How Anxiety Influenced my Trilogy

14 Jan

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As promised in my last post – Photography and Writing – today is dedicated to explaining why the photo below is symbolic to my writing life and why I used it to represent my upcoming novel, Seconds Before Sunrise. Hopefully by sharing my story about turning anxiety into art, it will help inspire you to share yours.

What does this have to do with Seconds Before Sunrise?

What does this have to do with Seconds Before Sunrise?

There’s something you should know about me before I start.

In my 22 years of life, I’ve been in six car wrecks. Now, before you judge my driving record, I was only driving in two of them, one was caused by black ice on a bridge and my most recent one happened when I was hit by a drunk driver, which I actually wrote about here.

But the point isn’t about my driving record – it’s actually about what happened afterward. In my first car wreck, I was not driving. The passengers asked the driver to slow down, but he didn’t, and we hit a tree at 80 miles per hour. Now, I want to clarify that I have nothing against this driver, and he’s a good person, so please do not comment on him. I shared those details because, shortly afterward, I developed a high anxiety for anyone else driving me. When I say “high” anxiety, I mean hyperventilation and shaking among other uncontrollable functions, but I was fine as long as I was driving myself…until I was driving back to college in February of 2010. My non-four-wheel-drive, rear-wheel truck did not fair too well on a bridge covered with black ice. I lost control and crashed into a van at 45. I wasn’t injured, but six other cars wrecked while they were cleaning up my car wreck, including one instance where a firefighter almost got pinned against my car.

It was scary – terrifying, really – and after that, I couldn’t feel good behind ANY wheel, especially if it was snowing, icy, raining, or even dark. My body associated bad events with vehicles, but I couldn’t avoid vehicles. The Midwest, as well as most of the places in the United States aside from large cities, is not friendly to transportation via bicycle. (And before you mention buses, those counted as vehicles in my anxiety.)

After four car wrecks, my anxiety was so bad at one point that I almost refused to leave the house in the fear that I would get in another one. While many people get in car wrecks and walk away without a worry (except what to do with a car), I had to be honest with myself: I wasn’t one of those people. I got help, and after a number of months of therapy, my anxiety slowly went down. Now, I can be proud when I drive through downtown KC without so much as a racing heart or lack of breath.

Now, the books – (thanks for staying with me)

The Timely Death Trilogy has more than one car wreck in it, although only one is seen in a flashback in Minutes Before Sunset, while another one from the past is seen through a newspaper article. There’s a reason for this.

You know you want to add it on Goodreads. Click here!

You know you want to add it on Goodreads. Click here!

When writing these books, I had recently experienced my first car wreck that I mentioned previously. I was 15, and I was injured for a while afterward, so the memory was lingering in my physical pain. Because of that, I decided I wanted cars to be a symbol in this trilogy – something that would describe the characters as well as affect the characters’ lives – and you can expect the peak of the symbolism of the car to happen in the next installment of the series, Seconds Before Sunrise

The photo itself is important to book two. If you want some truth, this photo could be a direct viewpoint from Eric Welborn, but if you want the full truth, you’ll have to check out Seconds Before Sunrise (and catch up on Minutes Before Sunset.)

In the end, there are two purposes to this piece:

1. Because I think it’s more important to help people – know it’s okay if you development anxiety and/or depression from a traumatic event, even if others do not label it as traumatic. Just because it didn’t hurt them, does not mean it shouldn’t have hurt you. It’s okay. Talk to understanding family and friends, and get help if you need to. It might take months or even years to feel better, but being proactive about your physical and mental health is worth it.

2.  There might be numerous car wrecks in The Timely Death Trilogy, but each one is symbolic in its own way – just as ones in my real life have become that way to me – and I think there’s a lesson in that. Events will affect everyone differently in the same sense that a story will affect each reader differently. Don’t change events in your story out of the fear that they might seem repetitive or not be good enough for everyone. Tell the story the best way that you can, and trust your readers. They will understand.

