Writing for Mental Health: Six Basic Considerations

I like to think that I could recommend writing to some other people who have been subjected to a diagnostic labeling process that diminishes their hopes and potential. Indeed as emotional tension pulses through my back and appendages, I have found few other outlets that are there for me like the mixing and mastering letters.

Sure, I have been sent to a shrink for being who I am. Sure, I have been buried in institutions at different points of my life. Indeed life on that trajectory has filled me with loss and lack. But when I’ve found myself incarcerated immobile, I’ve been blessed to find value in defining it. Initially as a teen, I found  appreciating expressive words through music got me started. The more I switched from song to verse to story, I found the problem-solving that takes place in the editing process satisfying. Indeed for me there are few other outlets that rival writing in terms of learning about life and wellness.

Sure, I say these things when I am out of the hoopla. It’s true at age forty-five I am finding those years of long hour survival days to be decreasing.  Sure, I found that secure job as a mental health therapist. Sure, I have at times been forced to depend on other outlets at times. But perhaps there are some others like me who will find that they still need to get back to the page to address some of those things running through their mind. Maybe some others might feel they can do something about all the shit they see stirring throughout this bogged-down world that can further healing.

Generally, I am committed to a structure of writing at least ten hours per week on the weekend. Maybe I am finding myself advocating for writing for mental health because I have always done it. Maybe I advocate because I believe writing has gone a long way to helping me understand things I suffer from: like schizophrenia, autism and trauma. Maybe I advocate because writing has done more for me than decades of discouraging therapy.

It’s true, I am isolated. It’s true, sitting for hours on end isn’t good for my back. It’s true that as a writer who has only worked on building a following only for two years, I need to remind myself that what I am doing is good for me. It’s true there are many days when I feel like nobody is going to bother to read what I have spent hours puzzling over.

But many of us might need to express their creative muse on a page rather than mingling with people who are only going to carve them up. Perhaps others will find that writing mitigates the damage of life’s bumps. Indeed, maybe writing can give them that sense of justice that allows them to be there for other people in a way that is wise and heart felt.

These days as I worry about the potential repeal of Obamacare. I think about the years I have put into fighting the system from within and how they might get taken from me with the wave of a powerful pen. To me it feels like just when the funding is settling in so that we can evolve into a system that can fluidly address the mental health needs of the community, we could lose big time.

That’s why I am considering starting a writing project on the unit where I work to celebrate what could so easily be lost. I say this, thinking that a writing habit can really augment wellness for others as it has for me.

On a regular basis, I listen to the most amazing stories of repression that are hidden from the mainstream. I think we have got to do something to get them out there, even if they are not going to make it in the mainstream media because they are real.

 

So the following are six basic considerations that I might put forth to encourage others to use writing as an artful outlet for wellness. Of course I know that the suggestions that follow will not suit every writer, but it is my hope that they may help motivate some. At least these are things I tell myself to keep myself going.

One, write originally to get real things out of your system and feel better. I find this prevents me from getting writer’s block and helps me feel grounded about the world’s rocky and shit-stained terrain. Just get it down on the page even if it is imperfect. Writing for me isn’t always about the natural rhythm of true inspiration. Yes, there are times I get tired and need to get away from what I am doing.  But I also often presume that when I am struggling that it is for a valid reason and that I can learn about it through muddling through. If a writer has that warm belief that they have something worth getting at, make the time for it. Have faith.

Two, be authentic, honest, and play with words. Don’t be embarrassed over the silliness of your initial quandary. Be humble enough to show yourself as an ass. Remember, writing is a learning process and the reader will appreciate the growth you show during the process of your work. And it doesn’t hurt to take enough time to bumble around with description. If you are a geek, like me, and have fun bumbling around, don’t be shy. Let the shit rip. You can always go back and make it concise and to the point later. Let this satisfy your need for socialization temporarily.

Three, use multiple drafts, learn to solve problems. Personally, I have learned to embrace the fact that I don’t like reading because if god wanted me to be that way he would have given me better attention so that I could appreciate it better. Instead, I learn by going back over my own thoughts, exploring my soul, and trying to shave down my blither to some form of truth that I can take forward. There is plenty of learning that comes from reviewing material and even if no one reads it, it just may help center you and direct your life in a healthy manner

Four, maintain empathy for people who have hurt you, using your writing to help them as well. Half the time I am motivated to write because I am a schizophrenic and can’t believe how hurt I have been. But I know myself well enough to know that  good writing isn’t a simple process of revenge or complaining. My own need to unveil my pain puts me at risk of slandering others and doing this only makes me look like a hypocrite. People ultimately don’t want to read one-sided snark. Indeed this may not promote health and wellness. I’d argue that if a reader can see this in my work, it means I haven’t given the piece enough time and gone back and through it enough to heal. In my opinion, writing for mental health helps promote peace and having empathy for people who have hurt you and the humility of acknowledging this is part of the purpose of writing.

Five, use your own experience to address wider social ills. While what I’ve said above is important, I do believe that if I am careful with my expression that I can address social ills in my writing. Recently I have learned about the curse of Allah which is about vexing someone who you believe might be guilty of hurting you. What I have learned is that if you are wrong and the person isn’t hurting you in the way you imagine they are, they will not be affected by the curse and spiritually speaking out in a broad way about the issue will not come back on you in a vengeful way. I recognize that maintaining this spiritual principle is a way I can take care of my hurts in my writing. At least I know that multitudes of others have dealt with this for millenniums before me.

Six, write to celebrate survival. Both writing and surviving the shit clouds that can follow you around in life can put in your path is about being grateful for existence and the journey. I believe that if you keep this in mind that enough people will appreciate what you put forth. It’s possible that others will even relate to what you’re going through. Now that’s something to appreciate!

Author: Tim Dreby

I am an award-winning author and practicing psychotherapist

2 thoughts on “Writing for Mental Health: Six Basic Considerations”

  1. I feel that writing is so very important! Thanks for writing about this, Clyde. I facilitated a workshop: “Journaling For Recovery and Thriving,” and found it very rewarding for me and others. I hope you get going on this on your ward. Besides keeping a journal, I also write stream of consciousness–very fast, whatever comes up. Usually these are themed to secrets, my lack of authenticity, sexual fantasies and the like. I never re-read them, but find that the act of writing brings up material and releases it. Currently I am working on a sequel to my published memoir. It’s about the values I gained attending the Woodstock Festival.

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    1. Great to hear from you, Don. Thank you for reading the blog and I hope you enjoy writing your sequel. I really enjoyed your first memoir. Recently got to check out your stuff on line and it really looked good.

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