In our 36th episode, Sofie is joined by Kristina Smeriglio, a passionate writer and editor, to discuss the impact of writing on mental health. Throughout the episode, Kristina references the positive impacts of using her life as a reference for her novel, “Falling into Fire”. However, she also talks about the challenges of using art to portray a personal narrative and shares how she was able to navigate them. Kristina also emphasizes that everyone’s healing journey is different and recalling events and emotions can be triggering. Thus, before delving into writing as a tool for gaining clarity on a painful experience, it’s important to approach yourself with compassion and analyze your intentions.
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About the Guest
Kristina Smeriglio is a writer and editor who has always been fascinated by the complexities of the human experience. She strives to understand the roles of the mind and the heart, of the psyche and emotions, and so it has become the main theme of her work. Kristina focuses particularly on how the mind and our emotions are affected by our environment and experiences.
Kristina spends much of her time wondering about the human experience and exploring the age-old question, “why are we here?” She explored that same question and many others in her novel, Falling Into Fire, as she dove deep into The Garden of Earthly Delights, the painting by Hieronymus Bosch.
Sofie: Hello everyone and welcome back to Claim Your Potential, the empowerment podcast. I’m your host Sofie, and for this episode we are joined by Kristina Smeriglio to discuss the power of writing. Kristina is a writer and editor with a bachelor of arts in psychology and master of arts in writing. She has always been fascinated by the complexities of the human experience and strives to understand the roles of the mind and the heart and of the psych and emotions, thus it has become the main theme of her work. Kristina focused particularly on how the mind and our emotions are affected by our environment and experiences. She spends much of her time wondering about the human experience and exploring the age-old question, why are we here? She explored that same question and many others in her novel, “Falling into Fire” as she dove deep into The Garden of Earthly Delights, the painting by Hieronymus Bosch. Please welcome, Kristina. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Kristina Smeriglio: Thank you, Sofie. I’m happy to be here.
Sofie: We’re so happy to have you. And you know, “Falling into Fire”, I would love to start us off with hearing a little bit more about your book and what inspired you to write your novel?
Kristina Smeriglio: So this book was inspired officially, I would say it’s – it was inspired when I was achieving my master’s degree in writing from Nova Southeastern University. The story itself was actually prompted while taking a fiction writing workshop. I was instructed to write a story where the setting was the main character and when I was trying to think about what story I was going to write, what was the setting that I was going to write, you know, I was thinking oh should I write about my hometown? Should I write about, you know, a fictional place? I honestly didn’t really know what I was going to write about and then so I felt called to think about a painting I had seen in another class. So in my editing and layout and design class, I had actually been introduced to Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and soon as I got that image in my mind, I knew I had to explore it. So that’s kind of what initially started the process for me but I would say that that story was inspired long before I even saw that painting. I was going through a lot emotionally and in my relationships and to be honest, the whole reason I even wanted to go into writing in the first place had a lot to do with how I wanted to help people, especially because writing was how I’ve always helped myself. You know? So even when I was growing up, when I was going through anything, I would process it through writing so when I was older – and that’s why I actually got a bachelor’s in Psychology, I had wanted to help people who had gone through something similar to me but at the time I wasn’t sure how I was gonna do that. So I decided to pursue writing and when I found myself writing this story, I realized that this was the way that I was gonna truly heal because I had wanted to heal from my experiences for a very long time and no matter where I turned, something was always missing in how I was approaching my healing until this story came out. And by the way of this story, which actually it took many forms, first as a story in fiction writing workshop that turned into my thesis eventually it turned into “Falling into Fire” as a novel and it took many stages but I realized that this came from a deep inner desire to want to truly heal and overcome my experiences and to not allow anything to hold me back. You know? So there was definitely like the physical inspirations, you know, of the world but there was also something deep within me that allowed this project to happen. So I’m very grateful that – that was within me and then through this medium, through writing, I was able to overcome a lot so that’s pretty much it.
Sofie: Yeah, I think that there’s so much power, you know, in – in writing and being able to, you know, put pen to paper and figure out a way to really get everything that you’re thinking, you know, out there. And so I would love to hear a little bit more about your process with, you know, how writing about your difficulties in the areas of identity, sexuality, and relationships by way of writing this fantasy fiction story allowed you to really overcome them and heal from them. I’d love to hear a little bit more about you know your process there?
