On Memoirs: Writing About Abuse and Difficult Topics

July 11, 2011 | By | 26 Replies More

Author Judith Haire contributed to "Our Encounters with Madness", a mental health text book.

I’d always loved writing. I’d kept journals, written poetry and short stories and had ideas for books.

I’d never thought about writing my own story but there came a point where I wanted to share it to try to release myself from the past and its haunting memories.

I should explain that I grew up in a dysfunctional family.  Despite many difficulties I left school well qualified and worked for several years before returning to college and then studying at Sheffield University in the UK where I graduated in Political Theory and Institutions.

I’d worked for eleven years in the Civil Service when at 37 and having walked away from  an abusive relationship, I experienced an acute psychotic episode. I was hospitalised for six long months and was subjected to  six treatments of electro convulsive therapy (ECT).  I lost my job and that devastated me. My  recovery was hampered by my absolute loss of confidence.  I had to start again in an unfamiliar place and it felt as if I was walking waist deep in wet sand. But I recovered and started living my life again.

The cover of Judith Haire's memoir Don't Mind Me

The cover of Judith Haire's "Don't Mind Me" memoir, a straight forward account of abuse, and psychosis. See the strong Amazon reviews.

I decided to write a short article about my psychotic illness and it was published in Mental Health Practice Magazine in 2007.  At Christmas that year I read about Chipmunkapublishing, the mental health publisher, and contacted them.  I was given a contract to write my book and with a mixture of fear and excitement I set about writing it at the beginning of 2008.

I always imagined writing a book would be different. A struggle maybe.  As it was, it felt as if someone had turned on a tap inside me and I found my fingers flying across the keyboard to keep up with the flow of words. I was writing my own story.  The story of my dysfunctional childhood and teenage depression, my abusive first marriage, my experience of rape and domestic violence, my terrifying descent into psychosis and my recovery.  I called my first book Don’t Mind Meand it was published in E book in March 2008 and in paperback in October of the same year.

“The phone rang and I screamed. I was filled with terror. My heart began to pound and I started to shake.  In my confused mind I had become the deaf dumb and blind boy in “Tommy” a film that had captivated me many years before.  I moved my limbs in a stilted and robotic way.  I was no longer myself.  I was in a different world, the world of psychosis.  I was trapped and could not find my way out.”

As I was writing Don’t Mind Me I could feel a sense of relief that I was getting my experiences down on paper; the act of writing the book was cathartic for me and it lessened the power of traumatic memories over me. I’d thought the treatments of ECT would have wiped away many memories but I found no difficulty in recalling events and writing about them really helped me to let go of the past.

When it came to writing about difficult and painful events I had to consider what I really wanted to share.  There are some events that I considered too painful or controversial to include and I also had to consider other people too.

Since my book has been published there are members of my birth family who do not speak to me – so intense is their disapproval.  Though sad at the break up of my birth family, I do not regret writing and publishing my book.  The effect a memoir such as mine could have on family members is something to consider before publishing.

author judith haire

English author, Judith Haire, writes about childhood and domestic abuse, her experience with psychosis, and her recovery in "Don't Mind Me"

When it came to tackling the actual content of my psychotic illness, there were hallulcinations that were too complicated or abstract to capture in words so I had to concentrate on the detail I could write about with ease.  I would only write within my own comfort zone and if I found that writing about anything caused me pain, I would stop, as that would have been counter productive.  I wrote my book to help others as well as myself and to inform mental health professionals and anyone wanting to gain an insight into mental illness.  A first person account of psychosis is of enormous help to mental health students.

In 2009 I was one of  20 or more Chipmunka authors who contributed Mental Health Publishing and Empowermentwritten  by the founder, Jason Pegler.  I continue to write about mental health  and have been published in Community Care magazine, Your Voice Sheffield and One In Four. I was invited to contribute to a mental health text book Our Encounters With Madness edited by Grant, Biley & Walker (PCCS Books 2011) and I wrote about my experience of ECT and my experience of being an inpatient in an psychiatric ward. I’m going to try my hand at fiction next.

