Writing for Mental Health

Writing is a powerful coping strategy for those with mental health issues. Beethoven, Plath, Hemingway, Woolf, Bukowski, Fitzgerald, Kafka, and Dickens are only a handful of famous writers who struggled with poor mental health. Writing has often been an important therapeutic outlet for me. I believe that my poor mental health, instead of being a hindrance to my writing, has instead been its muse. For while my mental health has benefitted from my writing, my writing has also benefitted from my mental health. Writers often write because of their mental illness, not in spite of it. People with mental illness often feel more than others and have unique perspectives on the world. I have found multiple forms of writing can be therapeutic.

Expressive writing, or stream-of-consciousness writing, allows you to write what you feel in the moment. Story lines and linearity aren’t required. Instead, the point is to get down on paper what you’re feeling and thinking. It doesn’t have to make sense or include explanatory details. It doesn’t have to follow grammar rules. It is the literary form of vomiting up everything inside you to be loosed, revealed, and examined. Writing can help you figure out how you feel. Emotions can be confusing and sometimes even contradictory at times. Writing them down can make them more concrete and manageable. It also helps you externalize your thoughts and separate them from yourself. They are not part of you. They come and go. They are visitors, some welcome, some not. And you have the power to determine who will be allowed to stay.

Writing (or rewriting) your narrative is an incredibly powerful form of writing that allows you to dictate and define your life story. It allows you to make yourself the hero of your story, to show how you have overcome struggles and problems. It centers you as a survivor, not a victim. It allows you to reframe negative life events. It encourages you to externalize your problems instead of seeing them as an inherent part of yourself. It helps you realize the strengths you possess that got you through tough times. Some people decide to write a memoir that covers a specific event or period of time in their life, what they learned during that time, and how it shaped them.

Writing fiction can take you away from your reality, even if briefly, while you create a story from scratch. Making up a story allows you to use your creativity and imagination and frees you from your own mind. It allows you to dissociate (in a healthful manner) for a period of time and to become someone else, perhaps with completely different life circumstances, inhabiting a different time and place. The sky is the limit as you compose your story. You have complete control over your characters and what happens to them. Writing fiction can be freeing and exhilarating.

Writing notes to yourself can be used to help remember things that are bothering you. It’s a way of freeing you from mental angst in the present without worrying that you will forget to handle the issue at a later date. Many people actually have a dedicated worrying time set aside every day so that the rest of the day can be free of distressing thoughts and useless worry. I have found that often the issue seems much more trivial when I revisit it.

Blogging your thoughts and feelings can also be therapeutic. Getting positive feedback can help you feel less alone and more normal. Being able to share these thoughts and feelings with strangers can be easier than divulging them to friends and family. It can be easier to get unbiased input from the general public than from people who know you.

Writing has been an invaluable tool in my arsenal of self-care and the management of mental health issues. I would encourage anyone struggling with poor mental health to give it a try.

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