Kristina Smeriglio: So the process was not easy say, you know, it wasn’t one of these stories that I was like all right cool we’re gonna write it, boom, it’s done. To be honest, it was incredibly difficult but like I said that desire to heal was so strong within me that – that kind of kept pushing me on. But when it came to the actual physical writing, a lot of times what would happen is I would get a scene and I would, you know, a lot of things would come up. What I believe helped me write this story particularly was the fact that it was fantasy fiction. You know, when I was thinking about the different ways that I could write my story at the time, writing a memoir of any fashion just wasn’t it. You know, I had a lot of issues with how I was really going to write the story because I really wanted to be honest in my representation and it was difficult at the time because there was so much to be healed. You know, I didn’t even know if I could trust my memories, you know, because I was so affected by everyone telling me things and I really wanted to do the story justice. So and to be honest, there were certain things I couldn’t talk about in a very direct way at that time. You know? So through fantasy fiction, by having this setting, The Garden of Earthly Delights and researching it, seeing how much of that setting was timeless, right? Like a lot of things that I saw in there, I feel are still prevalent today which is and insane because that’s a renaissance painting. It’s also very – has a lot of religious themes, a lot of spiritual themes which make sense for my life because of my upbringing. And by having this setting, by having sort of like an avatar, right? Like my main character essentially was this avatar, I was able to watch her go through these things. Like it was a way to be detached, but it was also a way to just embrace a new character, that allowed me to process my experiences in a different way. I was able to focus more on what had happened and how it made me feel as opposed to making sure all of the facts were right. Everything like how was describing every person, even the male character that takes a primary focus in my story, the Jonah character, he represents pretty much not just one person in my life but several people in my life and he was kind of like this mixture of personalities and events because a lot of things that kept happening to me, it was sort of like this pattern. So to me, I felt like it didn’t matter so much to be like, oh I need to get the names right. I need to get the words right. I needed to get my experience right because it was about getting the truth of what my experience was in that moment. Because to be honest for me, you know, when we go through something traumatic, sometimes it really isn’t exactly how it happens. A lot of times our filters impact the way that we go through something, you know, the way that the other person felt in that moment. Right? Like I have no idea what they were feeling, what their intentions were. I just knew what my experience was based on my upbringing based on how I felt. So I feel like through the fantasy fiction genre, I was able to explore these things without having to worry about, you know, did it exactly happen like that. You know, I feel like now that I’ve written “Fallen into Fire” and I’ve been able to uncover some of my own conditioning, some of those filters that I went through, some of my breaks in memory because of my trauma like yeah, maybe now I could look at the experiences a little differently but I first had to be honest with what happened and how it made me feel and how it really affected my mind. You know? Yes, I understand the people that are trying to help me and I kind of go through this in my introduction where I realized the things that people were saying to me, I understand where they were coming from. And as an adult now I can kind of see what their line of thinking was but as a younger person, I wasn’t able to receive that kind of advice because they were attending to the wrong thing. You know? So when it came down to me writing this story, through this setting like I said, you know, my main character Priela would encounter these different moments with people whether it was with the men in her life, whether it was with her best friend, her spiritual guardian, like all these different things they brought up a lot of memories for me and to be honest, a lot of times it was very difficult to write. But I knew that if I didn’t write them, I would definitely not be able to overcome them, but you know I felt like I had a story to share in a certain empowerment. Where if I could tell this story and be as honest as possible and really confront these things, if anyone should pick this up who’s had any kind of experience that’s similar or if they know someone who’s gone through something similar, by having this point of view, they can get a little bit more insight and go on their own healing journey. So even though there were times where, you know, I remember when I was first writing it for my thesis and it was actually called “Hallow be Thy Fall”, like that’s why I tell you like there was a lot of evolutions in this story. When I was first writing it as that when I had to confront the rape scene, to be honest, I didn’t even write for like two weeks. I was like there’s no way that I could write this, I knew I had to but then there was the reality of how am I going to. You know? So then it was a lot of really, you know, I had to think about my why. Like why am I doing this? Do I really want to heal? And I knew that the only way to do it was even if it took me a little bit of time and I needed a break to kind of just process the fact that this is what I’m writing about right now, I know I just had to do it. So I gave myself, you know, I – I guess I could say I had grace with myself. I had compassion with myself where I did whatever it took and I allowed myself to take the time that I needed to write these scenes but I ultimately embraced being brave and courageous. And I would just go through it no matter what it meant even if I looked horrible, even if like someone could look at me and be like, “wow that was really ridiculous, she could have done something else”. You know? Maybe they wouldn’t understand my point of view but it was honest to what had happened and who I was at that point because I was a very wounded person that I was. So regardless of how this story made me look and what kind of quote unquote dirty laundry I was airing out, I knew that I had to be told because life is messy and the only way that we can really overcome some of these very messy situations is by looking at them honestly. So yes, it was through fantasy fiction. But I feel like for me at that point, that’s what it had to be in order for me to begin to feel comfortable with talking about the story at all. I was very uncomfortable talking about these things. I felt very unsupported even if I was supported. There were certain things that I needed that it was very difficult for me to feel so by having this fantasy fiction, I was able to overcome things in a different way that let me look at the story holistically without those parameters of things having to be a certain way and because of that freedom, because of that, you know, sort of wiggle room that I had there with the setting, it allowed me to explore things much more deeply. So I’m very glad that I did it in that way.
