I am a survivor of Complex trauma. I have experienced repeated, ongoing traumatic events in both childhood and adulthood, and now live with chronic mental health issues as a result. Many times, I have felt unwell, lost, and broken; I have struggled to find hope and keep going. Sometimes, thinking about what I’ve been through, I have wondered how in the world I am still standing.
So, how am I still standing? How am I still here?
The answer is complicated, as most answers are. It is also personal—what wobbles and fells us, and what lifts and holds us up, is a deeply individual story. For me, what has helped is love, in all its forms (as cheesy as that sounds!). Love for and from my family, friends, and community. Self love—asking for and receiving help, making myself safe, and being as kind to myself as possible. Love for the earth and all the living things on it. And, very importantly, my love of writing. Writing has saved me, countless times—it is an act of profound self care that has kept me going my entire life.
I’ve been writing since I was little—chapter books at eight years old, journaling as a teenager, followed by poetry and short stories. I have wanted to be a writer since I was very young, but I kept the dream quiet because it seemed too big to say out loud. I wrote through high school, wrote through a Law degree. I wrote down everything I was feeling—sad, muddled, hopeful, in love, excited, heartbroken, curious, overwhelmed—it all went into notebooks and diaries and computer files and letters and random scraps of paper.
In my early twenties, I ran away to the US to chase the dream of becoming a writer. After getting my MFA, what followed were years of rejection—a normal path for most writers. I had some sweet nibbles of ‘success’ (a few stories and personal essays published), but mostly I faced a wall of no-thank-yous. I struggled with that; the rejections affected my mental health. So for a while, I stopped submitting things. I thought of pursuing something I wanted less, so it would hurt less if I failed. Sometimes, I would officially ‘give up’. I’d stop writing for about half a day, and then, inevitably, because I needed writing to breathe, I would return. I always returned.
Over the years, my writing practice has become the most vital tool I use to keep myself steady. It is a way for me to process my life, try and make sense of things, express my thoughts and feelings, imagine worlds that aren’t painful, or say how it feels to live in a world that is. Writing has helped me let out the things I carry. I don’t know who I’d be or what I would do if I didn’t write.
A few decades into adulthood, I finally realised my dream of being a published author, with my debut YA novel, HOW IT FEELS TO FLOAT, then again with my second YA novel, THE QUIET AND THE LOUD. It is incredibly lovely to be the author of two books, but more importantly, these novels have been amazing journeys of release, discovery, and self care for me.
Both my books explore trauma and, crucially, ways we can survive it. HOW IT FEELS TO FLOAT tells a story of grief, loss, dissociation, and debilitating depression, and how loved ones can lift us up and help us keep going when we fall. THE QUIET AND THE LOUD tells a story of compulsive people-pleasing, of parental addiction and family violence, the secrets we keep and the freedom that comes when we let those secrets out. Both novels explore what it is like to experience traumatic events we can’t control. And both show how it feels to be loved and supported as we survive incredibly hard things.
In creating these fictional worlds, and weaving my own experiences into them, I got to let out what I’d been carrying forever. I was able to find some answers and create hopeful paths forward—for my characters, my readers, and myself. These novels—along with everything I’ve ever written—have been my lighthouses, the beacons I’ve held up for myself, a way of saying: I see you, it’s okay, I’m listening. Let it out, let it go, lay it down; it’s so heavy, rest for a minute, dear one. Then, when you’re ready, get up, and keep on.
We can all become beacons for ourselves. We can release what we hold inside. We can write down the beautiful, the terrible, and everything in between. Our words don’t have to be perfect; they don’t have to be seen by anyone. We can write them simply to comfort ourselves, or we can show them to trusted others and feel heard and seen. Our stories are vital, beautiful, and true. We all deserve to let them out.
Helena Fox lives by the ocean on Dharawal Country in Wollongong, Australia. She mentors young writers and runs writing workshops to support mental health. Helena’s debut novel, How It Feels to Float, won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Writing for Young Adults in Australia, and was a Kirkus Best Book of the Year and Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year in the U.S. Helena received her MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College. She can be found mostly on Instagram @helenafoxoz, posting pictures of the sea and talking about kindness.