Words That Heal

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| This is the 262nd story of Our Life Logs |


Trace all our sketches,

all our etches in time,

some hold all our reasons,

some only a rhyme.

—“untitled” by John Stalter

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I was raised through the ’90s in Midwestern Minnesota by parents born in the ’60s, two upstanding, conservative Christians who worked their way into a larger piece of the pie thanks to their knack for business, critical thinking, and being able to thrive in stress. I, conversely, was born with a creative mind and a depressive disorder that manifested in some of the worst and weirdest ways. My talent was the ability to draw inspiration from the night terrors I’d had since I was young, amongst the few episodic terrors I faced in the living world—that is to say, writing. I found talent and, more importantly, solace in writing.

My extended family has always been supportive of my writing—even through the horror stories and the depressive poetry. My younger brother contributed art and photography to compliment my written works, and my mother even helped me self-publish my first book of poetry.

But my father…he saw my artistic and empathetic views on life as “pathetic.” That is where the difference lies between us. He wanted to be the top capitalist, best example of a MAN that a MAN can be, rough, tough, and prays enough, emphasized with shouting fits, fights, and bursts of anger when our differences arose. More and more I realized that these negative interactions on a constant basis didn’t feel right, the tension that hung in the air, time passing like sandpaper on the brain, all until our humor would eventually decompress the room, but not until the shouting contests of derogative insults were finished. And if there was any form of defense or retaliation, then came the occasional knock on the back of the head, punches on the arms, chest, sides, shoves, and shakes.

The more I branched myself from the stereotypical mold, the more other boys at school found out that I didn’t recognize the names of their favorite athletes or TV shows, and the more personal my father seemed to take this development as some form of spite against him.

It was around this time, during middle school, that my young mind had become infatuated with surreal and bizarre horror stories. I remember when I was, as young as 11 years old, writing of demonic characters as the heroes, changing the rules of the game. Maybe good guys could come from bad settings, maybe they could use their evil for good, or good for evil? Whether it was conjured from bored imagination or inspired by something I saw, if it interested me—I wrote about it. It was my medium between the ongoing world of thought in my head and the fast-paced life in which I was raised.

Now, they were rarely read through without questions as to why was the content so dark? And where was it inspired from? I gave shy responses, “I don’t know” or some other anxious lie. I would always just shrug it off, and say I’ll write some more happy things in the future.

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No matter the nature of my writing, light or dark, serious or silly, noticed or not: I enjoyed the release I felt from finishing something, anything. Due to the medicated dissonance of being misdiagnosed with ADD, and an increase in dose for anytime I fell out of expected behavior, I gravitated to creative writing. It was a safe outlet for the bizarre psychotic episodes that were passed off as just “being emotional” or having an “over active imagination” among other descriptions. I became conscious of the drawbacks and distortions, what behavioral psychologists refer to as “anhedonia.” I refused medication for fear of my mental health, which caused arguments against my parents, screaming and arguing until I would cave and take the med.

After discontinuing and recovering from the pills, and all the sanity and nights of sleep they robbed me of, the hormonal waves of puberty hit. All the damage came full circle. All the fights and faults that had left mental or physical marks were blurred by the mind-numbing effects of the Ritalin and higher doses of Methylphenidate, the cheapest, least effective, and most popular medication of the 2000s.

When I was 14, I remember having my first psychotic collapse. It felt like I had fought with everyone around me for a month straight. I told my friends off, the ones from the tightly-cliqued small town, whom I avoided for constantly being the punchline to their jokes and petty pranks. I fought with my father over his constant harassment of everything I did that wasn’t work or masculine-related activities. I started practicing meditation to help center my thoughts, but this new emotional intelligence only made me angrier.

So, at 14 years old, my mind fell into a curious case of writer’s block, which is inconvenient for some, and fatal for others. I count myself as having brushed up against the latter category. For, after weeks of blank pages, the scribbles of my ongoing doubt and confusion piled up in my brain, begging me to open up the dam. And I tried. I tried. But the ocean of ideas that I once spilled on the page as a child had complicated itself into a desert, I felt trapped and crazy, and I wanted it to end.

What happens the day after a suicide attempt?

My parents unaware—I hadn’t left a note—and my back aching with injuries, I wrote poetry for two days. The writer’s block vanished with every nerve I felt aching near my tailbone. I mourned for my stupidity and what it could’ve possibly done to my family and the friends who stuck around, whom I had grown to love as extensions of my family.

My harsh judgement inspired a strong sense of individualism, a hardened shell of opinions, and thankfully, a disciplined writing schedule. Four years later, I graduated high school with the class of 2012.

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I spent five and a half years at Minnesota State University, Mankato, living in a house with roommates, girlfriends, and other old friends. I thought I had it made, trying to afford renters the cheapest rent in a post-foreclosed house with terrible heating and air-conditioning.

Then I realized that after moving only an hour away from home, I had isolated myself. So in order to feel any emotional connection, I began to date any girl that showed even a shred of interest in me, even if it meant heartbreak was to come only a few weeks later. I fell into a lot of experimental relationships that college inspires, and in the later years when depression among other pressures got the better of me, I started experimenting with drugs that friends around me were into, as a twisted way of embracing the spur-of-the-moment bliss, while numbing the pain I had felt.

But during my third year of girlfriends, drugs, and lecture halls, my roommate, Mar as we called him, moved downtown to be amongst the action. From the pan into the fire as one would say. Only weeks later, Mar engaged the opportunity to cut all ties with both circles of the self-destructive friends, and committed suicide.

What happens the day after a friend dies?

I began releasing songs and content in bulks of all-night writing binges, with meditation on content. It was no surprise to see my shortcomings in the context of the work, a song or poem would reveal the baggage that not only destroyed a previous relationship, but would still prove as a focal point of conflict in the current relationship at hand.

But in the writing, in the constant introspection and tension of mind-pictures, I began to rearrange the clouds of grief, just as I had always done, and will always do.

What happens the day after you have hope?

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Instead of having a 50th existential crisis and becoming what I would’ve been; a psycho-psychologist after several more years of disappointment and internships, I followed my passion at writing and graduated in 2018, three and a half years after my sophomore year, earning my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing, and Associate’s in Psychology.

In the struggle of life, I’ve learned to unravel the good and bad, though most days I walk around wondering, “Fuck! Why us?” contemplating the chaos of the human condition as more of a hobby and source of inspiration than some overbearing anxiety that is meant to be solved.

Still, I remain in the pursuit of writing, whether it is a regret or reminiscence of the past, a focus within the present, or a worry for the future; I usually have a poem or story to amplify elements of the experience. I try to write with and against the grain, so as to uncover what all this means.

 

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This is the story of John Stalter

John found solace in creative writing as he navigated turbulence brought on by a goal-driven father, a misdiagnosed depressive disorder, and the pressures of growing up. After a few years of replacing his passions with substance abuse, John turned back to writing to cope with the passing of a friend.

Since graduating with a Bachelor’s of Creative Writing and an Associate’s of Psychology, John has been writing, working on his novels, poetry books, and now, scripts and philosophy manifestos. He has continued to work as a group-home staff member, which John says is decent pay for an amazing insight on the differently-abled society that plays a huge role in the modern age. He also loves going to open mics, walking in natural areas whilst playing an instrument sometimes, meditating, yoga, and longboarding through the beautiful river-split city he has learned to love. Besides writing, John has two albums of original music written out that he plans to have produced in the next year and a half.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on October 31, 2018.

| Writer: John Stalter | Editor: Colleen Walker |
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