Branding Through Trauma

Searching for my brand

I was listening to one of my fave writing podcasts — which there are very few — and they were on the topic of branding, which reminded me of the thing I had intentionally avoided when redoing the website. I had focused on visual accessibility for myself and others, while avoiding updating my author page or any of the things that talk about me as a writer. This was intentional because it was, as they say, a whole can of worms that I wasn’t ready to open just yet. I’m still not ready, but I’m at least willing to think about it from a place of curiosity instead of reaction and avoidance.

Part of the issue is I don’t know myself anymore. A decade of illness changes you, and the last few years have been so extreme in that regard. I have collected definitions and labels and understanding of myself, and I see how these things are presented within this field as badges instead of defects, to the point each diagnosis feels more like a collector’s item instead of the extreme complexity they come with. Expectations to hold oneself to when exhausted by said complexities.

Defined by limits?

I don’t begrudge authors their spin, their strength in vulnerability to define themselves by these conditions — to define their brands by these conditions. To get empowerment instead of to feel weighed down by the challenges each one embodies. But I am struggling to see any of this as my brand.

Part of it is absolutely self-ableism. But part of it is how I see myself — how I feel I need to see myself to cope and continue on.

The reality is, these conditions have limited me from being a writer. I write despite these things. And these conditions have made writing so arduous, they are what I fight to do the thing I once loved greatly. I don’t want to define my brand by the things that have limited it, and that’s just the place I’m in right now.

I’ve always tried to define my brand by the writing, because that is the two-dimensional version being put out into the ether, so easily summarized into blurbs and slapped on a package. To claim a brand has room for complexity is a lie. But at the same time, it is always a human being in the center of a brand.

Traditional branding?

It always feels like the waiting default, and I can’t fall into that treacherous hole. I can’t default to the traditional branding many authors have done, and still do, in a modern era that doesn’t respond to such separation with bios in third person. Like they’re trying to put a tense between the author and their fandom. It’s antiquated, and self-serving to claim that one will not have to sacrifice any sense of invulnerability in the name of putting the stories from their inner world out there. It doesn’t resonate with me. It never has.

Limits again…

Not talking about certain aspects of my life because they didn’t coincide with my brand, left me with nothing to talk about. These conditions absolutely limit me. They define me by their limits, by my battle to push back those limits to steal something of myself. Because I didn’t want to share how much I had been lost to these limits, I was unable for years to maintain any sort of brand. I let it grow dusty and silent, which was a severe disservice all its own.

…Rebranding is hard

Rebirth is a difficult thing. One would think it would be easier than initial birth, but it comes with the experience of being someone else. Of knowing that you become someone else on this journey. The feeling that you need to know the ending before you’re allowed to present it as you. I have so many hopes, so many goals I’m reaching for, many of them in reaction to the limits forced on me by my illness. And I don’t want that to be my brand either, because that is a reaction, not a being.

I don’t want to be in this place. So I don’t want to define myself by being in this place, nothing more than trying to overcome challenges placed on me by out of control limits. Even if it’s honest, it’s not everything, and it’s certainly not enough to drive a creative force.

So let’s look at the genre, my writing in the genre, and what I was hoping to accomplish. There is a brand in there, one centered on a goal, which honestly might be enough to be a brand in general.

Branding in a genre?

Within this genre of erotica and erotic romance is my battle to be different. To be an authentic voice that is brutal in its willingness to not conform to the expectations narrow-minded people set, while also refusing to apologize and hide away.

Then there are the outside voices. People who want to define erotic fiction as a reality that should be held to the morals and ethics of a living, breathing community. In this is not just the extremes of people trying to put an age on a group of words, define a species on a group of words, or a crime on a group of words, but also in the demand that a happy ending is required, or a character must act in a way that a sole voice insists upon to be valid within the fiction of a group of words.

Some people find safety in regulating words, and in having those words regulated. Because they’re unsafe in their brains. They are unsafe to conceptualize without fear of something breaking, of a wall bursting open and their entire sense of reality and self shaking away into chaos. And how do I know this? Because I had PTSD since I was a toddler, and how the brain modulates concepts — memories — that feel too dangerous to face is by regulating them. And when one cannot regulate their thoughts because it is an impossible task that leads to extreme suffering for the person doing it and for those around them, they try to regulate the world.

They try to regulate groups of words. They try to regulate the brains of others in the hopes that if everyone is working together to insists that the concepts they define as dangerous disappear, they will one day be safe with their own brain.

The thing is, PTSD — traumatization — is being frozen in that place of inability to accept. It’s being frozen with the inability to face a concept. It is being trapped trying to regulate one’s own thoughts and the world around them. These extreme, quite frankly, irrational behaviors are not cures to PTSD, but a symptom. It is trauma unleashed upon the world, committing trauma upon others as it tries to force conformity and regulation of thoughts and concepts and words. And as a result, as an author, writing what I write puts me in the path of the traumatized who would really like to re-traumatize me so that they might feel safer in the world. And that has made this thing I love to do fucking difficult.

It would be far easier to put a sanitized version of my inner world into a group of words to prevent such conflict. To prevent the reminder of the pattern of trauma by regulating before it’s demanded I regulate. And I think there came a point where this illness had traumatized me in a new way, and there just wasn’t enough of me to tackle it all.

The trauma pattern is built deep into my psyche, telling me if I just regulate what I share by spinning a 2D image of myself out in the world, that I can avoid triggering the pain the trauma pattern will inflict on me if I don’t. Because this is the brain doing it to itself, the psyche traumatized, hoping to avoid an imaginary future pain by inflicting pain now.

