When I began writing “Blackbird Dreams” two and a half years ago, I envisioned a spy novel in which a woman named Marie discovers that she was born the rightful heir to an island kingdom. Her ruthless parents, who have been drugging her for years, consign her to a psychiatric institution. Marie escapes with three residents following a car crash, and the gang of misfits go on an adventure to regain Marie’s inheritance. Marie is recruited by the CIA, overthrows her father’s criminal enterprise, and regains the throne of the island kingdom.
As I developed the spy plot, I knew that I was narrating the very delusions I had suffered during a severe manic episode several years earlier. Something compelled me to tell the story of losing my mind, but I was sure I could never write it as nonfiction.
I did practice putting my own, true story into words, however. I’m deeply grateful to the Metro Detroit chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for training me as a peer support group facilitator and inviting me to share my story on panels for family members of those struggling with mental illness. In the talks I gave, I always highlighted that moment in the car on the phone with my mother when I said to her, “I think I might be having a break with reality.”
And she replied, “I think you might be too. Please come home.”
The moment is pivotal. Each time I sat down and began shaping “Blackbird Dreams,” I started with a scene set in a car, even when I was fictionalizing the narrative—I wanted to begin in medias res, and I knew the power of the scene from living it.
My mother says that something inside of me, no matter how bad things get, still wants to be well, still yearns for wholeness. She calls it “a piece of God” inside me.
If not for that shard of insight, of God, that night, I believe I could easily be homeless, trafficked, or dead today.
I began to write a memoir as I came to realize, this is me: I have lived this, and I have survived it too. I can’t hide behind fictionalizing. This is my story.
And what’s more, I was proud. Proud that I went fathoms deep but returned to light and air wiser and stronger, like a deep-sea diver bringing up a lustrous, dark pearl. I had emerged from the depths determined to change my life, and I had.
Today, after having lost nearly everything to medication noncompliance and bipolar mania, I’m stable and healthy, have a successful marriage, own my own home, and work full-time in a professional career. I’m pursuing an MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
My hope is that the memoir I began with this essay as a prologue will be published someday, and that I can give voice to those who have lost the ability to speak for themselves. My own mind, after all, once robbed me of my voice. Even if it isn’t, I know this: the girl in “Blackbird Dreams,” who lost her mind and labored long and arduously to restore her life, finds her way home.
MEG LeDUC is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a BA in English and Creative Writing. Her writing has appeared in Brevity, San Fedele Press, and IHRAF Publishes. She won a 2014 Michigan Press Association Award for News Enterprise Reporting, and her essay, “A Different Kind of Home,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2020. An MFA in Writing student at Vermont College of Fine Arts, she lives and works in Detroit with her husband and three cats.