How Writing Paved Way For My Healing & Recovery From PTSD And Bipolar Disorder

By Amelia Zachry

[TW: mention of rape]

Trauma and mental illness colored most of my adult life. I was diagnosed with PTSD and Bipolar Disorder II at age twenty-six. I came to understand through therapy that I’d been violated when I was nineteen years old, so the word “rape” was another thing to grapple with. I was aghast, in disbelief, for the severity of it all hadn’t even been on my radar. But it also made sense—that my inability to trust, and the panic attacks I’d been suffering from for years, were trauma responses.

My earlier promiscuity and recklessness I displayed were textbook symptoms of hypomania. The times I couldn’t get out of bed and felt numb and lost were classic signs of depression. The swinging pendulum between these two states—hypomania and depression—for prolonged periods of time qualified me for Bipolar. In the immediate aftermath of my diagnoses, I did not find relief as some people do, at having some answers. Instead, I was overcome with frustration, knowing there wasn’t a cure. 

People with Bipolar were not able to keep jobs, were unreliable, were volatile. I believed the stigma around Bipolar and struggled with my diagnosis. I believed I would never amount to anything. I was flawed, beyond repair. It all felt unending, a mountain ahead of me that I was unprepared to climb. Self-loathing was not foreign to me; since the violation, I’d believed myself to be tainted. For years I’d harbored feelings of worthlessness, until finally therapy spun me on my axis. 

I had been conditioned into silence. Toxic rape culture had me in its clutches. I was at fault for being violated. I was guilty for what happened to me and should feel ashamed. The mental illness only exacerbated that guilt and shame. Now, on top of being damaged, I was unstable, too. Though I longed to get my story out of my body and into words I could make sense of, I was afraid of the repercussions of being out in the open about it all. I held fast to silence, my throat choked by guilt and shame.

Twelve years passed since receiving the news of my diagnosis, news that changed the trajectory of my life. In that time, I focused on managing the incurable bipolar episodes and healing from trauma. I discovered my life had been on pause in the years since the violation. All the things I had envisioned I would be as a little girl, my big dreams and aspirations, had vanished in an instant on the night that my sense of self was demolished and destroyed. 

I was relearning to find myself again through a new lens of healing. I kept up with therapy and self-care, routines and meditations, and avoiding triggers and stressful situations. I learned how to keep my hypomanic and depressive episodes at bay.  

I had two beautiful daughters during these years. I watched one day while they jumped on the trampoline, and I felt my heart swell. They emanated innocence and joy, a blind faith in the world that surrounded them, and yet they would grow up into a world that I knew would not be able to support their magnificence. We live in a culture of denial and arbitrary admonishment, where we force the hurt into isolation. We live in a world where women who are raped are scared into silence, where people with mental health conditions are shoved into a corner, where having a prescribed flaw has you ostracized. It didn’t sit right with me, so I started to write.  

My motivation, at first, was for my daughters—so they would have a record of the pain I overcame, and to know that the kind of courage and resilience it took me to get here ran in their blood. As I wrote, I processed my experiences on paper and found a safe distance from the hurt. I grew and I grew with every passage, each recounting of the trauma, every scene in which I relived my hypomanic and depressive episodes. I began to believe, not just understand, that the violation was not my fault. Writing my story woke me up from an alternate reality where I believed the victim-blaming and shaming I had endured. 

It dawned on me that I was releasing myself from the clutches of a stigma that was not mine to carry. I wanted my story to be a testament: I was a mother, even though I had been told I wouldn’t be able to manage motherhood; I was a wife, even though I had been called unstable; I was a member of the community I lived in, even though my depression sometimes threatened to pull me under. 

Through writing, I found peace. As I worked on those pages, which later became my memoir, ‘Enough: A Memoir of Mistakes, Mania, and Motherhood’ (She Writes Press, October 18, 2022) I was no longer choked, no longer bound by the constricts of stigma. I exposed the realities of a life uprooted by trauma and Bipolar and discovered my story was as much about redemption as it was of a life ground to ashes. I saw myself in a light I had not been able to access in the past. This was a story I wanted to tell my children when they were old enough, so they’d know that even though the world will show you its ugliness, there is always a glimmer of light and a certainty of knowing that we can cultivate within ourselves. 

In time, I decided to publish my memoir for everyone to see, not just for my daughters. In doing so, I stepped into another role I was once told I wouldn’t be able to hold—that of author, of advocate. All along the way, I’ve proved to myself that I am capable of accomplishments like those I’d imagined for myself when I was a little girl. Survival was possible, so was growth. I was spurred along on my writing and publishing journey by the belief that at least one person would read my words and break their own silence, take their own step toward healing and living a life they imagined for themselves.

I found that writing my memoir gave me something therapy could not. I am no longer wanting, no longer trapped, no longer inadequate. Through writing, I discovered how to detach myself from trauma and bipolar. I experienced these states, but they did not define me. I was the writer giving meaning to the experiences. I wrote and it flowed, powered by all the women who had come before me in sharing their truths. 

Amelia Zachry was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After graduating from Curtin University with a degree in marketing, she worked in public relations and marketing until she met her American husband, Daniel, when he was traveling through Malaysia. Since then, they have lived together in Japan, Canada, and Kentucky, and had two daughters together. Now a full-time writer, Amelia is also an advocate for sexual assault survivors and those who suffer from mental illness. She was recently published on HuffPost and Moms Don’t Have Time to Write, and blogs weekly at https://ameliazachry.com.
Amelia’s new book ‘Enough: A Memoir of Mistakes, Mania and Motherhood’ is out October 18, 2022 from She Writes press. In the months following her sexual assault attack by a fellow university student, Amelia feels isolated, alone, and could find no other alternative than to blame herself. Grappling with a diagnosis of both PTSD and Bipolar II disorder in her late 20s, her experiences have shaped not only the way she lives, but the way she loves both her husband and children. Upon immigrating to Kentucky as a Malaysian-Indian biracial woman, Zachry must tackle the ins and outs of culture shock, trauma, mental illness, and motherhood in this compelling story, a welcome reminder that even in the worst times of darkness, we will always eventually find the light. 

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