How Stories Saved My Life

Jun 10, 2023 by S. R. Watts

It’s easy to underestimate the power of a well-written story. Heck, so many have been told over the centuries that we often fail to appreciate how they tend to influence us. For me, stories aren’t just some fascinating aspect of the human condition. They are the very reason why I am alive today and why I continue to go on living. While this may seem a little dramatic, I can’t deny that I would have probably taken my own life by now if it weren't for some of the most epic novels ever written.

It all began when I was a young boy. Having been born with autism spectrum disorder, my development was quite a bit different from that of other kids. While I won’t go into the nitty-gritty details, I will say that it made interacting with other people very confusing, resulting in some pretty traumatic experiences. It’s important to mention here that, at the time, autism wasn’t talked about as much since only a small number of doctors knew anything about it. As a result, some aspects of my behaviors led many adults to believe I was just a bad kid and gave my peers a reason to think I was just weird.

Of course, I had no idea that my behavior was being perceived as odd. I wasn’t even aware of all the more subtle ways people reacted to my interactions with them. I did, however, realize that people often responded negatively to many of the things I said and did. Teachers would punish me for talking out of turn. Kids would tease me for saying something I thought was logical. And everyone would act differently around me whenever I showed up at a particular place. Even my parents thought I needed to be disciplined more to correct what many had dubbed questionable behavior. But worst of all, some kids decided to use my eccentricities as a valid excuse to bully me, leading to many instances where I was harassed and manipulated. The worst bullies would beat me up and put me into scenarios where I got into trouble at school for doing things I didn't know were wrong.

All this led me to feel like I was unloved and unwanted. Except for my family, I couldn’t think of anyone in my grade school years wanting anything to do with me. I spent a lot of time by myself, doing everything I could to cope with my feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. As I got older and the world grew more hectic around me, there were times I wanted my life to end because the anxiety and depression became too much for my small, broken heart to bear. I even attempted to kill myself, only to be thwarted by my parents, who happened to walk in on me the very moment I was prepared to go through with it. When I was finally diagnosed with autism, my mother and father did everything possible to improve my situation. They even changed how they addressed my behavior issues. Through it all, I began to search for something that would help me find love and acceptance in this unforgiving world. Something that would help me see my inner worth—and that is where the time-honored tradition of storytelling began to shape my personal saga.

Of all the things I experienced in life, nothing has brought me more excitement and pleasure than getting lost in a good story. Whether it was reading the Great American Novel or watching a blockbuster film, I always loved seeing my favorite protagonists overcome significant obstacles to achieve their goals, becoming the heroes that made life better for everyone around them. Most of the time, the trials they faced involved a villain, and if there was one thing I loved more than anything else, it was seeing a malicious evil-doer get there comeuppance in the end. Such stories gave me hope that good would one day triumph over evil, and everyone who was ever mistreated would find the courage to stand up to their oppressors and say, “ENOUGH!”

It was this love I had for stories that gave me something to hold on to as I struggled to live with autism. There were days in grade school when I would spend my free time imagining myself as the protagonist of stories I wrote, giving myself special abilities to fight the bullies I would often cast as the villains. Of course, I would be a benevolent hero, sparing those villains who repented of their evil ways and giving them a chance to atone for their crimes. But whenever they didn’t, I would visit my wrath upon them, making them pay for having brought so much evil upon the world in which we lived. And at the end of each tale, I would be praised for my heroic deeds, having brought peace and prosperity throughout the land. I would have made many friends, and they would all love me for giving them hope in their hour of need.

So, as I got older and the hardships of life with autism became more intense, I continued to craft wildly-inventive tales to keep myself feeling stable and fulfilled. However, the more I wrote, the more my intentions for telling such stories began to change. While I did aspire to make a good living from my work, this was not my primary motive. No, something else kept me going as I worked tirelessly on my novels. Something that went beyond my need for validation and admiration. For, you see, the one story I have been working on for nearly 20 years now has grown into a sincere desire to empower others. This story would not only help me find the kind of success that leads to book deals and franchising opportunities, but it would also help spark an evolution among my readers as they gained a greater understanding of their inner worth. And that alone gave me the one thing I needed to stave off depression and keep on living: a noble sense of purpose.