I've always been a writer. My house is stuffed with notebooks - the notebooks stuffed with stories, poems and the musings of an unquiet mind. Open them up and words spill out, sometimes like birds of the imagination, sometimes like the tears of the heartbroken. Most of my life is contained within those pages or saved in electronic folders on a hard drive. Writing is what I do.
No surprise then that when my new partner, Blacksmith Paul, died just twelve weeks after my last remaining parent, it was to writing that I turned in my despair. In the darkest of days, writing gave me a purpose. The blank page listened when there was no-one to talk to. My laptop understood when no-one else could fathom the degree of my heartbreak. Writing was my best friend.
I didn't intend to be a blogger; it's never really been my thing. Mostly I write fiction and poetry and, though my own experience is thinly veiled in much of my work, my life writing has been confined to journals. When I've splurged my innermost turmoil onto paper, it's been in the form of Julia Cameron's morning pages and not for public consumption. I've started blogs a few times but never really found a subject, never really found an audience, never had anything that I really wanted to say. Until that fateful day in March 2016 when I found my partner lying three days dead on his bed. On that day it felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest, my skin peeled from my body and the sky rent in two. All boundaries were dissolved, all inhibitions destroyed. I've never wanted so much to die and yet it felt like some small part of me, the writer, wanted to survive. She still had something to say. She wanted to tell the world how much this heartbreak hurt and she wanted to tell Paul the words that sometimes, she'd forgotten to say: I love you. She followed them with more words, repeated almost daily: I miss you. Please come back.
I started writing in response to prompts from Megan Devine's Writing Your Grief programme. Day after day, words poured from me. I saved them onto a blog as an easy way to store them. I shared them with the Writing Your Grief community and found solace with people who understood the depth of my pain, who bore witness to my agony. And then, one day, I decided to share something on Facebook and the friends and writers within my Facebook community responded with empathy and encouragement. They held me in a net of online support. Each day I felt a little less alone, a little more understood. Eventually, I overcame my impostor complex (really not a widow) and joined the charity Widowed and Young. I shared a blog post there and suddenly thousands of people were reading. Almost overnight I had a new identity as a blogger. I was giving a voice to unadulterated pain, putting into words the heartbreak not just of myself but of other people whose worlds had been blown apart. I was no longer a self-indulgent whiner. My writing was helping others as well. I had a purpose outside of myself.
Still, I wrote for me and to Paul, never for an audience. I wrote because I'm a writer and writing is like breathing to me. I wrote because I wanted to see if I could find the words for a pain that I knew deep down no sentence could contain. Mostly I wrote because writing brought release. Sometimes it felt like writing was a kind of self-harm. The pain would build up through the day while I painted on a smile for the children, attempted to make small-talk in playgrounds, cooked dinners, read bedtime stories. At night, when the children were asleep, I would open up my laptop and feel the relief that came when I could express exactly how it really felt, sobbing onto my keyboard as if it were a pillow soaking up my tears. At night I could let it all out and though writing couldn't bring Paul back to life, it could record my memories of him and there was something satisfying just about the ordering of words on the screen, something healing about the process of letting it all out. Sometimes it really feels that writing saved my life.
I've mostly weaned myself off blogging now. I'm back to writing fiction and poetry and still considering whether to write a memoir of my time in the darkness. Nineteen months on and I am mostly dwelling in the light. I'm teaching writing again too, sowing seeds that take flight in the birds of other writers' imaginations. Like they always said I would be, I feel stronger now and as a writer I know that, however many times my heart is broken and however many times I say goodbye, writing will keep me alive. Until one day it doesn't. And then my words will survive - in the notebooks, on the laptop and on the world wide web that has been my support. When something is irreparably broken writing can't fix it and yet, somehow it helps. Writing helped me to stay alive. Maybe it can help you too.