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I Had to Write Words Backwards for 2 Whole Years Or Else My Friends Would Die

by Emily Wilcox 13 days ago in disorder

Have you ever had a mental health disease steal away your ability to write? I have. And here’s what I learned.

I Had to Write Words Backwards for 2 Whole Years Or Else My Friends Would Die
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

My OCD stole my writing from me.

No seriously. A mental illness versus my existential purpose and still there were no winners. Just a loser. Just me.

I won’t go into exactly how — only that I was swarmed, daily, with paralysing thoughts that if I dare set pen to page in certain ways then yeah, people were going to die. It was irrational, I knew that, that’s what OCD is. But it was also debilitating, and I knew that harder.

So I gave in to it.

Now let me ask you this; you’re a writer, right? Me too. We’re first drafts in our human form because we exist solely — and potently — inside our words. Our blood is ink. Our skin is paper (pasty white and slightly tea-stained if you’re like me). Every inch of our existence is another headline, another plot point, another tale to tell. Writing is our why. Why we’re here, why we rise with the sun, why we keep moving, keep typing, keep living.

Now imagine that your “why” is stripped away from you. Not by some deviant criminal mastermind, just by your own mind. Your why isn’t trapped in some underground evil headquarters, just your own head. You’ve not been brainwashed by some external source, just by your own brain. Your purpose has been pinched by your own self, against your will but through your own actions.

That, my literary love, sucks ass.

For two years of my life, I had to give up writing — that is, I had to give up being happy, feeling fulfilling, being me — to save the lives of those that I loved.

Seven years later, here I am. Writing. With my loved ones beside me (and groaning that I’m typing too loud. Yeah dad, I saw that bloody side-eye, son).

Here’s what I learned in the process:

You’re a writer even when you’re not writing

A footballer is still a footballer on a Tuesday evening when he’s tucked up in bed with his husband. A caricaturist is still a caricaturist even when he’s washing up congealed lasagna from the night before. A superhero is still a superhero even when her cape is in the dryer and she’s feeling a little lost.

You’re a person in between the breaths too, you know? A writer is not a writer because she’s writing, she’s a writer because she’s compact with stories, bursting with adventure, a container with an entire cosmos inside.

It took me a long time to realise that and even now I still struggle to believe it. I feel guilty if Google Docs isn’t open on my laptop with my journal perched across my lap. I feel like I’ve wasted a day if I’ve not written on Medium. I feel like an imposter if I’m clutching a fork rather than a pen.

But that’s not how it works and I know that. We know that. We just need to remember that.

Though my OCD stopped me from writing for a chunky ol’ length of time, it didn’t stop me being a writer. It prevented me from doing, not being.

We all do things — and we all don’t do things. But who we are, that’s not up for negotiation. That’s innate and interdimensional.

I’m a writer; who had to stop writing for a little while. Just a writer on a rest day that lasted for two whole years.

Words have the power to change lives — but not to end them

I had to write backwards. Beginning in the bottom right corner of the page, writing my sentence from last word to first, last letter to first, until I could no longer last at all. Until I couldn’t bare it. Until I couldn’t write.

I had to linger over certain letters, avoid certain terms, words like “death” I could never write for fear that I would evoke it. But then even words like “already” and “are” were forbidden too. Why? *Big shrug.* For no apparent reason other than the deadly destruction my brain was telling me it’d impose.

Lameeeeeeeee, right?

Writers kill people off — we’re renowned for it, actually — but they’re predominantly fictional (most of the time). Otherwise our words are used for good. For creation. For granting life to characters and worlds and entirely new realms, for birthing adventure and bringing new experiences to our readers’ attention. And through these words, we have the power to change the world. Our existing world and the lives of those within it.

But writing the word “dynamic” from left to right on the first line of a fresh page was never going to result in chaos, despite what my head was telling (read: yelling) me. My writing was my power, not my Kryptonite.

Sticks and stones might break my bones but words will never hurt me — nor my family and friends. If anything, they’ll do the opposite. Words help us heal. And ironically, it was through the use of words that I finally managed to heal my head and find mine again.

So please — never stop telling stories. They might just save a life.

Your purpose can never be poached

Postponed, maybe. Paused, perhaps. But never pinched. By nothing or nobody and never.

It doesn’t matter what your circumstance might be, nor the duration in which it’s affecting you and your purpose, because you put the “me” into “meaning of life” as it’s your life, your calling, your choice. Nothing can strip that away from you, but you.

What’s meant for you will find you, even if it has to overcome certain obstacles along the way. What you’re here to do you’ll get done, even if it’s not all at once and as easy as you might have thought. What you choose to do with your life will always be the right thing — there’s no such thing as the wrong time, wrong place — as long as it feels right for you. As long as it brings you joy and happiness and fulfilment.

Writing is my purpose. I know it. I am it. And no amount of mental illness can steal that away from me. It can borrow and hide it, sure. It did. I let it. But I found it again — and this time I’m clinging on tighter.

Something lost is not something gone. It’s just something waiting for your return. Writing is my existential home and no matter how far away from it I am, I’ll always find my way back.

Same for you, for all of us, no matter what we’re here to do.

All you have to do is remember; your calling is your calling, even if you can’t come to the phone right now. It’ll ring again, I promise you.

I had to write words backward to save my friends’ life

But now I write what I want, to save my own. Because writing is what keeps me alive.

It was a weird two years. Tricky, trialling, tumultuous. But here I am, a paradox person, because my lack of writing then has given me something to write about now. My fingertips are painted lilac (a colour I could never use because of my friggin’ OCD) and they’re tippedy-tappedy away at my keyboard, free and fast and finally at ease.

My OCD stole my writing from me, but I got it back. I brought it home. And now the locks are changed, the doors are bolted and my mental illness is out in the rain. Turns out I was never a loser — I was just playing the long game.

Sometimes you have to fight for what you write, you know?

And as long as you’re doing what you know you’re meant to do, then don’t you worry. You’ve already won. On that, you have my word. Have any of them, actually, because I’ve got plenty.

Finally and forever: I’ve got them all.


Oh hey, whilst you’re here: why not put the “em” into your “emails” and lob your name onto my mailing list for weekly em-bellishments on my rose-tinted, crumb-coated lens of life. It’s the equivalent of the reduced section in the supermarket (low value Weird Crap™ that you didn’t know you needed).


Emily Wilcox

I am a writer. I imagine in a parallel universe I might be a caricaturist or a botanist or somewhere asleep on the moon. But here I am a writer, armed with an astrophysics degree, a Paperchase pen and a half empty box of biscuits

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