Writing Makes Me Miserable: On Writing and Mental Health

parts of brain illustration

Writing makes me miserable. But I do it anyway, because sometimes it’s just the tonic I need.

I’ve suffered from depression on and off since I was a teen. There have been moments where I’ve thought, “Shit, this thing is going to kill me,” and times where I’ve thought, “Wow, I’m so happy I can’t imagine I’ll ever be depressed ever again.” I was wrong on both counts. I’m still here, but I’m still working on my mental health every single day.

Writing is both a help and a hindrance. Sometimes it feels like it’s the only thing keeping me going, and others it’s the source of my misery and the catalyst for my spiralling self-worth. I know that writing – and various other creative pursuits – are hugely important outlets for many people with mental illness. However, I know full well that my favourite creative pursuit can also trigger depressive, self-destructive thoughts. Here’s why.

Writing cures because it is escapism

I’ve written before about the escapism that writing provides me with, and that still holds true. Creating characters and worlds and scenarios takes me out of my own head for a while and genuinely lifts my spirits. The feeling I get when I fix a plot hole, or figure out how a story is going to end, or finally feel like I understand a character’s motivations is incredible. It’s the best distraction from my own mind.

Writing hinders because it reminds me of my brain’s inabilities

During the lowest lows, my brain switches off. I can’t think properly. I can’t make decisions. I can barely function well enough to brush my own teeth or shower every day. Writing? Using my imagination? Totally out of the question when I’m in that state of mind. How can I escape to worlds of my own making when my brain is working well enough to think of them? And then, of course, I feel disheartened because I haven’t written anything, and that makes me feel even more useless and worthless which only exacerbates the depression. It becomes a vicious cycle which can be incredibly tough to break.

Writing cures because it’s cathartic

Got a load of pent-up anger? Write a fictional retelling of an argument you lost. Feeling painfully sad about a thing that happened five years ago? Write a story about something even sadder and let those tears flow. Got some long-standing grief to work through? Write an entire novel about your late father coming back from the dead (yep, I did that). For me, writing fiction is a wonderful outlet for all those emotions that are bottled up inside my head and dragging my mood down.

Writing hinders because it means that self-doubt always looms

Most writers are desperately self-deprecating and constantly question their ability to write well, and I’m no different. Sometimes the self-doubt is so strong that it makes me feel like I should never write again. If you don’t even try to do something, you don’t have to worry about being good at it, right? For years this stopped me from writing altogether, but these days I’m generally well enough to just get on and write in spite of it. Instead, I just let the self-doubt build up and then I have a big cry and eat my body weight in chocolate and ice cream every few weeks or so. Healthy coping mechanism, I know.

Writing cures because it gives me purpose

Since setting myself a posting schedule here my mental health has, on the whole, improved. Having self-imposed deadlines forces me to write when otherwise I’d only do it “when I felt like it.” And, let’s be real, with self-doubt niggling at me and just general sadness looming over me like a grey cloud, I’d find any excuse possible to not “feel like” writing. Having a platform to share my work makes me feel so much more motivated, and even the days where I think I’m incapable of writing anything, I often surprise myself when I manage even a few hundred words. Achieving things always makes me feel better about myself and it always lifts my mood, if only a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes deadlines are hard. Sometimes just the thought of churning out three unique stories each week is exhausting. Sometimes I’m right up to the wire and totally panicking about whether I’ll manage to think up a story in time for my own self-imposed schedule, and then panicking about how useless I’ll feel if I miss a post. But so far, since establishing a schedule in October, I haven’t missed a single post. And the sense of achievement I feel for that makes me feel like I’m not totally useless, which is only ever good for my mental health.

Nothing is easy when your mind’s a bit dodgy

Writing has genuinely made me miserable at times, but it’s also been a fantastic therapy for depression. The thing is, everything is harder when your mental health is compromised, even your favourite things in life. Writing can make me hate myself, but so can looking in the mirror, talking to other humans, or just fucking breathing when I’m in a bad state of mind. Overall, I’ve never felt more motivated to keep my mental health in check than since I’ve been writing regularly. So, I suppose, no matter how hard it can be a times, I’ll keep plodding on.

How has writing affected your mental health? How do you find the motivation to keep at it when you’re feeling low? Let me know in the comments.

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One thought on “Writing Makes Me Miserable: On Writing and Mental Health

  1. “Most writers are desperately self-deprecating and constantly question their ability to write well, and I’m no different. Sometimes the self-doubt is so strong that it makes me feel like I should never write again. If you don’t even try to do something, you don’t have to worry about being good at it, right?“

    ALL. OF. THIS. every damn time!

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