Tomorrow, I’ll begin my second year of participating in Back to Middle-Earth Month, an online challenge that brings together people from across the Tolkien fandom to create new works celebrating his. When I talk about it, some people assume that I’m automatically going to sign up because they know I’m a nerd and Tolkien’s world is my absolute favorite.

What they don’t know is that I didn’t used to be open with people about this - and I actually became a Tolkien fan at age nine, farther back than I’d admit to most people.

I still remember the day I first discovered it: I was laying on the couch, entertaining myself with a comic book on an otherwise unmemorable weekend afternoon. Dad was watching Fellowship of the Ring, which was in my young (and uneducated) mind the nerdiest thing in the universe. He always tried to get me to watch science fiction movies with him, or fantasies like this one, but I was never interested.

Somehow, he got me to look up - and the second I saw that first clip, I was completely captivated. I watched the movies in record time and soon moved on to the books and to peppering Dad with a thousand questions about obscure bits of lore.

In the beginning, things were perfect. I felt like I’d fallen in love and nothing could bring me down. But then it was brought to my attention that I was obsessed with Lord of the Rings.

Even now, after so many trials with OCD, I still bristle at the word. When I was a kid, I was even more sensitive about it, and I realized that my new hobby must be something to be deeply ashamed of. And my joy soon turned to horror as I thought of what was under my bed at that very moment.

Shortly after finishing Return of the King for the first of many times, I had started writing fanfiction (although I hadn’t even heard of the term) inside a marble notebook that I kept in a drawer under my bed, right next to my diary. Paint chips representing the colors of outfits, horses, and decorations were glued meticulously into the notebook along with notes I wrote on pieces of scrap paper, napkins, and even the occasional tissue. It turned into a marvelous scrapbook of ideas, a cornucopia of inspiration.

With this new shame, I became determined to ensure no one would ever find out what I was doing in that notebook. I started writing in a code that became so convoluted that even I forgot how to read it after a while. And still, its presence haunted me - until one day, I went into the kitchen when I was home alone and took a pair of scissors and shredded all the pages I’d used, leaving an empty husk of a notebook cover behind.

For many years afterwards - almost a decade, in fact - I kept all of my fanfiction ideas in my head. It was easier than trying to explain to myself or anyone else why I was doing something so weird and still loving it even through all the guilt and shame.

Then, at seventeen, I discovered fanfiction websites. I finally had a laptop of my own, and I was able to browse the archives to my heart’s content. I saw what I had never seen before: a community of people who were also so focused on the same thing as me that they could write these stories for years, amassing thousands of words of fiction about their favorite characters.

It took me a few more years to actually write some fanfiction of my own, but once I started last November, it was such a thrill that I haven’t gone back. When people encouraged me, I read the Silmarillion and then discovered that some fans had spent years debating the finer points of the mythological book even many Tolkien fans call too intense.

 These people were extremely focused. Obsessed, for lack of a better word. These people were like me.

I dove headfirst into the fanfiction scene, and ever since then, I’ve been writing it as often as I can. And once I started getting a few kudos online, I started to tell people in real life about it. Explaining myself, my ideas, my shame, my freedom. And it felt wonderful to give my mom, who I had once hidden the notebook from with such desperation, the link to my first online story. She was also there taking pictures when I debuted my first cosplay of a Tolkien character and appreciates the photos I took with several of the films’ actors at a convention this past year.

It’s been a long journey to take pride in my passion for Tolkien’s work. This month, when I celebrate Back to Middle-Earth Month, I’ll post what I’ve written openly rather than shredding it. I’ll tell my friends, family, and even my new coworkers about what I’m up to. I’ll try to be as open as I can, even if others judge me, because I have watched that stigma lessen before my eyes and have hope that other stigmas can too.

As a kid, it was hard for me to even say the names of the characters I loved out loud, afraid of being ridiculed. I’ve gone from that to marching down the street in a cosplay parade, wearing elf robes and waving to the hundreds of people lining the streets. All it took was the kindness of fellow fans and acceptance of the people who didn’t quite understand why I was so passionate about Tolkien, but were willing to be kind anyway.

 I take pride in saying that I’ll be writing Tolkien fanfiction throughout the month of March. Hopefully, one day, I can be as open about other things - but for now, it’s time to hunker down with my writing prompts and prepare for an amazing month ahead!

Ellie, a writer new to the Chicago area, was diagnosed with OCD at age 3. She hopes to educate others about her condition and end the stigma against mental illness.