Writing and publishing a memoir was never going to be easy for Sandie Jessamine. Living with borderline personality disorder meant that she could be one person at the start of a sentence and another by the end. Having suffered trauma, abuse and devastating loss, Sandie wanted to write her story to help her process her past. She turned to the AWC to give her the structure she needed.
“I turned into a writer,” Sandie says about the period that followed her decision to enrol in the Write Your Novel program with Pamela Freeman. “During Pamela’s course, I put all my attention and energy into completing a draft novel. The writing gave me a safe space to retreat into away from the emotional pain but eventually I began to write within the pain until the pain was writing itself. I needed to understand how my mental illness had affected those I love, and I was uncovering it with words.”
Her extraordinary story, Borderline, has now been published by Bad Apple Press.
The structure and strength to persevere
Sandie almost didn’t go through with the Write Your Novel program. It was due to start just five days after the funeral of her daughter, in a year that had also seen her lose her father and her career.
“Writing had always been my salvation, carrying me through the worst of times, and besides, I now had time on my hands to create something other than tear-stained verses,” Sandie says. “What else was there to do but write? I stepped into the classroom in Milsons Point and so began a writing journey that would lead to my memoir Borderline.”
The weekly class with Pamela Freeman gave Sandie the structure and discipline to write regularly, and she started writing almost every day. Initially, she wrote her story as fiction, needing to gain distance from her experiences. She went on to complete Life Writing with Patti Miller and then enrolled in Write Your Novel again in a special Masterclass version for previous graduates. During this time, Sandie learnt to use her different voices as a storytelling technique – and then she knew it was time to write her story as memoir, rather than fiction.
“It wasn’t the same saga I’d written in [the first] Write Your Novel, but a story about my teenage years when I’d spent two years in juvenile institutions,” Sandie says.
Learn more about Sandie's story below:
Telling her story in her own words
Sandie had been misunderstood and misdiagnosed her whole life. As an adult she had learned to repress who she really was in order to survive and get by. So it was vitally important that she reclaimed her story and her past.
“The borderline personality diagnosis made me determined to tell my story in my own words, rather than being written up in the report of a psychiatrist paid for by my employer, a man I saw for 50 minutes precisely,” Sandie says. “When I looked at his report, trauma and the resilience to survive it was missing from the page. I seemed to be missing from the page. And I thought, this is not my story.”
Reclaiming her story was not an easy process and initially, Sandie wrote primarily for herself. But then she began to see that her story could have greater resonance. She entered a 25,000-word extract from her draft manuscript into the Walter Stone Life Writing Award and was shortlisted.
“I began to daydream about becoming a self-published author. I doubted any traditional publisher would make sense of my writing style, which was all over the place as other parts of me kept taking over and deleting what I wrote, needing their own stories told,” Sandie says.
Finding publishing success
After completing the two Write Your Novel programs at the Australian Writers' Centre, Sandie went on to do a self-publishing course, assuming that no traditional publisher would be interested in her story. But then in 2020, Bad Apple Press offered her a publishing contract.
“It was the most amazing watershed and healing moment,” Sandie says. “The book had been forged by tears, and touches of humour, of course. Irony and I are never far apart.”
The book is entirely unique, told in five different voices – a troubled child, a rebel teenager, a witch, a teacher and a wild fighter. But it is not simply a tale of a troubled teen and the devastating aftermath, but a call to justice for girls and young women who were subjected to a system designed to destroy them.
“As I began to write my story, it didn't only become about me,” Sandie says. “It was about social justice and showing the injustice of young girls who were traumatised and had often experienced sexual abuse, sexual assault, being thrown in jail and looking at the treatment and how we were perceived and the long term impact of that.”
Sandie’s story has now received international media attention, with a book launch in Sydney. Always fearless, Sandie is determined to share her experiences to help others.“Now my goal is to use my memoir, Borderline, as a platform for mental health advocacy, and speaking up against sexual violence towards women,” Sandie says about the future. “I’ve promised myself that never again will I put myself in work situations where I have to mask or hide my worst days just to get through the day. Going insane turned out to be the sanest thing I ever did, and I claim it.”