Micro-fiction, Macro-effect: using writing to cope with anxiety

By Carole Palattao – Student, University of Western Ontario, London, ON

When I was 10 years old I wrote my first novel. It was about a young girl named Natalie Jean, a bright innocent girl moving to a big city for the very first time. The story, in its first draft was called “The Lonely Girl”. Natalie was everything I wanted to be. She had good friends, a happy family, and did everything I thought was fascinating (including having a pet and eating food that I wanted to name a few). At that time, it was a way for me to escape to a perfect world that I created with my own power. That was when I began to be a writer. I wrote stories where everything that felt impossible to do in my own life became possible in fiction.

For years I wrote stories, pouring out my heart in a personal way, that was still somewhat removed from myself. It was a cathartic release of the emotions I held inside my head and in my heart. As I got older I had less and less time for writing full length novels. “The Lonely Girl” or “Natalie Jean: Future New Yorker” in my last edit sat untouched in a folder, filed away in a cardboard box in my closet.

When I was in grade 11, I reconnected with my writing. That was the year most of my mental health issues began to present themselves. I have GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), which means I constantly feel on edge or worried about something, regardless if there’s actually something to worry about or not. Trying to express how this feels is complicated, but in November of 2015, I wrote this short little tidbit: “Ghosts rattle my windows, hoping to find a home for their lost souls. Or maybe that’s just the wind.”

It came to me after my rattling windows spooked me, leaving me to sit in my bed, wondering whether or not I should open the shutters to check. I read it over once, and then twice, and then three times. It only took me about 5 minutes to come up with, maybe even less, but putting my emotions somewhere else, other than trapped in my head was extremely comforting. What do I call this? I remember asking myself. It straddled the line between the start of a poem, and the start of a story. What I did know was that it was a short tid-bit of fiction. Thus, the self-entitled “micro-fiction” began. I counted how many words were in this simple piece, 19 words. And thus “Microfiction (19)” was born.

And I found these seemingly small bits of fiction really helped me express my emotions that would have otherwise gotten trapped in my head, and would keep swirling around in my brain until I broke down into a complete mess. My GAD constantly swept me up into my mind, and sent me on a spiral where I forgot the world around me, too preoccupied with intrusive thoughts and mindless worry. These little fictions helped me ground myself, remind me that thoughts are just thoughts, that they can be written down, and that they are valid, real, and most of all, don’t need to stay swirling in my head.

People seemed to enjoy them too. I posted them on twitter for the world to read, and many of my friends reached out to me that these little fictions were laced with feelings they had also felt before, that they didn’t feel like they could explain.

From that point onward, I was hooked. Writing microfictions helped me with my mental health journey a lot. Maybe I was too busy to write full length novels anymore. Maybe I didn’t consider myself a “poetry” person. But what I did know was these short little tidbits helped me through so many times when I was feeling so many things at once, but didn’t know how to express it. They helped the people around me come to terms with how they felt. Creative writing has always been an outlet for me, and I found a way to keep that in my busy life in a way that helps me. I share this story now because it is not something I hold a trademark or copyright on. Anyone can write microfiction, or story pieces, or one liner poetry, or whatever you want to call it. What matters is that your voice, your creativity, and your thoughts are valuable and real and deserve to be heard. Not many of us have time in our fast-paced lives to write novels, but never underestimate the macro-effect of seemingly micro things.

See more of Carole’s microfictions here!

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