To hell and back: Minnesotan wins Rolling Stone writing contest

To hell and back: Minnesotan wins Rolling Stone writing contest

Thor Nystrom of Brainerd, Minn. says he's been to hell and back. Now that story has rewarded him with a $2,500 reward in Rolling Stone's annual College Journalism Competition. He is featured in the newest issue, which hits shelves nationwide Friday. Nystrom used his own medical records, police records, personal diary, interviews with family and his own recollections to write his experience in the mental health system during his college years.

As he writes in the piece:

It would feature seven different diagnoses, 13 different mind-altering drugs, more than a dozen psychiatrists and psychologists, hundreds of hours of therapy, drug overdoses, self-mutilation, a suicide attempt, a weight gain of 140 pounds and being committed by the state of Minnesota for four months into three separate mental institutions.

Kevin O’Donnell, assistant editor for Rolling Stone, said Nystom’s piece edged out about 150 other stories from students across the country. His own school paper at the University of Kansas profiled him and explained the process he went through to start working on the story:

Nystrom said he remembered sitting in his Depth Reporting class last spring and being the only student without an idea for the class’s major project. His inspiration finally came after stumbling across a story of a girl’s personal struggle with an eating disorder. He said he started thinking about his own story and thought it would translate well to a broad audience.

“I had never really spoken about it with anyone,” Nystrom said, “not family, friends or anyone. I just kind of let all those emotions fester. I had to get it out eventually. I had to write it for myself.”

In writing the story, Nystrom said, he was able to purge the emotions he had held on to for more than a year. For his own sake, he made a deal with himself to tell the story 100 percent truthfully. Telling the story became more a personal necessity and less a class project. He said if he had considered the fact that friends, family and complete strangers would be reading the story, he probably wouldn’t have been able to be as honest.

“It was too important and too personal at that point in my life,” Nystrom said. “I was going to go 100 percent, or I wasn’t going to write it. I would have taken an F in the class. That’s how important it was.”

Sounds like Nystrom might be giving David Carr a run for his money. Journalists are seriously screwed up folks.

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