I set up my website http://www.judithhaire.vpweb.co.uk in 2009 and have built up a section of links and resources. I also share my book reviews.

I haven’t returned to full time work but have worked in the voluntary sector and studied part time, passing a number of exams.  Currently I am studying child psychology. I love art and to draw and paint.  One of my pieces Pure Colour Guache was auctioned to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Writing is empowering for me and it is important for me to tell my truth and for my voice to be heard. Writing makes me stronger and helps me to feel more resilient and know who I really am.

Visit Judith Haire’s website. Follow her on Twitter@JudithHaire.  Reviews of Don’t Mind Me can be read at http://www.amazon.comhttp://www.amazon.co.ukhttp://www.chipmunkapublishing.co.uk and http://www.judithhaire.vpweb.co.uk


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Category: British Women Writers, Contemporary Women Writers, Women Writing Memoirs

Comments (26)

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  1. Brenda says:


    How do you write about these happenings…and not get sued?

    Thank you for responding.

  2. Precious says:

    Hi Judith,
    Reading about your life story gave me the strength and courage to actually brainstorm and write about my life as an emotionally abused woman. I have a story to tell and I hope I can put out there for other women like me to read and know that they are not alone. I would love to work with you in editing my story that is if you do that. Please write me and I will be the happiest to just get a response from you.

  3. Tony Ross says:

    Judith, thanks for sharing what you’re doing and what you’ve done. I’m disappointed (but not surprised, I suppose) that there are no male comments here. I’ve recently decided to write about my experiences too and although I’m at an early stage, I haven’t found it to be cathartic in any way. If anything, it has brought memories, which had settled in the silt of the mind, stirring to the surface. That’s caused sleepless nights and other things. I’m sure it’ll be the right thing to do, but I guess everyone’s experience is different.

    Sorry to hear about your birth family disowning you; not sure what mine would make of it, but I don’t care – it’s not them who went through this (nor is it them still trying to “sort it out”).



    • Judith Haire says:

      Hello Tony

      Thank you for your comments. They’re appreciated. I am sorry that writing has stirred up memories and I hope you will be OK. Yes I think everyone’s experience is different Very best of luck with your writing I hope you are published. Thank you again. Kind regards Judith

  4. Dear Judith says:

    You are an inspiration. I have wanted to write a book on my horrendous abuse that has wrecked my life completely. I have not known how to start and have not had the time due to surviving. Could you please contact me as at this moment I am going to start writing because of you. Yours Sincerely Katrina

  5. Judith,

    Thank you for sharing your story with others. I just finished writing a personal essay and when fear almost kept me from submitting it to a magazine, I reminded myself that I have a right to my feelings and experiences. It was like writing myself into an event that changed my family; giving me a voice when others tried to prevent me from being part of on the day it occurred.

    I’m glad to hear that your experiences are allowing you opportunities to help and advocate for others.

  6. judith haire says:

    thank you again for all these supportive comments
    Judith 🙂

    • Aiyana says:

      Hi Judith,

      It’s great that writing a book about abuse has helped you to move on I was thinking about doing the same thing but I’m not so sure I want to tell the whole world what I went through just yet but I really think it will help me too because I have been through so many incidents since I was a child that no-one really knows about because I was shy in my youth, but it’s great to see it work well for you.

  7. Thank you for writing your story Judith and for being the voice for those women and men who have not been able to express their stories in this way. It’s so important that these stories are heard. Thank you for having the courage and persistence to follow your call to write and tell your truth, even when it alienated you from your birth family.

    I remember when I wrote and published my memoir of finding healing and wholeness on a journey through chronic illness and childhood abuse issues, the healing rippled out — and in — in ways I never could have imagined. Writing had always been my passion. And now, creating art, creating something of beauty out of such life-altering challenges, sharing it was transformational on many levels.

