Writing and Mental Health

A couple of days ago, I asked people on my Facebook Page and Twitter timeline if there was anything, in particular, they’d like to see me blog about. One person said ‘writing and mental health’ and I thought, aha!

In the past, I’ve talked extensively about writing and about mental health, but I hadn’t as yet brought the two topics together. So, here we are.

Let’s start with the key facts, shall we? Writing can be tricky and mental health even more so. Put them both together and, well, things ain’t so simple.

Sometimes when I’m having a bad mental health day, I write a ton, and sometimes bad mental health means I can’t write at all. I find writing definitely helps my mental health, but if I find myself unable to do that thing that helps, what then?

Being completely real: if your mental health is super bad, picking up a pen isn’t going to cut it, you’re going to need help from outside yourself. On that note, I have a post about getting help and what that actually means linked here, and I have a post about counselling here.

But let’s assume, for the sake of this particular post, that your mental health is not so great but not exactly critical. If you’re already a writer, you may find accessing your creativity to be a bit of a struggle. In which case, I suggest switching things up. Usually write fiction? Try an angsty blog post, or a terrible poem. (I’m a big, big fan of both.) Usually a non-fiction writer? You could try creating something based entirely in fantasy just for the escapism. Either way, these words are for you. You can show people, if you want, but you’re under no obligations. If you’re in a sucky mood, allow yourself the freedom to have your words suck. Put down in text things that you could never and would never admit out loud. This can help even if you’re not already a writer, too.

One thing I find particularly useful is letters. I might write one addressed to my brain, or my body, my depression, or a specific place. Sometimes writing a letter to a person in your life will help, even if you never send it. The important thing is to get it off your chest so it’s not pushing you down.

If writing really isn’t working for you, try painting, or music. There is no one-size-fits-all here. One day, one thing might help and another it could be something else entirely. If you’ve tried writing in the past to lift your spirits and it didn’t pan out, what’s to say you shouldn’t give it another go?

If you have thoughts, anecdotes, or other tips to share, I’d love to hear them! Please leave a comment and please, please, talk to someone if you’re really struggling. You deserve the help you need.

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Lincoln and What Happened There

***Trigger warnings apply to this post. Please read at your own discretion. 

My recent post about my time in Lincoln has got me thinking about a lot of stuff that happened back then. It’s things I’ve touched on elsewhere, previously, but not really something I’ve gone into detail about to any great extent.

I want to go into it now.

At some point, I want to really delve in and talk about my childhood as there’s: A, a lot to say there, and B, it gives so much context to all of this. For now, though, I will preface by saying I had very limited experience of life and/or the “real world” when I went to uni. I had very few social skills and even fewer social graces. It’s not that I wanted to be rude, or anything, I just literally didn’t know any better. Having had just one friend in high school can kind of leave you blinkered to what’s acceptable. But anyway, the point is I was fairly clueless. So there was a steep learning curve.  Continue reading

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Things I Wish I’d Known About Counselling

I finished a series of counselling sessions recently which I found very helpful. I’ve had good counselling experiences before that, too, but I’ve also bad ones. Because of this, and because getting help can be a daunting experience, I wanted to impart some advice. So, here’s some things that I feel should be common knowledge but aren’t, necessarily:

1. There are different types of counselling

There can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach to mental health because we’re individuals and all of our issues are entirely unique. When most people think about counselling, they imagine sitting talking through their issues, either one by one as they occur to them, or as a kind of word vomit that they’ll then sift through (hey, no one said it would be pretty). This is ‘talk therapy’ and it’s what I personally prefer, but there are a million other ways of doing things. Some will suit you, some won’t. Some are best suited to dealing with different kinds of things, it depends what you want out of therapy. If you want to change or stop a destructive habit, for example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) might be for you.  Continue reading

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On Headspace

It’s been just over a month since I published a blog post about having limited time/energy and how that finally made me decide to cut out some things from my day-to-day.

Before that, I had been trying to cut back on my responsibilities for a long time, gradually decreasing the number of hours I spent volunteering and doing client work; because I was strongly aware I was doing too much but couldn’t find another way to live. I can’t think how many times I burned out just in the past two years.

For a while, it seemed like I was going to be permanently exhausted no matter how much I tried to lessen my load, because it was still too much. Nature, they say, abhors a vacuum. Well so, it seemed, did my calendar. Before I even began a month, it would be filled with so many appointments and events that I felt exhausted just looking at it. Not exactly the best start.

The problem, I think, was the mental energy my responsibilities were taking more so than the physical work or literal hours. I get anxious, and everything seems worse in my head. Overwhelmed became my state of being.

