article written by Sophie Poirier
When I was a little girl, I was shy, quiet, and socially awkward with self-esteem and family issues. I never knew exactly how or where I fit into the world, and I most often kept to myself. I was the too-skinny little girl with glasses, who often got teased for it, and who never felt pretty enough or cool enough. Writing was my saving grace.
I’ve always had a wild imagination, and I loved reading and writing for the same reasons that I loved dreaming at night; it allowed me to escape my reality. Writing was always my favourite thing to do as it allowed me not only to escape to another world but to create it in whichever way I wanted. There were infinite possibilities, and I wanted to explore as many as I could.
I’ve been writing stories ever since I learned how to spell. I remember when I was a pre-teen, sitting in front of our old and very slow computer in the basement of our house and writing about so many different adventures. For instance, one was about two injured sisters struggling to survive after a rock-climbing accident while another was about witches fighting ancient demons seeking to destroy the world. I remember making my mom print some fancy-coloured booklets that contained my stories, and I would charge my family members for a copy as if I was a real author. I even charged them for a book I promised to write, but being so young and inexperienced, I realized that I knew nothing about writing a novel and slowly abandoned the project. In fact, my family members still pester me to this day about the book that I owe them.
Once I got older, my writing became much darker. I started struggling with my mental illness, constantly feeling anxious and depressed, and my writing started reflecting those struggles, often containing the theme of death. Mental illness is a cruel thing, but writing, reading, and art rescued me from becoming completely lost in my depression.
I took a Writer’s Craft course in 11th grade, right at the peak of my mental illness. I learned so many things about literature, and writing literary works for the class were some of the only times I ever felt at peace. We were a class of about 15 girls, and so, we became an intimate group. We shared our feelings and thoughts, and we learned how to use writing to express these things. As young teenage girls with strong emotions, writing was an excellent way to try make sense of the world. My teacher gave us each a journal to use and keep for our personal use, and seeing everybody else in class writing feverishly in their journals with focus just reaffirmed, for me, the value of the craft. That was the first journal of many in which I wrote thoughts, story ideas, some story excerpts, or relevant quotes.
As much as I loved writing and what it could personally do for me, I never thought I could actually use it as a career. I’ve heard countless jokes from my friends, my brother, and strangers about the uselessness of an art degree. The general assumption became that art or English majors would never become successful. I began to believe it. I still wrote in my journals every single day, but I was scared to fully utilize my literary and artistic skills for my future, constantly feeling like I would never find a stable job in the arts. So, for my remaining time in high school, as I struggled more and more with my mental illness, I focused on getting into business school. I took business classes instead of art classes, and statistic classes instead of creative writing classes. I ignored my creativity, and I suffered for it.
When it came time to choose a path for my post-secondary studies, I chose practicality instead of happiness. I applied for the Telfer School of Management, the same faculty in which my older brother excelled. I wanted to be as successful and happy as he was, but for my first three university semesters, I struggled both academically and mentally. It took time for me to realize that I was not like my brother and that we had different strengths and weaknesses. Accounting, while I was good at it, was never what I truly wanted to do, and it did not fulfill me in the ways I needed.
The decision to switch to the Faculty of Arts to study English literature was relatively spontaneous. I had just checked my final grades after the Fall semester to discover that I failed one of my business classes, and I felt awful. I was not only disappointed in myself but realised that I was also unhappy and frustrated with the path that I was following. I hated the idea of doing accounting for the rest of my life, and so I made an impromptu decision then and there to pursue a degree in English. This time, I chose happiness instead of practicality.
I texted my mother right after I made the decision to switch into English. She has always been my biggest supporter, and I’ll always be grateful for the enthusiasm she has shown for my writing. As a writer herself and knowing my own love for the craft, she was supportive and happy about my choice (she’s never been anything but). I thought she would be angry or disappointed with me, especially after spending three semesters worth of tuition on a program that I would never finish. I should’ve known immediately that she’d show nothing but support; she’s always been an awesome mom for that. I felt so much relief after making the decision and knowing my mom was okay with it. Studying literature felt like something I was meant to do, and for the first time in a long time, I was excited about my future. I’ve done many things with my writing since then, and I’ve learned so much about literature. I’ve always loved reading, as most writers do, but learning how to analyse different types of literature in different ways increased my love for the craft, and it has helped me become a better writer.
My struggles with mental illness in late high school and early university forced me to abandon other things that I loved to do; while writing was the exception, I was simply too depressed to do any of my usual hobbies. Since being an English student, I’ve regained happiness and confidence, which has allowed me to reconnect with my other creative talents: drawing, scrapbooking, and painting with watercolours. Now that I am able to express all of my creativity in the ways I love most, I feel like myself again.
Now, I’m currently working on my first novel, and perhaps I’ll finally be able to give my family members that book I charged them for all those years ago.