Sofie: Yeah, and I want to say, you know, thank you so much for sharing your story and – and sharing a little bit about, you know, what you’ve experienced. And you know, when you were talking about how it really was a medium for you to not focus on all right, this is exactly what was said, I need to, you know, go back and rewind and rather you focused on this is how it made me feel. This is how I’m currently feeling about it and I need to make sure that you know this character feels that feeling. And so when you look at it from that almost outside perspective of oh wow, I can’t believe that my character is going through this, and feeling this way, I feel like it really gives you that opportunity to then, you know, be introspective and go all right now I fix that for my character, how can I fix that for me? How can I, you know, make myself feel a little bit better? Like I mean my character feel a little bit better. And so I think that, you know, as you are explaining, you know, your process I think it’s so cool and so amazing the way that, you know, you did it in the way that you really embraced what has happened and turned it into, you know all right, now how can I help myself heal? And how can I help others heal and tell this story in a way that is comfortable for me? And I think a lot of the time when, you know, stories like that are told it’s very open of this happened to me. This is this, this is that. Which is great and I think it’s very powerful but not every person, you know, is ready in their life to do that yet. And I think that’s one hundred percent okay and I think that’s, you know, part of the journey is just, you know, saying it out loud and going, “oh my gosh. Right? This happened, oh my goodness. I can’t believe this happened.” And so I love that, you know, you – you knew that, you address that. You’re like okay, I’m not ready to talk about, you know, this is being attached to me yet but I am ready to share it. I am ready to help other people grow it grow from it. So I think that’s very powerful and I want to thank you for, you know, the work you’re doing there and I really also would love to, you know, talk about how some of our listeners can really embrace writing as healing practice because it seems like it’s been such a healing practice for you. Been part of your healing journey. And so are there any common barriers that people face when it comes to embracing writing as a healing practice and how can these be overcome?
Kristina Smeriglio: Thank you. So thank you for all that. Yes, first of all I was like as you were talking, I was like yes, thank you. I really appreciate that. Um, So yes, writing honestly really is a powerful exercise. I will say writing it as a book was incredibly powerful because there’s also a lot to be said about, you know, the editor factor, me working with an editor, me working with my thesis advisor. I had a lot of people who really brought a lot to light with this particular story. I could really speak a lot to that as well but even just in general by writing these experiences, I would say the most difficult part is not being afraid of what other people are going to think. You know, sometimes when we create writings or other pieces of art, sometimes we are thinking of how people are going to receive it. I would say don’t worry so much about that when you’re writing your experiences. Yes, sometimes there are certain things like for example, something that I went through with my thesis advisor where I was writing my story and she brought to light, “oh Kristina, like if you have it in this way, you’re essentially saying that it was all your fault”, and that was actually part of my experience. Right? For a very long time, that’s what I thought and it came through the writing. You know? So she told me she like Kristina, “if you write this story, you’re not gonna power anybody”, and I was like, “oh, but I don’t understand”. And that’s where I was at that point. It was very difficult for me to see things. Right? Like that’s why this story as you go writing you begin to discover more about those filters, more about those conditionings that you have that really make you think certain things about your experiences. So if you can really have patience, if you can have the bravery just to keep going and just to write deeper and deeper, if you really immerse yourself in the story, you are going to discover those things about your experience. You know? And in my case, I had the assistance of a thesis advisor, later on I had an editor when it was turned into a novel. So whether you have someone, to be able to point these things out or if just by writing yourself, first it really is about not caring what anybody thinks. Just writing the experience, writing how you felt, writing what you remember because honestly what you remember whether or not it is facts, it is gonna make a difference. Right? Because it’s that memory that we replay over and over again and sometimes our memories are based on this emotion, a certain trauma sparks us to remember things a certain way. The only way to get to the factual part of what happened, to get to looking at the experience holistically, to look at it through any other lens other than the lens of the trauma you remember, you have to write it all out. You have to be honest, you have to not hold back. And I will say when you give it your everything you will make discoveries that are going to help you. In writing “Falling into Fire”, there were many times where I didn’t want to maybe get so graphic. For example, I wanted to maybe hold back a little bit in that regard but to be honest by even if all those details were not left in the final draft, by getting graphic, I was able to put myself more in that moment and to replay certain things. Which yes, it may seem very difficult