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The strangest thought I’ve had is one someone else has had.

How 'Blade in the Shadow' came to be

by Jillian Halket

I often wondered, while writing the last draft particularly, how someone else would come to view the book. I believed for years that I wrote for the pleasure of it. And indeed, it's true. Writing is like a strange alchemy and every morning I sat at my laptop with frizzy hair and wide eyes and tried to create something from everything that had come before.

As much as I love that kind of witchcraft – the delight of pure creation – it wasn't enough. I wasn't content to just print my story and leave it to ash in a drawer.

I craved a reader.

I wanted to be seen.

This perhaps shouldn't have surprised me. But it did. Stories need readers. There is something in the liminal space created between reader and writer. When the tiny letters shift and turn into shape and sound. When they become so much more than they were in the first place. That part is everything.

And so when Julianne read my book, I felt seen. When she found the title from a line in chapter two, she helped distil its very essence and everything else fell into place.

'Blade in the Shadow'

That existential fear. That creeping anxiety. That threat that never fully realises.

Filmmaker and painter Akira Kurosawa once said, “In a mad world, only the mad are sane.”

In our modern world we are subject to a continuous level of anxiety like the white noise of a fridge running in the background. That constant hum of dread is the soundtrack to our daily lives. The mundane casually exists beside the cruel. We make a cup of tea while the world is on fire.

Inequality, poverty, climate change, government corruption are only a few of the ills of our world. The untamed garden seems too much of an undertaking for just one person. Though the content of my obsessions have little to do with reality, I can’t pretend that the environment we live in hasn't presented the unique conditions for them to flourish. At my most unwell I saw only the violence in the world – and that is exactly what my OCD amplified until the world lost all colour but red.

The book may focus on OCD and addiction but in truth it's a story about healing. About embracing the elemental pain that comes along with living. Of knowing the darkness intimately and choosing to stay anyway.

‘Blade in the Shadow’ courts the fears we all are scared to name. Being a human being is a painful, bloody mess. A beautiful one for sure. But none of us make it through this without being wounded and in writing the book I was able to recontextualise the trauma I had been through. As cliché as it sounds this was a deeply healing process. I was able to make some sense of the years that had come before and now, in turn, I feel more confident that I can shape my own narrative going forward. The future seems boundless. There are so many pages left to write.

When I began to pitch my book I often felt I was playing some kind of pretend game. My mind told me I was worthless, that my story wasn’t worth anything – who was I to be so arrogant to think I could write a book? But I’ve come to learn that telling your own story is a deeply powerful, even political, act. If you have been gifted a voice – it is your duty to use it.

While writing ‘Blade’ I was saddened when I stumbled across little puzzles and mini games with the hashtag 'OCD'. It made me sick that it was being used in this way. I thought of the disorder I knew – the one that haunted sufferers with obsessive thoughts that they’d killed their family, that they were a paedophile or of feeling so dirty they’d rip off their skin – and I couldn’t reconcile it with the pastel-coloured photographs of neatly arranged sock drawers. Their ignorance revolted me and my sadness soon turned to anger. That is the place from which the first chapter of the book ‘Knives’ comes from. I wanted to show people what it was really like. I wanted them to spend a day with me as these obsessions destroyed my sanity. After that, I dared them to use the phrase “so OCD” again.

Telling my story was therapeutic and in some small sense, an act of rebellion, but it was also a plea for representation.

When I was younger one of my favourite episodes of the television show Scrubs was one where actor Michael J Fox played a character with OCD. Every time I saw it I quietly cried for five minutes. It’s ending sees the character emotionally drained from his job at a new hospital and unable to escape the compulsive loop of washing his hands and flicking off the light switch. Actor Michael J Fox suffers from Parkinson’s and imbued his performance of this character with his own pain – the sum of which creates an incredible emotional climax. And yet, I still didn’t recognise that I suffered from the same disorder as the character.

This is because his obsessions were centred on contamination and mine are focused on violence/harm. And yet, they are the same. It is all OCD. I’ve heard from others in the community that it is important not to get too tied to one theme. OCD is a malevolent shapeshifter and a sufferer will often experience multiple themes in their life. But what occurred to me is that if I had grown up with a portrayal of OCD in the media that showed similar obsessions to mine – I might have been able to get treatment sooner.

In writing my book I was fuelled by this desire. I needed to add to the conversation in some small way. I couldn't stand the idea of someone going years thinking the hell of obsessive-compulsive disorder was ‘just how their mind was’. Or perhaps, not being able to continue on at all. The idea that my book might reach someone out there who was struggling became everything to me.

I've always been a lurker. As a child I looked on as the others played together. I felt that acute sense of isolation and dislocation that I think all of us do. Being human can be a lonely business.

Now I find myself in a uniquely privileged position. Guts Publishing has given me the opportunity to tell my story. I’ve found people who are incredibly kind, who love books and aren’t afraid to talk about the realities of mental illness. I realise that I’ve never been alone. Not really. I know that the strangest thought I’ve had is one someone else has had. I think that’s why I really wrote the book. To one day have that email land in my inbox. Someone who found something in the book that spoke to them. I can’t explain how much that would mean to me.

‘Blade in the Shadow’ is me sitting in the lighthouse and slowly having enough courage to turn on the beam. And hoping that someone out there does the same.

* * *

Jillian Halket is a writer from Blackwood, Scotland. Her debut memoir Blade in the Shadow delves into her obsessive compulsive disorder and explores what it is like living with violent intrusive thoughts.

Blade in the Shadow will be released on 14 Oct 2021 by Guts Publishing.

Pre-order from Guts here and get a free ebook:

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Blade in the Shadow is available on Amazon worldwide and with many other online retailers.

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