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On mental health and being a writer

A heart-to-heart with the Write Yorkshire scribble.


One in four people will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. Mental health is becoming a more socially acceptable conversation topic every day but we, as a society, still don't talk about it enough. We need to work harder to create a culture in which individuals are comfortable enough to talk about their mental health and ask for help when they need it. Silence is a killer, so this week we're making some noise.


There is so much to be said about this topic, far more than any of us could cover in such a small space but I think it's important that we all say something, at least.


Personally, I've struggled with anxiety for the majority of my life and, until I truly thought about it, I never realised the impact that it has on my writing. There are so many opportunities that I missed out on because I was too anxious to share my writing, or I genuinely believed that people would laugh at me. Countless scripts or poems that I've never shown anyone because the thought makes me feel like I'm going to throw up and my chest is going to collapse all at once. There have been times I've avoided writing about certain topics out of pure irrational fear.


The very worst thing with having anxiety and being a writer, for myself, is the exhaustion. Often people talk about feeling as though they absolutely need to write but I so rarely experience that, because I just don't have the energy left. I go through long periods of not writing at all, simply because anxiety swallows large chunks of my energy whole and leaves no room for the things I actually enjoy doing.


Writing can also be a really helpful outlet though, even just writing my thoughts down can help me clear the cobwebs a little and ease the pressure in my mind. Sometimes, if I'm able to, getting into a narrative or poem can help me escape for a bit and offer a little much needed relief. I'm not suggesting it's a cure or a remedy, but sometimes it can offer you a well needed break and hey, anything is worth a try when you feel like your brain is running a marathon in under a minute.


It's the conversation that no one really wants to have, but actually, most people really need to talk about mental health. It's so important; talk to your friends and family where you can, remember to make yourself a priority in your life and never, ever be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Everyone needs help sometimes. Having any kind of struggle with mental health is incredibly difficult but it is so important to remember that you aren't alone and you're so loved, even if you don't think you are. I can tell you that this week, the Write Yorkshire scribble is sending all our love your way.


Mental health is a subject which holds a huge amount of importance for me. I’ve experienced depression severe enough to bring my entire life to a standstill, and some of the people I love most in the world have depression, anxiety and ADHD.


Being a writer is all about having a voice and expressing yourself. I think one of the scariest aspects of having depression is that it robbed me of mine. The turning point, when I knew I needed to ask for help, came in the form of writing. I’m thankful that my ingrained impulse is to write, because on the day that I hit the bottom, that’s what I did. I remember sitting on the sofa after being screamed at by a woman I barely knew, utterly paralysed. My hands were shaking. An internal pressure was building. The pressure to do something, anything, to find some measure of pain-relief. I took stock of my options.


In that moment, when I wasn’t sure which way to jump, instinct took over. I opened my laptop. I drafted and I edited. I wrote for hours. It was a letter that I never sent.


The feeling of expression, after so much choking silence, was incredible. It showed me that I could still reach outside of myself. It taught me that I could still communicate, and that meant I could ask for help. I didn’t feel better; I wasn’t magically fixed. I didn’t write my way to freedom. But when I ran out of options, when I was looking for a way to escape, the words saved me. That letter was the beginning of the rest of my life.


That was a long time ago. I work hard to maintain my mental health each day. And it does take work. Managing my mental health as a writer doesn’t look like hours of freewriting about my problems, although it might for others. Writing gives me a way to create; to express; to exercise my voice. Writing has given me incredible friends and a mind-blowing support network. It gives me purpose and passion and achievement. It brings me joy. Sometimes it offers catharsis. I pour parts of myself into my prose.


Fight for the people you care about. Love fiercely. Protect yourself, but understand that no one is perfect and everyone is fighting their own battles. Pursue the things that bring meaning and joy to your life. Most importantly, hold onto your voice and be heard.


There’s a myth that artists and writers must be damaged in order to create anything that is worthwhile. You know the one. Twisted souls and broken hearts make the best art.


It’s a load of shit. Nobody wants to be sad.


