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Archive for the ‘Mental health’ Category

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s crippling fear and anxiety when it comes to my writing. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the particular self-talk, procrastination and self-sabotage techniques that go into holding oneself back from being a writer. Here is a list I have made, in case you too would like to prevent yourself from achieving any kind of success.

1.- You just don’t have the time. Sure, there’s time to browse Pinterest for 45 minutes and faff around putting your hair in weird styles, but ultimately after you’ve spent half the day urgently colour-coding your wardrobe, there’s no real time to settle in at the computer and gets some words down. Damn.

2.- You’re just not feeling it right now. You need a zone, you know? Some kind of centre has to be achieved. You need the right playlist. Everything has been kind of hectic and you’re feeling overwhelmed and maybe after a bubble bath and eight double choc chip cookies oh but now you’re tired and it’s late so tomorrow.

3.- You don’t have any ideas at the moment. I mean, never mind that writing is, you know, a job and something you have to work at. Never mind that maybe you could sit down and brainstorm some article ideas or do a blog post or dredge up one of those 352 unfinished fiction pieces you have sitting on your hard drive. Never mind any of that. You’re drawing a blank. Better watch some telly.

4.- There are so many writers that are better than you. And they seem to have it covered. I mean, why bother pitching to the publications where some of the people you respect the most are regularly published? You’re not nearly as good as they are, and to even ask for the comparison is embarrassing. Better not to pitch to these publications because they’ll just laugh at you.

5.- Pitching is hard. It’s like, regular work. You have to do it often and think hard on your ideas and accept rejection. You have to keep crafting ideas and even if your ideas are good, people STILL might say no because it’s just not what they’re looking for right now. You have to keep cold calling and cold calling with your work, trying to convince some editor that your work is worth paying for. Doesn’t that sound awful? That sounds awful. Let’s not do that.

6.- Writing has to happen around the rest of your life. So even if you manage to drag yourself off Pinterest for five minutes by switching off your internet connection and getting someone to hide the router, other stuff keeps getting in the way. The kids still expect to eat. The house is a shambles. You have doctor’s appointments and family visits and other work to do. Really, there’s a lot of reasons not to throw yourself at the writing thing, and the rest of your life is the main one. Time and tide wait for no writer. Dear lord somebody has to vacuum the living room and the two year old insists he doesn’t know how.

7.- Even if you try your hardest, you might not succeed. Which is huge really – you could put SO much time and effort into pitching and writing and submitting, and nothing could come of it. That would suck so hard. Imagine how horribly disappointing that would feel? Better not to try. Maybe just nibble at the edges, look at some publications that are accepting submission, think vaguely that you should write something, and then forget about it. Then you can kind of convince yourself you would have gotten around to it eventually.

8.- Don’t go to writing events where you might engage or learn something because that will just make you feel worse. In fact, studiously avoid any event where you know more than one other writer will be attending. If there’s an event where another known writer is attending and that writer is successful, fake a sickie. Tell them your grandmother died. You really don’t want to be anywhere you might feel any sort of guilty inspiration to get some work done. Other writers, who are actively writing, will just make you feel bad about yourself. Avoid, avoid.

9.- It’s not really a job, so you don’t have to work at it. Writing is just a thing you’ve always done when you had the time, but never what you’ve earned your money from, so why start now? You probably don’t deserve any money for what you do anyway – you’re not very good and other people are better. Don’t work at it. Don’t try to better yourself. Don’t ask to be paid. Find another office job and put this idea away.

10.- Just think about it tomorrow. Do the work tomorrow. Brainstorm tomorrow. Send something off to an editor tomorrow. There’s always something else to do right now, something else that needs your attention, something to distract you. Tomorrow. You’ll get to it tomorrow.

Promise.

Pitchthis

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I’ve been thinking a lot about mental illness and creativity. Specifically, my own. I have been uncommonly balanced for four years now – those who know me as friends and intimates now would perhaps not recognise who I was before. Though I’ve had periods of reactive depression, I’ve never reached the terrible depths of despair that used to be my default.

I also, during those times, was at my most creatively prolific.

I wrote during the periods when I was despairing, when I felt trapped and hopeless. I wrote because I hurt, and if I could just get it out of me, like bleeding a bad humour, then perhaps I would feel better. Perhaps the world would not seem so bleak. I wrote when I was suicidal, when I was suffocating with anxiety, I wrote when I felt helpless and hopeless and when I was having existential crisises about god and identity and the self. I wrote because I wanted other people to feel what I felt, to feel that sharp turn of emotional agony, like a knife in the belly, twisted hard.

If I examine my work from that period, it’s no surprise that I wrote almost exclusively about women whose power was taken from them, and their subsequent deaths.

Writing as creative catharsis became my norm, so when I balanced out after finally finding the right medication combination, I struggled, for years, to write again. I mean, if you’re not borderline suicidal and obsessed with the concept that your work will only gain value posthumously, what’s to write about?