    I love the way you took care of yourself when you wrote, too — Stopping, not writing about certain events. So many choices to make on the writing journey.

    May your book — and your being continue to touch many people, including those in the mental health community who can learn from your experience.

    • judith haire says:

      Hello Alissa firstly my sincere apologies for being so late to reply to your comment.
      Thank you so much for all you say; I find your words very supportive.
      Yes the downside has been the alienation from my birth family but given the time again I would still opt to write my book because that is being true to myself. I found my voice and have benefitted a great deal from telling my story as it has helped me to take stock and see how far I have travelled emotionally. Thank you for sharing your own experience and now you are creating art and I wish you good luck with that and with your journey.
      Thank you very much again. Kindest regards from Judith

  8. Writing memoir takes so much courage. Sharing the truth of yourself and your experience for all to read is so generous. That in the process, healing happens is such a gift, to others and to yourself. A beautiful post, Judith!

  9. Judith, I add my thanks as well. So many women have been touched by abuse. It boggles the mind. The more it is out in the open, the better equipped we will all be to support each other.

  10. Nettie says:

    You are a very brave and admirable lady. Thank you for sharing your experiences so that others might be helped. Well done for creating such a rich and successful life for yourself now. All power to your elbow.

  11. Dear Judith:
    Thank you so much for your brave words indeed! I am reading this at the precise time that I need it the most. I especially like this:

    “…the act of writing the book was cathartic for me and it lessened the power of traumatic memories over me.”

    I am in the process of writing my own memoirs as well and yes, it involves childhood abuse. At first, when I first started years ago, I wasn’t getting anywhere, because I felt I was just repeating myself over and over. But the mere act of writing was a real catharsis and finally, I could see beyond ‘what had happened’ and try to look at what I was trying to say from other angles.

    Having put down the pen, figuratively speaking, for years, I have now taken it up again and I try to write every day. This time, the focus of my book is not the abuse itself, but how my dreams helped me cope and heal in the ensuing years, and how the healing from those dreams reached beyond the abuse and is now encompassing my whole life.

    I can certainly relate to how your mind decided to cope with all the outer trauma with a psychotic response. Mine reacted to remembering the abuse by plunging me into a deep depression, chronic fatigue, severe allergies and other physical symptoms.

    However, Judith, my experience totally pales in comparison to what you went through. I wish to express my admiration for you and your willingness to share your experience with others. You have given me the courage to continue with my story. Thank you.

    • Judith Haire says:

      Dear Ramona
      Thank you so much for your supportive comments. Thank you for sharing your experience. I am moved to read that I have given you the courage to continue with your story and I wish you all the luck there is. Take care.

  12. Jean Davison says:

    It thrills me to know that many of us are finding the words to speak out loudly and clearly about what once was seen as a taboo subject. Thank you, Judith, for sharing your experiences and writing this powerful blog post.

  13. Judith, thank you so much for your brave work in writing about this very difficult topic. There is a tremendous amount of fear around what is called mental illness (which I refer to as brain chemistry disorders or imbalances). Yet, we are only human, and our beings are vulnerable to stresses and imbalances that show up in a host of ways from heart attacks, to skin disorders to psychoses.

    Writing is such a powerful force for the writer, as it is for the reader. See Lav Chintapalli‘s post Memoir: Agony and Relief, and Nancy Wait‘s post about the Memoir as Soul Work.

    But you also knew that your ability to articulate this unknown experience that is called psychosis could be invaluable for those in the psychology and psychiatry field, so that motivated you to publish your work. Thank you for your hard work and courage.

    Anora McGaha
    Editor, Women Writers, Women’s Books
    Anora as editor @womenwriters

    • judith haire says:

      Heartfelt thanks to you Anora.
      I prefer to think of my psychosis as a response to trauma and my mind’s way of dealing with that trauma. I hope my writing will help others gain an insight into mental illness and I hope my work will help mental health professionals
      Thank you again
      Judith Haire

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