The writer is no stranger to suffering. I’m no different than any other. Throughout the year of 2019, I was writing Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower, a product of my realization and confrontation of my yet undiagnosed CPTSD and the resultant havoc it wreaked in my life at that time. The cathartic experience of taking my struggles and forcing them into the dark imagery of horror poetry allowed me to find an unshakeable sense of accomplishment, a shining pride in my talent, and to see a way to still cling to an appreciation for life.
Complex Post–Traumatic Stress Disorder is linked to multiple traumatic events and is defined as a developmental trauma disorder. Though there are rare instances where the disorder can be developed during adulthood, it’s more often linked to traumatic childhood experiences. Its symptoms are like PTSD in that its sufferer will re-experience traumatic events, avoid traumatic reminders, and maintain hypervigilance against perceived threats in every avenue of life. However, it differs in that it affects emotional dysregulation, causes a development of a distorted sense of self, and can lead to disturbances in relationships. It often mimics Borderline Personality Disorder, and, in my case especially, can be misdiagnosed as such.
This darkness of course followed me into the next year, and it sought vengeance. During a time when so many, including myself, were learning to navigate the difficult struggles of the pandemic and its terrors, I saw the world crashing around me in the form of my first major loss: a decade-long unhealthy partnership came to an explosive close. Blessing in disguise as it was, I found myself suddenly without the home I’d known for years and having to learn to live without a person who’d been there for so long. I was only at the beginning of my journey in facing and healing my previous emotional afflictions, and this needed event exacerbated my symptoms to a degree I’d never experienced.
Lost Letters to a Lover’s Carcass was born through painful labor. Employing my demons, I wrote this collection to help me process this hardship and everything that led to it. More importantly, it reminded me of something almost lost: myself. My drive, my talent, and my lust for creation and its act kept me tethered to this planet and its bountiful, beautiful one-time chance at life. Without me, there is no art to create or, for me, to even perceive and interpret. Without me, there are no experiences and the healthy translation of them into narrative and verse.
But creating art from a place of suffering can paint the process as something that needs suffering to flourish. This is untrue, and a pitfall I’ve been able to avoid with the help of perspective. I’ve seen this misconception among some budding writers that may romanticize the clichéd tortured artist.
While the intermingling of internal and external hardship can be appreciated in this medium and enjoyment can even be found through it for the creative, it is not necessary to create more suffering for the sake of the written word, or to wear it as a writing badge of honor. Because without the appreciation and care for the self, creation can become a chore, or worse, a whirlwind of unhealthy self-criticism and a frustrated pile of unfinished projects.
CPTSD may likely follow me to my far-away death, but I will always find ways to stalk it in its own shadows. I will use it, crush it, and subvert it to find exactly what I need to tell my stories. And through my victories, I’ll bask in the sunlight of the lines and stories and characters that I write, which remind me of who I am: an intelligent, empathetic, and passionate creator.
None of this is meant to invalidate the struggles of others. I can only write from my own experiences and hope that they inspire hope and open the gates to new perspectives. The experiences of others are muddy and complex, and faltering along the path is to be expected. But I’d like to challenge my fellow Horror Writers to continue your therapy, eat your three-square meals, drink your water, be mindful and take time to enjoy the moment. And, lastly, let your work be the light switch on your wall that drives your ghosts back to their graves.
Ronald J. Murray is a writer of speculative fiction and poetry living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His published work includes his two dark poetry collections, Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower, which appeared on the 2020 Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballot and was nominated for an Elgin Award, and Lost Letters to a Lover’s Carcass, from the JournalStone imprint, Bizarro Pulp Press. His short fiction and poetry has appeared in Space and Time Magazine, The Horror Writers Association’s Poetry Showcase Volume VIII, on The Wicked Library Podcast, in Bon Appetit: Stories and Recipes for Human Consumption, and Lustcraftian Horrors: Erotic Stories Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, and more. He is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association and an Active Member of the Church of Satan.