Below are my words from a recent online interview asking about the road to becoming an author.
I do give God all the glory for any success I’ve achieved. I was the worst student and a super rebellious teen. One morning in Homeroom, I made the incredibly unwise decision to both run away from home and drop out of school. I had to support myself somehow so I got a job working third shift at Waffle House. I’ve worked a lot of crazy places since but to this day Waffle House is still the craziest of them all. There was never any shortage of drama or danger working from nine at night until seven in the morning. My spoiled, naive, seventeen-year-old self loved to dive into both! Waffle House turned out to be my school of Hard Knocks and as hard as it was and as much as I complained through all six years, I’m glad to have experienced it. Waffle House taught me to work hard, how to deal with the public, and probably the most important lesson to date, how to use shame to my advantage.
After six years at Waffle House, I married my first husband. The marriage lasted five years and was very abusive. Shame is the word that comes to mind when I think of my teens and twenties. School was too much for me, my peers were too much for me, my family was too much for me, marriage was too much for me, and I also had a dark secret of bulimia I hid from the world that I’d been dealing with since I was fourteen. To me, to be an alcoholic or a drug addict was more acceptable in society than someone who couldn’t stop throwing up their food after they ate. But I couldn’t stop no matter how hard I tried. I didn’t know it back then, but the bulimia was a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that runs in my family. These disorders “flare up” with trauma, hormonal change, and just big life changes in general. This is why the bulimia only got worse and worse after dropping out of school, running away, and moving into an abusive household. At twenty-six, my life was completely out of control and the shame was so bad it felt like I had a piano permanently strapped to my back. There finally came a time when I found myself at death’s door and as a reach for survival, I ran away again and divorced my ex-husband. Of course, this was yet another trauma and the bulimia got even worse but at least now I didn’t have someone living with me who I was constantly disappointing because of it. I wish I could tell you there was a point during all of this that I saw the light and everything took a turn for the better. But I didn’t and things were hard for years after.
A month before I turned thirty, I had my son. How glorious and terrifying this was! He was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I had immeasurable love for him and yet immeasurable fear that something terrible would happen to this little baby that had my heart. Now I know that this was the result of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder triggered yet again by the hormonal change of pregnancy. But back then, I was convinced that tragedy was about to happen at any moment. I didn’t get help, I spent three years loving my son and watching him grow even though I had a constant pit in my stomach that something terrible was about to happen. Still unaware that these intrusive thoughts and feelings were abnormal in any way, I had my daughter in September of 2016. Just like my son, she was absolutely breathtaking, the sweetest baby…I fell off the deep end mentally. About six months postpartum, I started having visions and terrible dreams. In my mind, the feelings and thoughts that something terrible was going to happen were premonitions. My mind was constantly triggering fight-or-flight and my body was breaking down. I couldn’t drive without having to pull over at some point because the dizziness was so bad. I couldn’t get through a shower. My face and arms were constantly going numb. I fixated on a cough that never went away. I had tremors and blurry vision. Every day there seemed to be a new symptom just different enough to make me wonder if this time it was a real stroke or heart attack. Every day was so difficult because my brain was eating me alive.
After a year of this, I had no choice but to get help somehow. I couldn’t work or be the wife and mother my family needed because of the daily multiple panic attacks. My current husband was as supportive as it gets but he still had no idea what to do. He gave me a list of the mental health providers on our insurance plan. Sarah Beth Wheeler was close to our house so I made an appointment having no idea if it was going to help or not. It turned out that this was the Light. This is when it was all going to turn around.
God in His grace led me to the best therapist and a great doctor that prescribed medication for the anxiety. The medication stopped the terrible physical anxiety symptoms and even the binge urges that I’d been experiencing for twenty years! With this grounding, I was able to learn from Sarah Beth about the nature of OCD and how to examine my thoughts and sort them out. It took a good year of therapy and medication but this is what God used to heal me! Working on mental illness is not easy, but I will tell you it’s a heck of a lot better than remaining mentally ill! I look back at my time with Sarah Beth as one of the best years of my life.
Backing up a bit, during that year of healing, I began writing middle grade novels. I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and anything by Roald Dahl. I had this story in my mind that I would escape to every day when my daughter took a nap. A mental vacation! Before I knew it, I’d written a whole book. Me, the bulimic, divorced, high school dropout had written a book! I don’t know if it was then or after finishing my second novel, or maybe the third, that I realized that my title was no longer Bulimic, Divorced, High School Dropout. I was a wife, a mom, an author!
And best yet, I was a New Creation.
Maybe it was this feeling of being “brand new” that influenced my decision to write my novels under a pen name. I chose J. Reese Bradley—it sounded so authorly! J. Reese Bradley has published two books, Brumbletide and the Daughter of Eve and Brumbletide and the Changing of the Crowns. The third in the series, Brumbletide and the Triad Champion is finished and will release in 2022.