How Writing Helps Me Handle My Depression
I never used to talk about my depression much. When I first wrote a draft of this post—back in October 2015!—there was only one person I discussed it with.
Since then, I’ve tried to be more open about my experiences in the hopes that it helps other people, too.
It’s not easy, though.
talk whinge about my asthma until I turn bluer than my reliever inhaler, but as soon as it comes to discussing my mental health problems, I clam up. I start stuttering. I can’t form a sentence. I can’t think what I want to say, let alone actually say it. And the longer the person(s) I’m talking to stares at me with that, Well…? look, the worse I feel and the harder it becomes.
Talking about your problems is difficult for all of us. Talking about our problems and getting someone to empathise is even harder. The trouble with discussing your mental health problems is that as soon as you start to list the problems, people feel the need to fix you.
If you’re not a doctor, psychiatrist or counsellor, STOP.
If that person has not asked you for help, STOP.If someone with #mentalhealth problems talks to you, don't try to fix them. Just listen. Click To Tweet
When I start crying or shouting or ranting at someone, I’m not asking for help. I just need to get my emotions out in a healthy way. I can either do that by ranting about how much I hate my characters and having to rewrite my novel again, or I can eventually flip and project my anger onto an innocent bystander. Because that’s the level of pent-up emotions that depression can create. You put that with anxiety, and you’ve got a molotov cocktail of emotions.
How writing helps me
I’ve been writing stories since about the age of seven. I don’t know when my depression first manifested, it’s just something that’s always been there on some level since at least when I was a teenager. Some days I’d be fine, others I’d struggle to get out of bed.
When I went through my Dark Phase of 2012/13, I didn’t write. I desperately, desperately wanted to, but I didn’t. I hated my life and I hated my characters and I hated being a writer, so what was the point? What was the point in any of it? I’d roll out of bed at 3pm and shower, just before Boyfriend got home from work. The only reason I got out of bed was because I didn’t want him to see how bad I really was. I completely closed off, shutting out everyone in my life, real and fictitious.
There’s a black hole in my writing from that period, and that period is also my biggest regret. I ended up on antidepressants, which seriously messed up my sleeping pattern and turned me into a zombie. It did help my mood, though, and I started to write again.
Fast-forward to the present, and I write everyday. On the rare occasion where I don’t—usually because I’m ill or have family commitments—I don’t punish myself, I just play catch up the following day.
If I didn’t write everyday, there’s every chance that I’d wallow even more than I already do. I have days where I’m fine, I’m productive and even smiley, but I also have days where getting out of bed takes all the energy I have.
Some days, I manage the washing up. Some days I glare at it with disdain, thinking, Yay, something else to waste my time on.
And that’s the thing: when I’m writing, I feel productive. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time because I’m working towards something that’s important to me, and has been since I was still young, innocent and not suffering from depression.
I used to watch TV shows I’d seen a million times when I got home from work, clinging to them like a comfort blanket in the hopes that I could go back in time to when life was easier. Trouble is, life doesn’t work like that.
You can’t go back to a time when life was easier. Unfortunately, time-travelling DeLoreans are no more real than the characters that use them.
So instead, I bury myself in a pseudo-fantasy world where the characters resemble those I care about but the things that happen to them are much more interesting. It may make me seem flighty, but so does the forgetfulness that comes along with depression. Working on a story and temporarily living someone else’s (fictional) life makes what’s happening in real life (whatever that may be) easier to handle.
Writing about the problems, too, can make them easier to digest.#Writing about problems can make them easier to deal with. Click To Tweet
How writing can help you
Writing letters to people you hate (and not sending them) is a proven psychological technique, because it still helps you to get out your emotions.
Another thing you can do is keep a diary. Keeping a diary gives you a healthy, private way to get out all of your emotions. If you ever dare go back through and read old entries (I don’t), you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve changed since you first started.
Depression is the kind of thing that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It eats at you, and most people have no idea. You have to constantly put on an act and pretend that everything is fine because you have no idea how the people around you will react. You have no idea if someone will empathise, listen, clam up, or try to fix you.
If you’ve never felt the pain of depression, you’re one of the lucky ones. Please don’t feel this puts you in a good position to help someone who’s been there. Unless you’re a trained counsellor or psychologist, it doesn’t.
The best thing you can do for someone stuck in the black hole of depression or another mental illness is to listen.The best thing you can do for someone with #depression is to listen to them. Click To Tweet
Sit down with them and let them talk. Don’t interrupt them, don’t tell them what they could or should do. Just fucking listen.
Being a good listener is one of the hardest skills to acquire, but once you’ve learnt it, it will help you in everything from your relationships to your career.
Use your listening skills to be there for the people that need you. You have no idea the difference that could make.