“Truth is both personally and politically liberating.” Within the first few sentences of her new memoir, Stephanie Schroeder makes it clear that she tells it like it is.
Schroeder is a queer feminist writer, a publicist in corporate America, a mental health advocate, and a three-time suicide survivor. In her debut, a memoir called Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies & Suicide, she reflects on her life as a young queer woman juggling these roles while coming to terms with her own mental illness.
The story starts in 1991 and carries through to present day, following Schroeder mostly through New York and New Jersey to different jobs, relationships, apartments, and therapists. She’s diagnosed at age 28 with Tourette’s syndrome, but her story later goes on to include episodes of intimate partner violence with her then-girlfriend, depression, and bipolar disorder.
“Most of the time I was like, I can’t believe this is even happening to me,” Schroeder says. “I felt like I was a strong person. [I thought,] Any kind of domestic abuse or betrayal, this doesn’t happen to me. Of course it happens to me, it happens to everyone.”
Much of the book was written while the events Schroeder describes were taking place, she says. For example, a portion where she describes being hospitalized after a suicide attempt was written in the hospital. She was participating in an outside writing workshop at the time and says she remembers stressing about having to submit chapters to the workshop from the hospital.
She “put it down and picked it up a lot” and finally finished the book about eight years after she started it. Now that she’s found her way to recovery, she says, it was time to publish her story so others could learn from it — including people in her life.
She says her family told her, “You have to write what you have to write. Whatever your truth is, that’s what we support.” Schroeder writes with unsparing detail about people in her life who have hurt her, like abusive partners, cheating ex-girlfriends, and apathetic family members. Trained in journalism, she would invite friends over to ask questions about her experiences and prompt her to remember key scenes as they happened. It was a way to bring real dialogue into the story, she says, making the book more accessible.
“People say characters write themselves, and it’s kind of true,” Schroeder says. “Mine happen to be me and people who were in my life.”
Beautiful Wreck’s official publication date is September 10 — Schroeder’s 49th birthday and the date internationally recognized as World Suicide Prevention Day. Schroeder says launching the book on this date is no coincidence.
“I’m a big advocate for people getting help and for asking for help,” Schroeder says. “I wasn’t able to ask for help, and if you don’t ask for it, you’re never going to get it.”
The book is also full of resources, including hotlines and support networks for people who have also dealt with mental illness, domestic violence, or suicide.
“No matter what your situation is, you don’t have to be a victim,” she says. “You can have a voice.”