What came first? Writer’s block or depression?
So I said to my psychiatrist that I am now wondering whether it was Writer’s Block that brought on my latest bi-polar depression. Of course, the depression may have caused the block. But when I think back, a rejection in October hit me hard and I distracted myself with a manic decorating spree. When the depression hit me in January, I thought that was the reason that I was no longer writing but now I look back, I stopped writing prolifically before the depression struck. Yes the occasional blog but not what I call ‘real’ writing. Even the blog posts became less frequent.
In Issue 61 of Mslexia, Roselle Anguin discusses the therapeutic effect of writing but her statistics and research throw more light on the link between writing and depression. As a group, writers have a high incidence of mental health issues but writers are also better equipped to cope with these issues, even to heal from them. A previous survey in Mslexia suggested that 69 per cent of women writers have been treated for some kind of mental health problem, in contrast with 29 per cent of women in the general population. The survey discovered writing could make women feel more positive, relieve depression and alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Writing, of course, has therapeutic benefits for non-writers too. But if you suffer from mental illness and you are not a writer, you are missing a vital strategy to engage with your feelings and express emotions such as fear and anxiety.
Fortunately my depression has lifted and I have started writing again but I have been thinking about the ‘chicken and egg’ situation of whether depression causes, or is caused by, writer’s block. All writers have days when the words don’t flow but when even a pen and notebook do not stir ideas and the computer stays switched off for no explicable reason, it is clear that the block has taken over your life.
Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way, suggests several tactics for releasing your creativity and dealing with the inner critic who repeatedly tells you that you cannot write and, if you do, what you write is rubbish. One of her methods is the ‘morning pages’. Just take your notebook and write three pages of drivel after which you should be able to write the ‘serious’ stuff.
This could work with depression too. That is, once you can stay out of bed for sustained periods although I have tried taking the notebook to bed and it has worked. Just write anything that comes into your head without worrying about it being part of your next or present Work In Progress WIP) could ease anxiety and is immediately liberating. Writing down your fears can make them seem quite trivial which can be enlightening. After all, in your mind your fears are mammoth and sufficient to stop you undertaking normal daily activities. So they must be real. But the truth is most will be much less than you had imagined. Your fears, once written down, will not seem so dire. If they are grounded in fact and you have problems that will seriously affect your life, writing them down may help you find a solution even if this is only temporary. Redundancy, for example, is a real threat to your income and the house, bills and food but being proactive and listing a few plans such as visiting the Job Centre for a Careers interview could ease the dread.
Writing can also be used in other ways. Writing down five ways to make yourself better, five things you like about yourself, five strengths, five things you want to do in the next six months. All of this is using the power of the pen to empty the mind. This in turn will allow in more positive thoughts – probably one or two of your plans will reach fruition.
For those with Bi-Polar, keeping a diary of activities, meetings with friends, reflective thoughts on the past day and an indicator of mood can help track mood levels and, if there are changes, you can look at what you were doing a few days before the mood changed. This has been one of the most helpful strategies I have used since being diagnosed with BPD. The diary can be useful when seeing professionals too as you can, prior to the appointment, overview what has been happening in your life.
But I never write, I hear you say. Forget that, take a positive stance and promise yourself that you will start writing. Just a few words is all it takes. A shopping list, a few nice menus and a sentence or two about your feelings that day. Then start planning, making lists and writing more reflective accounts.
It is worth it so give it a try.