So how’s it been, now that I’ve gone from trying to do less to literally giving up some of my roles? In a word: amazing. Finally, my calendar is under control and I can actually think straight. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference it’s made to both my mental health and to my writing.

What a novelty, I can actually write! You know, that thing that was always supposed to be my main priority and the main reason I tried to do all of the other things to “support” it.

The number of blog posts I’ve been able to write in the past month alone speaks volumes. They’re like my journal to the world, bringing all of my thoughts and feelings into a single narrative and making sense of them. There’s a direct correlation: if I’m blogging a lot, my mind is processing things well and not just stuck on sending out distress calls.

The way I was[n’t] functioning before was counterproductive. Now I’m back to being productive, and nothing makes me happier than getting shit done.

Lesson learned; experiment successful. Yay me!

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Inconveniently Ill

I feel a bit all over the place. There’s a lot of cool and exciting things going on for me at the minute, as well as in the long term, and that’s obviously great, but I’ve also found myself in this headspace where I can’t fully appreciate it. Maybe I’ve come into a new season of depression, maybe I’m burnt out again, or – I was considering this option earlier – maybe I’m feeling stressed about this busy month because I know how stressful such times have been in the past and I’m really only feeling it because I expected to feel it, in a placebo kind of way.

I don’t know.

What I can tell you is that I’m exhausted, and a bit nauseated; I have a clouded mind that can’t quite seem to settle, and the physical health issue from the start of the year that I mentioned previously still ongoing.

When I said in my new year’s resolutions that I wanted to deal with my health in 2018, I didn’t mean this.

But I’m not here to bitch and moan. What I want to highlight it what it’s like being in this weird state where I’m both happy and sad. For those who haven’t experienced mental health issues, it might sound a bit ridiculous. That’s because it is. But it’s also 100% a thing that can actually happen.

On the one hand, I had a brilliant few days with Women Aloud NI that I’ll probably remember for years to come. But, on the other hand, while I was having those great, positive experiences, I was really struggling.

When I get exhausted like this, my emotions go haywire. I find myself forcing myself not to cry at, well, nothing. There is no logical reason for me to be upset. That only makes how I feel all the more annoying.

I wrote a tweet along these lines a little while ago, but one of the things people don’t really talk about in terms of illness is just how damn inconvenient it is. It’s unpredictable, and can’t be planned around. That’s a headache in itself.

I care for my husband, which is fine when I’m on top of my game, but when I’m sick, everything falls apart just that little bit.

I don’t want to sit here and complain about my life. Really, I, don’t. I just want to sleep, for like a month, and then get on with it again. That’s where I’m at right now.


Follow Up Post: Weight and Waiting – Health Update (May 2018)

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A Long, Long Year

I want to write an update on life and writing and everything quite literally in between, but I’m having trouble knowing where to start…

Flicking through past blog posts, I can see that NaNoWriMo last year didn’t quite go to plan for me. After that, in December 2016, I tried to take a break. That didn’t quite work out either. I’d been so heavily involved in client work, I’d built up a ton of momentum and found the sudden stop incredibly jarring.

Next, the come-down happened. Burn out from doing too much for too long hit me once I finally stopped and took a breath. I think I allowed myself three whole breaths before New Year hit and I was right back to expecting the world from myself.

I wanted to hit 2017 running but found that I couldn’t go straight back into top gear having stopped the engine for a bit. So I beat myself up for a while, wrote a couple of stirring blog posts about how I was determined to do better. And then I got married, which of course was wonderful but also a bit of a whirlwind that left my head spinning. Months of building up to a single event can kind of have that effect.

Home from honeymoon, I told myself ‘this is it, time to be serious now, get back to work for real.’ So I threw myself into the Women Aloud NI events in March. I had a birthday, and then a little bit of a breakdown in which I admitted to the world just how sick my new husband was/is and how burnt out I was still feeling.

I carried on caring for him, and battling the government on his behalf, and trying to keep up the level of client work I’d been doing before, and trying to write and everything else. And the writing was pushed to the side because I didn’t have the time or the energy, and I felt worse and worse about that. (Writing keeps me sane, I swear. When I can’t do it, I really come apart at the seams.)

During that time – May until like September – client work became increasingly stressful and time-consuming to the point where I snapped and couldn’t do it anymore. I had pushed aside practically all of my clients to work on one main contract and it became too much, so I quit, leaving myself with no income from my business.

I actually stopped operating as a business somewhere along the line, knowing that I needed to focus on my craft as an artist.

The lead singer of my favourite band died during this time, too. A big part of the band that had got me through my teenage years without killing myself killed himself. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I could barely think, much less write.

Then a big relief came when my husband won his welfare appeals, and we finally were able to get the pet we’ve always wanted.

And then I got swept up in launching Belfast Writers’ Group’s two new short story anthologies.

