and those yet to be born with each other, across generations and across the world. I know I was manic when I came up with the idea so it may be a bit irrational and naïve, but I cling to it:

Stories can change the world.

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To my readers:

I am closing in on completing my third novel, entitled Wayfaring. And to gear up for the release of this book later this year, I am giving away free e-copies of my first two books in the series – Going over Home and Going over Jordan - to young adult readers in exchange for reviews. If you are a young adult reader yourself, or have one in your life that may be interested, please subscribe to the newsletter, then send me an email and I will send you the free books (PDFs). To read about the books, visit here.

Email me at Katie (at) storybookancestor (dot) org

Happy storytelling, friends.