~SAT

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12 Responses to “How Anxiety Influenced my Trilogy”

  1. Olivia Casey January 14, 2014 at 12:25 am #

    Hi Shannon, I found this article really fascinating. I think people underestimate how traumatic driving or being driven can be for people who either have personally experienced accidents like yours or who have had family or friends who have. My moms sister died in a car accident and my mom has pretty bad driving anxiety, which I inherited. I actually also wrote a post on my driver anxiety two days ago. Although it is much more lighthearted then yours, if you are interested to read it, here’s the link. http://caseyoliviamarie.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/reflections-on-driving-by-perhaps-the-worst-driver-in-america/

    Anyway, great article, looking forward to exploring your blog a bit more. All the best,

    Olivia

    • Shannon A Thompson January 14, 2014 at 2:10 am #

      Olivia,
      I read your piece. Thank you very much for sharing it with me. I completely agree with you. I think many people think driving is a simple task because of how it has become necessary in every day life, but – for many – some have serious struggles, and I am glad you mentioned those who struggle when they lost a family member from a car wreck. Just because someone isn’t present during a wreck, doesn’t mean they weren’t affected by it. I know, for instance, that my brother was in a horrible accident when we were younger. I wasn’t in the accident nor had I been in one before, but being in the ER for hours afterward, waiting, definitely was another instance that driving terrified me. Thank you for commenting and sharing your story as well as your article. If any one is reading my comment to Olivia, please check out her article! It’s very true for many, and I think more people should discuss this topic openly.
      ~SAT

      • Olivia Casey January 14, 2014 at 11:33 am #

        Shannon,
        Thanks for reading my article and for your reply. I really appreciate it. It is crazy how something so many take for granted and never worry about actually is really different for those who have lost loved ones or been hurt. All the best,
        Olivia

  2. jenniferkmarsh January 14, 2014 at 2:48 am #

    I have great respect for you for sharing this. I’m glad you’ve been working through your anxieties, and that you’re okay. Writing can heal us on such a deep level that nothing else can come close to – or I suppose any creative process does. I’ve been in 3 car accidents myself, and I haven’t even had one driving lesson! They were minor though, but even so, I can understand your anxiety to some degree. I actually have bad anxiety around horses now, since I had a bad accident with one. But it’s funny, interesting, and in some strange way, kind of special how our life experiences and emotion emerge in our stories.

    Take care of yourself! I wish you all the best.
    Jennifer

    • Shannon A Thompson January 15, 2014 at 1:42 am #

      Jennifer,

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I agree – writing (art, in general) can heal and grow the artist and the viewer in so many ways. I believe this is why art is so important to culture and society.
      Thank you for sharing your story about cars and horses. I used to ride horses myself – although I didn’t have an accident on one. But, yes, it seems we share the event of something causing anxiety in another thing. It is very interesting how these real-life situations pop up in our art.
      ~SAT

  3. pennyfrances January 14, 2014 at 4:46 am #

    Creative writing can be a great way of coping with anything that causes stress or anxiety. I’ve recently had some bad news relating to the health of one of my family which has coincided with my having taken time off work to work up a submission a Northern Writers Awards (UK). Having the writing as a focus has been an enormous help and I know from other events that I can use the difficult feelings I’ve experienced to enhance the authenticity of my characters, thus creating something outside of my own personal experience which also helps me cope better. My latest blog covers this a bit if you’re interested: http://pennyfrances.wordpress.com/pennys-blog/

    Keep up the good work Shannon
    Penny

  4. raymondvogel January 14, 2014 at 5:55 am #

    Great post as usual, Shannon. And, as an insider to the new book, I have to say that I love having this as background. It makes that scene all the more powerful. Well done.

    • Shannon A Thompson January 15, 2014 at 1:44 am #

      Thank you, Ray! I am glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate all of your thoughts on Seconds Before Sunrise. It is very interesting to see how stories outside of stories can affect interpretations and experiences.
      ~SAT

  5. Candace Habte January 14, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this. Six car accidents is traumatic actually. Glad you’re okay now (and could use it for your work). I was in NEAR accident (in which other people died) and just seeing it caused anxiety in me around driving (for some months after). I was ashamed to tell anyone but my boyfriend at the time.

    But taxi driver almost hit me head on at full speed- not sure if he was trying to die or just fell asleep but it was one lane and he was going the wrong way. Luckily the person that was driving me swerved in time but the taxi driver died on impact and the van behind us got hit…the kids & mom in the van were bleeding and crying. It was crazy.

    So in a small way I can relate. I would completely freak if that (or an actual crash) happened six times.

    • Shannon A Thompson January 15, 2014 at 1:46 am #

      Candace Habte,

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting on here. Sharing your story can be difficult, but I am grateful you shared yours – it shows yet another side of this anxiety: a person who experienced it close enough to feel the experience without personal injury, yet it can still be traumatic to be that close.

      ~SAT

  6. Positive Thought - Positive Word - For Life January 14, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    Great topic. Thank you for sharing your story. I have deal with anxiety and I know how is it feel. Keep your good work.

  7. girlseule January 23, 2014 at 6:34 am #

    Such an important topic, anxiety can be so debilitating and it’s important it’s talked about and out in the open, people shouldn’t feel there is a stigma to it.

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