And now I’m here, about to start NaNoWriMo 2017. I had hoped that I would be going into this year’s writing challenge with the backing of the Arts Council, but I have just gotten word that they have turned down my application for funding.

So, I’m going to redraft my novel anyway; not doing much client work or taking a wage besides. I am going to write and relax and try not to traverse any further into burn out territory.

Not gonna lie, I’m exhausted before I even begin this next leg of my journey. Please, please wish me luck.

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On Getting Help

So, it’s mental health day again. I’ve seen a lot of great posts floating around on the internet – poems and blog posts about what it’s like to have a mental illness, ones intended to inspire and uplift those who are feeling down, and a lot of statuses advising people to reach out and get help if they need it. Which is all great.

Except, what does reaching out and getting help entail, exactly?

While I was at university, I had what I now describe as a breakdown. At the time, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know who I was, what I was doing, or how to stop hurting. Needless to say, it was terrifying.

I had a decent sized social circle, so a lot of people knew I was having problems. Some knew more than others, of course. But no one really knew the full ins and outs of it – how could they, when I didn’t understand it myself?

In a lot of ways, I was crying out for help. And many of them tried to help, but only a few actually did.  Continue reading

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All of the Thoughts

I feel seventeen again, and not in a good way.

I’m feeling like I was last September, when the poems were running out of me like blood and my mind was lost in space.

…and it’s all in my head, I think about it over and over again

I can’t stop thinking in song lyrics. Can’t stop thinking.

There’s so much more I want to say about Chester, but I don’t know where to start.

I may not get over this. I mean, Linkin Park have been with me 15+ years. Over half my life.

I may not still be living without them. How do I start to get my head around that?

wake me up, when September ends

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Chester

I am devastated. That’s not hyperbole. Not an exaggeration. The death of Chester Bennington has rocked me. I’ve spent the last couple of hours crying.

Every so often a celebrity dies and there is public outcry. Often, a small portion of the population consider such reactions to be ridiculous, as if celebrities don’t count as real people, or as if someone can’t be crushed when someone they’ve never met passes on. Thankfully, most people aren’t as stupid as all that and know that music is one of the most powerful things on the planet and that, through it, singers and songwriters can touch you, and change your life.

Linkin Park changed my life. Again, I don’t care if you just read that as dramatic or whatever. Truly, the music they made saved my life and made it bearable. They have been my favourite band since I first heard them, in my early teens. Along with Buffy, they helped me through such intense highs and lows that are beyond words.

It cost me an absolute fortune, but I got to see the band live when they headlined Download a few years ago. I went on my own, and I sang my heart out, and I didn’t give a shit how it looked. I will treasure that experience for the rest of my life (even if I am kicking myself that I didn’t take any pictures).

I’ve spoken on here in the past about my checkered history with mental health. Many of you reading this will, I’m sure, understand what I’m feeling right now. Part of me is angry that a life is gone, but I know exactly what it’s like to just… not be able to continue.

For those of you with me, let me share some words that have come to mean the world to me:

Weep not for roads untraveled, weep not for sights unseen. May your love never end, and if you need a friend, there’s a seat here alongside me.

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On Not Being Able to Function

In the spirit of mental health awareness week, I wanted to write a post about how my brain has [not] been working lately, in the hopes of starting a discussion and minimising the stigma attached to such topics.

I had been planning to write a reading and writing update, first, though. I’ve been planning that post since January, but I especially wanted to push forward with it now since A. it’s been FOUR(!) months in coming and B. I wanted a break from the heavy topics I’ve been discussing on this blog recently.

The thing is, I am so stressed out I haven’t been able to push ahead and just finish it. I know logically that it’s such a simple thing, but it’s like I’ve got a mental block when it comes to even thinking about work.

As you’ll probably be able to tell from the posts I shared at the end of last year/start of this year, my mind has been all over the place. I’ve been trying to rest and breathe and work through that but, honestly, the issues are still not fully resolved.

I don’t know where burnout from client work ends and burnout from being a carer begins, they are inextricably linked at this point, but I do know I simply can’t keep the client work up. I feel awful about having agreed to take on projects that I now don’t have the time or headspace to complete, but I think I’m going to have to face facts and tell my clients where I’m at. I’ve been avoiding it. Been avoiding so much, and it’s only been making me feel worse. I just feel panicked, like I need to escape from everything RIGHT NOW or else.

Today I unpublished my business Facebook page and I’ve redirected my business website over here to this author site. I’m doing everything I can to just get by with my sanity intact.

To those of you reading this who think I’m being overdramatic, maybe I am. I often doubt myself when it comes to these things. But even if I’m not drowning, it certainly feels like it.

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