I have a slightly obsessive personality. For as long as I remember I’ve had a fear of death by drowning. Maybe it’s because I’m an island girl; many people from coastal communities have a healthy respect for the power of the ocean. Maybe it’s because the island I’m from has some of the most powerful tidal surges in the world, where being swept out to sea is a very real possibility. As a child I made sure I knew how to bicycle to the very highest point on the island. When that all-powerful tide arrived – I’d be in the safest place. And in my girlish day dreams I also managed to drag my family along to safety. This is a clip of the tide on the Isle of Jersey, Channel Islands. The tide starts coming in from two miles out:
In 2004, I was enjoying a relaxing Boxing Day, hanging out with the kids and playing with all our new toys when I got word of the Indonesian Tsunami. I’ve watched endless hours of footage since then, terrifying myself into inconsolable nightmares in an attempt to face my worst fear. It didn’t work. I had recently weaned myself off the footage of the Indonesian footage, but then another tsunami struck Japan. Again I watched — horrified, fascinated, terrified — as other people faced my worst fear and did what I had planned all those years ago. They fled to higher ground, then waited and hoped. Nothing seems to desensitize me to this fear. I don’t even live near the ocean!
So. What’s to be done? There’s only one thing left that I haven’t tried. I’m going to have to write about it. Helpless, struggling, gasping death. It’ll have to be a horror story and I’m not looking forward to it. But maybe it’ll stop the nightmares. Maybe I’ll be able to cross the bridge over the river without rehearsing how to escape a watery grave, which is what I do every single time. Maybe I’ll be able to swim in the ocean again. Maybe. Writing horror can be so strangely cathartic and redemptive. It’s worth a try, anyway.
Has anyone else used writing in this way? Did it work?