Trauma is self-destruction spun to look like empowerment some days. Trauma is self-afflicted abuse as the brain infuses impossible value into a memory — into a concept, because a memory is not an experience but just an interpretation the brain has crafted. Trauma is certainty of death if those self-created concepts are faced. Literally, the psyche will choose annihilation of existence to avoid the very thing that psyche created in the first place.

We create our monsters. Only some of us make friends with them.

Writing is my healing, exposure therapy. It’s my defiance against trauma, and the self-destructive patterns of thoughts and behavior the traumatized psyche is victimized to as it victimizes itself.

And doesn’t that just sound so self-important and valuable when the end result is a fuck fic? I’m crafting legitimacy.

A process doesn’t really have an ending. The same with branding.

This is a process. One that requires the most from me because of PTSD. It’s why I’m not allowed to give up, and not allowed to justify and rationalize for too long stepping away and letting it just disappear into the ether. Because I don’t get to be a living being who is just being, not when trauma has defined so much of my existence for so long. I am still a reaction, asking myself to grow into something more because that’s what self-awareness demands. Self-awareness, the existential horror of a dead universe.

Trauma can’t be my brand

I don’t want to present my brand from the lens of trauma. Partially because it’s a defiance of trauma. Partially because it sounds too intellectual, too important. This is not a medicine people are supposed to be aware they’re taking. It’s supposed to be an experience. It’s supposed to be a way to get lost in a concept, fully submerge, where one comes out exhilarated instead of questioning if they read it the right way. If they got the results they were looking for.

Also, I think it’s just extremely condescending to present what I write in a way that could make others look lesser for writing similar in comparison. I understand why I’m doing what I’m doing, but that doesn’t mean I’m doing it for those reasons. It’s not a choice, but an impulse, a pattern that needs completing.

I don’t expect other people to mimic my impulses, or to feel forced to justify their impulses in the same way. I’m here to get lost in a potentially unsafe concept in defiance of trauma, and I don’t want to place expectations or my self-serving intention on any author or any reader. I write for myself because I’m selfish. And it’s in that selfishness that these stories get written. There shouldn’t be a contract in that. Just an understanding.

Being ill has taken me away from my selfishness a lot. It is a different experience, one of survival. In those constant battles and exhaustion, I’m left seeking an easier route. But as much as I can claim it would be so easy to write something that would not make me feel vulnerable, or put me in conflict with the traumatized seeking to traumatize of the Internet, I can’t. I don’t get to choose what I write; it chooses me. It is a byproduct, not a goal, not an instrument that I get to yield. My brand is a byproduct of that, of the person personing.

It’s become important to understand this when faced with writer’s block. When frustrated and just wanting an easy path for a change. But I suspect after 30+ years of PTSD, and now a decade of illness, my brain has become addicted to the difficult path. There is no safe thrill of the unknown in the mundane. That’s why we escape into our minds as it is.

I already know part of the answer…

I understood my branding early into writing. It was the embracing of it all. It was the fun, the cheeky defiance to the voices that wanted to make everything so fucking serious to the point no one was allowed to have their own thoughts without shame being forced on them in punishment. I just don’t know how to balance that branding with the version of me who has had their ass kicked by illness all these years.

It’s rare for me to feel silly and playful lately, and it’s work to find that inner voice. But I want to. I want to be more than the limits that keep growing as I age into this mortal form. I want to be more than the frustrating comparisons as I try to figure out if my brain is working today or if its succumb to inflammation and allergies.

Where we dwell in consciousness is where we truly dwell

As a crafter of concepts, that saying speaks to me. It’s the tattoo I’ll never get until I finally get a tattoo. It speaks to not only what I’m trying to do — to open a psyche into an uncertain place that can have greater rewards then punishments — but to my journey as an individual. As a person who has battled years of depression and anxiety, and a chronic illness that has physical and neurological side effects. As the person left in screaming face pain for months upon months with no one offering answers or solutions while I was left to endure and solve it myself.

There is a balance to be found in the value we place in our memories and experiences, and the value we place in our goals of who we want to be as individuals. But there is only ever the being we are in this moment, being. And if you’re not fostering your mindset, being aware of where you’re dwelling in the conceptual minefield of the psyche, there is no way to get to a better state of consciousness.

Limits feel like failure in an ableist culture

image of author self conscious of camera looking away

I’m resisting listing the labels and diagnoses I’ve collected these last years and connecting it to my writing brand because I don’t want to deal with the vulnerability. The feeling like I need to present myself in a “worthy” way to make up for what feels so limiting and broken. But I also see it as a disservice to the version of me who feels empowered to represent what is so rarely even acknowledged.

Disability is erased in our culture, looked down upon as a failure of the individual, instead of as the blunt reality of being a living being that will eventually die. Perfection is a lie. Painlessness is a lie — only life can feel pain. It is by definition a state of suffering to be alive. But we as a culture choose to paint the most idyllic picture because that’s where we want to live.

And I did that too, which was why I couldn’t show up to be a writer when everything just got too difficult. I perpetuated in my erasure, because that’s what I was taught. Because that was how I coped with the pain of limits and living imperfect.

So however I end up doing this, I’m going to need to find that balance. Truth, genuineness, but from a place that doesn’t feel completely defeated by the limits of fighting. Tired, but hoping energy will come. Unformed, and afraid to create a shape that I can’t fit into. And begrudgingly okay with the shape I’m in now.