In my opinion, our mind is the most important thing we have. Our mental health is just as important as the rest of our body – maybe even more so. I personally think that having an outlet, creative or otherwise, helps to relieve pressures and clear the mind. Writing and skateboarding work for me. We can do lots of things to help our mental health but I’m not an expert and I don’t want to use this time to hand out advice. I’d like to just talk instead.


We all know somebody who struggles with their mental health and/or mental illness. A lot of us struggle with them ourselves. I’ve seen it ruin people’s lives and I’ve seen it take people’s lives. In August of 2020, my community lost somebody to his struggles with mental health and it shook us all to the core. That was a very sad day in Doncaster. James was an incredibly important person to a lot of different people. When we all got together in the street to celebrate his life, it was overwhelming to see how much he meant to so many. The confusing and painful thing for a lot of us at the time was the realisation that despite the amount of love he had in his life, he still wanted to leave.


May James Miller live forever in our hearts.


Losing our friend made a lot of us assess our own situations and focus on our mental health. It also meant that we were having conversations about our struggles and opening up in a way we hadn’t before. This year I have been keeping a ‘mental health journal’, as well as having conversations with my friends that I wouldn’t have had last year. It has helped me to understand my brain better and process my emotions. I’ve been struggling with anxiety for at least a year now and it has gotten worse in the last 6 months. I have also recently accepted the fact that I am depressed. Not all of you reading this will know that, some of you already do. It sucks. It feels like there’s not much I can do to make it better. I am looking into the help that is available and trying to keep a positive outlook. One thing that I do know for sure, this would be a hundred times harder if I didn’t have my friends. They have given me open ears, open arms, shoulders to cry on, and love. If I didn’t have them, I don’t know how I would cope.


For anyone that is struggling, please lean on your friends. Please seek help. Please talk about it. Silence only makes it worse. You are important. You are beautiful.


I’ve suffered with mental health issues my whole life. I was diagnosed with depression at age two; as a child I suffered from anxiety; OCD took my brain over like a particularly unpleasant squatter when I was in my late teens. However, it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I actually asked for professional help; eight years of therapy followed, plus medication. It’s been a long old road, and I’m still on it. There are many more good days than bad now, but I can never take them for granted. I work at being mentally well, and I have to look for markers to tell me when I’m not, because my poor old brain is so used to feeling rubbish that I can easily miss my symptoms.


One of the most obvious markers of a mental health downturn is that I stop writing. For me, writing and good mental health are inextricably entwined. Even so, when I finally made it to therapy in my thirties, it wasn’t until I was about six sessions in that I tentatively whispered, “I write.” That was a real watershed moment. It was the first tiny sign of the real Nic breaking through; the Nic under the intrusive thoughts and catastrophising and the health anxiety and the insomnia; the Nic who wasn’t totally exhausted by the hoops her brain chemistry made her jump through.


I mean, I was lying really. At that point in my therapy I hadn’t picked up a pen in about five years. I couldn’t. If my mental health is at a low ebb, there simply isn’t enough imagination left after I’ve created a thousand worst-case scenarios before breakfast. But from that moment on, I started to make it true. I started to write again. I bought notebooks, then a laptop. I went on a life-changing writing retreat, joined a writing class, and got a couple of things published.


Writing was my way back to myself; but getting well was my way back to writing. Writing is what I do when I’m my best version of myself; when I’m processing things healthily and feeling present and connected. When I start to shut down, I don’t want to write. I don’t want to face the truths I might spill onto the keyboard.


So, I would say, if you do struggle with your mental health - and believe me, I know very few people who don’t - think about what you do when you’re feeling good. That’s your true self - the person under all the pain. If you’re no longer doing the thing that brings you joy , then it’s time to pay attention. Seek help from friends, family, your GP, or one of the many services available online, and get back to your writing, your dancing, your painting or your skydiving. Get your joy back. It’ll change your life.


 

You are not alone.


You don't have to do this by yourself.


You are strong, even when you don't feel like it.


You've got this.


We believe in you.



To learn more about mental health or to find out about getting help, try one of these websites:


 

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Cover image by Wokandapix via Pixabay

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