The last major play I wrote before the depression lifted is about loss of hope. About fractured minds, delusions, the shifting nature of memory, but really, about the loss of hope. Because that’s where I was when I wrote it. After ten years of seeing doctors and other medical practitioners, after ten years of therapy and bouncing from drug to drug, I was losing hope. Had lost hope. It had been slowly torn from me, like stitches that rip thread by thread. All the drugs, while making minor improvements, still failed to stabilise me and often came with intolerable side effects.

There were times I hallucinated, or spiraled into mania, or felt cripplingly exhausted and unable to move, as a direct result of the drugs that were supposed to improve my mood. And every time I changed drugs, I faced the prospect that washing out from one drug before starting another would leave a small window when I was at my most vulnerable, when I would try to kill myself.

Did. Did try to kill myself.

I wrote all that out, let it fall onto the page in an attempt to be done with it.

Part of maintaining my mental health now is recognising who I was then, both as a writer and as a person with a debilitating mental illness. Though I’ve been well for several years, I will never really consider myself cured. I still take the drugs, after all. I call it a remission. I am a recovering depressive. Mental illness controlled and shaped me as an adolescent and young adult, moulded me and guided my steps in life. I am who I am because I grew up trying to manage an illness that refuses to be neatly boxed and put to one side. It hurt me. It hurts me to remember it, to know that without the right medication and strength of several years of mental wellbeing, I could be that person again.

That person who wrote all her pain on a page and sent it out into the world, away.

Now I think I write from a place of strength, not illness. It’s taken me a long time to start writing again, as though recovering from mental illness also meant putting away its crutches. And I missed writing, but I missed it like cigarettes. Because it came from an unhealthy place for the longest time.

A few days ago I put my fingers to the keys and wrote a piece of flash fiction for a competition. I don’t care if it’s never seen again – the important part was I wrote something, and it didn’t feel like bleeding. It didn’t feel like an uncontrolled gush of emotion, it felt like a regulated, modulated trickle. It felt like letting out a memory rather than drawing on something entirely present.

Afterwards I did not feel stunned and empty, like I used to. I felt calm. In control. Balanced.

I learned to be a creative person as a way of coping with mental illness. Now I find I can still be a creative person, and I don’t have to be sick or sad or suicidal to do it.

Good.

forevermore

 

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I’ve learned, after 10+ years of dealing with depression, that preventative measures can make a huge difference when it comes to mental health. This is generally called self-care, and I have certain self-care measures I start pulling out whenever I feel my mood is fragile, like now. Self-care can sometimes mean maintaining rather than declining, I’ve found. I want to go into detail on more of these in future posts, but here’s just one or two to start with.

Maintaining a routine. This one is so important for me, or I drift. I am more than capable of doing nothing for days on end while the chores pile up around me and I get nothing done. My mood can spiral because of the sheer nothingness of my days. With kids, maintaining a routine happens without a lot of effort from me – my days are defined by meals and naps anyway, so I put the effort in to keeping up regular activities like play dates, grocery shopping and outings. I try to keep active when the kids are sleeping and I’m not having a sleep myself.

Keep order in my environment. For me, this involves running the dishwasher once a day, trying to vacuum at least once a week, staying on top of the laundry. A cluttered environment clouds my mind, and it’s hard to stay positive and active when I’m feeling overwhelmed by mess. I’ve taken this a step further, and recently cleared the clutter out of our bedroom and set up a little dressing area for myself, with my jewellery and hair stuff organised next to the mirror. It’s a small space of calm that I focus on keeping tidy, so my bedroom feels like a positive space rather than just one more room that’s stressful for me to be in. No kids’ stuff allowed. 

My little corner of neatness.


Create small goals. Making small, attainable goals can be incredibly helpful for me. Rather than a big, looming five-year-plan type deal that seems both far away and unreachable, I like to create small tasks for myself, or break bigger projects down into smaller tasks. For example, I’ve been sewing a lined swaddling pouch for the baby – this is a project that doesn’t take forever, I enjoy and can work on in small bursts. Tidying all the clutter out of the bedroom was a goal I banged out in an evening, and part of our larger project of getting the house organised. I century organised all my sewing and craft gear, which I’ve been meaning to do forever. Small goals don’t overwhelm, and yet give a sense of pride and satisfaction when they’re completed, which is helpful to my mental health.

 

This isn’t prescriptive by any means, just some things I’ve found have worked to keep my mental health on an even keel. Sometimes depression happens no matter what, but sometimes I can hold it off by being careful, sticking to habits that I know keep me focused and calm. It’s when I start to drift into overwhelming stress and anxiety that my mood spirals very fast. Right now, because I’m aware that I’ve been feeling down and that can easily lead to depression, I’m pulling out all the self-care stops. 

What are your techniques for self-care?

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