I write because I have to. It’s what I do. It’s also how I make my living (along with editing and proofreading and now, transcribing). But I also feel that writing is therapeutic for me.
Maybe it can be for you too. Let’s look at some different kinds of writing and how they might help.
Journaling is what I actually set out to do when I started this blog. I meant it to be a day-to-day journal of my feelings, my accomplishments, and my difficulties. At the time, however, I was rather depressed and could see only difficulties, not accomplishments.
Journaling works for a lot of people because they can have a record of their mood swings, as well as a place to work out problems and say things they can’t say to anyone else. If they wish, they can share the journal record of moods with a therapist. Journaling is kind of like keeping a diary, but more purposeful.
I turned my journaling into a blog. What had started, to be honest, as a lot of whining became a space where I could share stories about what happened to me and others, where I could examine news stories and media statements about bipolar and mental illness, and post opinions about coping and stigma and relationships and medication and all the other fun stuff that goes with mental illness.
Blogging is one way to reach out to others. And there are other people out there who want and need to hear what you say. I have blogging friends who share unique insights that alter how I see my disorder and how I cope with it. Think of blogging as a journal you publish, at least in a limited way.
This is a technique that therapists use to help you surface your feelings toward another person and have a safe space to explore those feelings. The fact that you never send the letter means that you can focus on your own feelings and not worry about what the other person might think or say about it.
I’ve used unsent letters to unpack my confusion about IMs from another person. Instant messages are not really the place to hash out the nuances of a relationship or what deeper meaning a particular comment may have had.
Usually, by the time you’ve finished, the letter no longer even needs to be sent, though I advise keeping it around to contemplate later.
Poetry is often thought of as a way to express emotions. But really, poetry can be about anything the poet wants to say. Here’s a sonnet I wrote about depression and healing:
The air is still and blankets all my sense.
I’m muffled, muzzled in the sheltering dark
But dare not pray for fire, with bright, intense,
loud flames that rend the silence with a spark.
I breathe, or not? It’s sometimes hard to tell
When swathed in clinging, stifling musty scent
That fills my nostrils and my brain as well
Which cannot will the veil be shredded, rent
to save from suffocation. How shall I
Withstand this cycle till the day appears
And breezes blow the dust away from my
Stopped ears and eyes and lungs, plugged full with fears?
Pull off the cover and let free the soul.
Take broken breath and heal it into whole.
Poetry doesn’t require that much form and structure to be effective or therapeutic. Free verse, or unrhymed, unmetered poetry, is often the place people start. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. You have to dig deep to get at what you want to say and how you want to say it, if you’re writing for anyone other than yourself.
Speaking of writing for someone other than yourself, there are always fiction and nonfiction (in addition to blogging). If your stories or articles or poems or books are good enough, they could even be published.
You can write either fiction or nonfiction for publication. It’s rare to see fiction on mental health topics, but Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical The Bell Jar and Abigail Padgett’s Bo Bradley mystery series are places to look for inspiration.
Short nonfiction is easier to place, with TheMighty.com being a great site to submit factual personal accounts of invisible illnesses, including mental disorders. You can also share on Medium, where you can tag posts with appropriate descriptors like Mental Health or Psychology.
Getting paid for your published writing is another matter entirely, but it can be done. Writing for publication, however, is fraught with potential pitfalls. It is easy enough to trigger anxiety or imposter syndrome regarding submitting, not to mention waiting for a reply. And the inevitable rejections (everyone gets some) may play hell with your self-esteem.
My advice? Write. And keep writing. Whether you decide to try for publication or write strictly for yourself, it will be a good thing. Why miss another chance to explore your feelings, express your thoughts, and possibly share with others?