I first read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl when I was about eleven or twelve years old. In the self-centeredness of prepubescence, what I most identified with was Anne’s difficult relationship with her mother. And I was awestruck at the audacious way she wrote about their arguments and how angry she was at her mother.
It wasn’t long before I decided to start writing a diary of my own. It served as a record of things I did and places I went so that I could remember and transcribe the most relevant news into letters to my best friend, who had moved overseas when we were ten. I made a pencil mark at the end of the last entry to have made it into the current letter, so I would know where to begin the next. In those days, it took several weeks for our mail to be delivered, so it was easily two months’ worth of diary entries that went into each letter.
And, emboldened by Anne, I also used my diary to vent my frustration, devastation, and rage over my mother’s abusive behaviour towards me. It would be twenty years before my mother was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder; all I had for support was pen and paper.
When I was nineteen I left home and escaped overseas, taking the current diary with me to record my adventures—but, stupidly and in the rush of packing, I forgot to lock away the six or so books I’d amassed over the years. Or maybe it was fate. My parents moved house while I was away, and my mother found and decided to read my diaries “to try and figure out why [her] daughter was so unhappy”. When I returned, she confronted me about their contents that described “family business” and abuse that I’d been told never to reveal. Although we managed to have it out with many tears on both sides, she won that round and I felt I had no choice but to allow her to burn the diaries with their damning evidence against her. I even handed over my travel diary that had nothing about her in it.
I stopped keeping a diary until about seven years later when I realised I was being left behind while everyone and their dog was happily blogging away. My first attempts to join in lead to panic; it was then that I noticed how deeply but subconsciously I’d been affected by my mother’s condemnation of my personal writing. I had developed a complete and painful mental block against writing about myself and my feelings. For an author, this was a serious problem: I couldn’t even manage a decent bio, let alone a blog. Even Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages failed for me—I ended up using them to write general articles at one point rather than stream of consciousness, because stream of subconscious said, “Don’t you dare write down what you really feel.”
It took me ten years to get to the point where I could blog. But, still, I found it painful and laboured, posting probably once a month on average, if that. So this A-Z Challenge seems an ideal way for me to desensitise and push through the discomfort, and learn to talk about myself.
This post got left behind, and now you know why. It’s taken a couple of weeks to write, but a lot longer stuck in my head knowing one day I was going to get this down on screen.
And painful as it was for both of us, my mother reading my diaries did have a positive effect thirteen years after the fact, shortly before she died. As part of the counselling that followed her diagnosis with bipolar disorder, my mother reopened communication on her behaviour during my childhood. It didn’t go smoothly, but she gradually came to understand and accept my point of view, and had the grace to apologise. I think we both achieved some closure on the issue and reconciled before she died, and I think this is why I have slowly been able to write about myself again.
Now I just have to click that Publish button.
Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle-grade chapter book The Convoluted Key, picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, holding childhood slumber-party audiences entranced until the early hours of the morning. Elle decided to be an author the day she discovered that real people wrote books and that writing books was a real job.