for a lot of people to want to do but a lot of times by having some sort of reconnection with that moment right, it depends on where you are in your healing journey, if you’re just getting over something, I probably wouldn’t suggest that somebody write about it so immediately. I would say maybe there’s some other things I need to happen there. I do think that I was able to accomplish what I did because there was distance. You know? I still felt the emotions, but in time there was some distance between me writing it and the situations that I was writing about. So I do think that that’s very key. We have to be very mindful as to where we are in our healing journey. If we just start writing the day after just because we want to get over it, I don’t know if that’s gonna be as effective. You know, everyone’s healing journey is different. I know for me, just even thinking about the story, I was writing when it was just my thesis, I had already had distance as it was but even writing as my thesis, I was doing the victim blaming. I was doing all that. And so it goes to show things will start to shift as time goes on, as you begin to write more about it. You know? So I would say first just be very clear about your intentions about writing about these things. Make sure that you’re willing to be open, willing to be honest, even if nobody reads your writing but you have to be open and honest with yourself first to be able to look at these things completely and holistically and then you will see how powerful writing about your stories can be. Because it will show you more about that experience. I firmly believe that I did not have these experiences just to have them and be destroyed and be damaged for life. You know, I feel like I was giving these experiences and now I have this opportunity to write about them so that I can not only heal myself but I can heal others. I feel like when we share our stories all these people that share their stories, whether it’s similar to mine, whether it’s other types of abuse or any other experience when they share it, there is healing as a community. So I feel like there is power in sharing and through writing it starts with the writer first. Right? So being able to acknowledge and explore their experience within themselves and then be able to share that with a large audience. So I would ultimately say it is a completely rewarding experience if you’re willing to be honest with what happened and just be willing to see what happens, to be honest. You never know what you can learn from writing about yourself. Yeah, I think it’s a very rewarding experience and I know for me, it changed my life completely. So I’m very glad I did it.
Sofie: Yeah, Thank you so much for sharing that and, you know, I love that you mentioned that you need to sit in it a little bit first. I think so often we want to not feel uncomfortable. We don’t want to feel sad. We don’t want to feel, you know, that anger and so a lot of the time when, you know, really awful, traumatic experiences happen, i’s very easy for us as human beings to, you know, want to push past it. You know, hide it in the back of your mind you know, put it on the backburner. Go I’m not going to deal with that, I’m not going to focus on that, I have other things to worry about, I have other things I need to do. And if I don’t think about it then maybe it didn’t happen or if I don’t think about it then it can’t hurt me. And you know, I think that we pretty much all know that that doesn’t work and you know sooner or later it comes out and it bubbles over. And so I love that you said that you have to sit in it for a little bit. You have to be uncomfortable with those emotions. You have to, you know, start that healing journey before you can really get, you know, to the writing part, to the development part, to where you grow as not just a writer but as a person. You know? Trying to share and deal with your pain in a way that is an empowering medium. So I love that, you know, you brought that up and that you shared that and you’ve given so many lessons throughout this episode. But I would love to bring it down to, you know, what is one thing that our listeners should take away from this conversation?
Kristina Smeriglio: Honestly, I know I said a variation of this but I firmly believe if you are willing to take an honest look at yourself and your experiences, you really can overcome anything. If you are willing to be honest with yourself, with others, with what you have been through even if it is difficult, if you’re willing to embrace the truth, you can overcome anything that has happened to you.
Sofie: Amazing. Thank you so much for that empowering message and it’s something that I hold near and dear to my heart. So I love that you brought that up and for our listeners that would love to hear more from you, how can our listeners connect with you?
Kristina Smeriglio: I do have a website. My website is Kristina Smeriglio dot com. I have a lot of my work there and you can reach me there. I am also available on social media at Kristina Smeriglio, I use the same handle just about anywhere. Primarily, I use Instagram but I do have all other social media profiles as well. Yeah, that’s how you can reach me.
Sofie: Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing and for sharing your story and a little bit about, you know, your writing experience. And I think this is such a fantastic tool that our listeners can listen in on and especially when it comes to, you know, processing those emotions and really finding ways to heal. I think that’s so powerful and you are such an empowering woman and thank you again so much for coming onto the podcast, Kristina.
Kristina Smeriglio: Thank you so much Sofie, I’ve loved being here.
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