How Mental Illness Affects My Writing

I decided to write about the impact mental illness has on my writing because sometimes you have to confront the monster under the bed. This is not all doom and gloom. There is positivity here too.

Where I Am Now

I have recovered from major depression. I’ve had incidences since I was in my early twenties. I live nowadays knowing I’m not mentally ill per se but it clings to my mind and body, letting me know it’s there. This is not a defeatist attitude. This is realism.

I know depression and anxiety have taken a lot from me. They have changed me. I will be honest in sharing that my greatest fear is that depression will return. I try not to live in fear of it. I have to embrace the good days and well times.

I am looking after myself. I exercise regularly and have found running to be a surprising part of my mental health treatment.

I’ve accepted I will probably be on medication for the rest of my life and feel no shame in that. I used to. I know now that I am not weak for taking a pill.

The Good Writing Days

Thankfully I have more good writing days than bad. That most certainly wasn’t the case when I was depressed. It makes me so much more grateful for the times when I feel productive and my imagination is firing.

Good writing days are like a gift. It sounds a bit airy fairy but I see them as something to seize.

My mind is still fragile sometimes. Life can batter me hard. When I feel motivated, strong in mind, and creativity is brimming over, I take it.

It’s sad that I feel like I’m writing against the storm. This may seem pessimistic to some but my truth is that I know mental illness has depleted me. This may not sound like an advert for a mental health warrior but to be honest, I never said I was one and I feel strong in knowing who I am.

I know that I have to be kinder to myself. By not putting restrictions and heavy expectations on my writing I can be more productive. This hasn’t been easy. I’ve often felt guilty because I cannot always spend hours writing. I once bought into that bollocks that we should be writing every day and especially if you’re a full-time writer, every day. This is damaging to any writer, let alone one who is susceptible to mental illness.

A good writing day for me varies. I could be writing, revising, editing or researching. I could be writing a blog post like I am today. They may be small things and not for many hours but nowadays it’s about quality rather than quantity.

A good writing day makes me feel accomplished. I look back on the day and know I’ve done the best I can for that day. I try not to think about tomorrow. Tomorrow may not be the same.

The Bad Writing Days

Tomorrow might be a bad writing day. These are days when everything feels impossible, let alone writing. These are days when my mind will not play the game.

Today I am writing this blog post on a bad writing day. Every word I’m writing feels like it could be wrong. I wonder if you’ll read this and think it’s crap. I am battling with my mind, telling it to stop spiraling downwards.

It’s January. This is the worst month for many of us. Unfortunately so much more is added to it for me. I have two major death anniversaries and the birthday of my deceased mum.

I detest January. As soon as the end of December comes along I try to fight the darkness of January. I don’t often win so I have to employ self-care.

My second novel’s first draft is written. I just can’t seem to go back to it ever since January hit. It’s so hard because the writer in me that loves this novel feels like I’m letting it down. The compassionate part of me knows I wouldn’t do it justice to try. I would see the novel as a punishment and I wouldn’t give it the full attention it deserves. In my heart I know I will get back to it. For now I have to look after myself.

Bad writing days when my mental health isn’t the best consist of an ever increasing circle of guilt, shame, frustration, annoyance, anger, pain, and bitterness.

I want to write. I love writing. I have finally found the thing that I was always meant to do. When my mind is fragile and I find even doing necessary household chores is winning, writing cannot happen. The thing that saves me also taunts me when I cannot do it.

I will sit on the sofa, feeling the gnarly claws of depression trying to swipe my mind back into its cave. The fight to keep myself in a well place can be exhausting.

Life events will happen that rock my fairly stable world. I try not to let them shake me and I hate myself for being so vulnerable.

I compare myself to others who can do all the writing and do all the things. I set the bar far too high for a well person, let alone someone who has been battered by mental illness in the past.

The laptop sits on my desk. On occasions it feels like it’s taunting me, telling me I’ve failed because I haven’t been near it. Other times it feels like I’m apologising to it for not working on it. One chink in my usual robust mental health armour can lead to further breakages.

Bad writing days due to mental health are exhausting, even when I don’t actually write.

How Mental Illness Helps My Writing

I will never be one of those people who is positive enough to say they’re thankful for having mental illness because it makes them stronger or able to enjoy the good times.

There’s a lot to be said for enjoying the good times because of the knowledge we have of the bad times. I get that. However, I will never say I am grateful for having depression and anxiety in the past.

If I could erase those dark times I would do it immediately. My heart hurts when I think of the absolute devastation and cruelty mental illness wreaked upon my body and mind. I cannot change the past so I have to look to right now.

Mental illness has helped me too. I cannot delete it from my life so I have to work with it or even be stronger for it.

I decided to write about my experiences of depression both in this blog and for ‘The Mighty’ website. If I can help others who are going through it or emerging from it I feel that nothing has been wasted of what I went through.

I am passionate about writing to shatter mental illness stigmas. No one does that better than someone who has been through it.

My heart and mind may sometimes falter but they are empathic, compassionate, and able to read people. I am who I am, mental illnesses and all, and I must make the most of that; in life and my writing.

My writing is a major feat in a fight against the mental illness demons that want to drag me away from it. Every word written is a battle won. Every person who enjoys what I write and tells me so is a celebration of my mental strength.

Tomorrow I may not be able to write a thing but I will still be a writer because it is what I am. Mental illness is not me.

Over to You

Are you a writer with a mental illness or recovering from one? Do you want to share your experiences in the comments to help yourself and others? I’d love to hear from you.

How do you manage being a writer along with mental illness?

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

10 comments on “How Mental Illness Affects My Writing

  1. Thank you, Lisa! This is just what I needed to read. I have depression. I think that is what is stopping me from writing. For years I have thought of nothing but my WIP but I kept changing my mind. I realized that my first idea was much too complicated for a first novel plus it was more than one book. I started over. I can’t tell you how many times I have scrapped it and started over to where I haven’t written anything on it for quite some time. I seem to have an easier time with short stories but I am having trouble with them as well. I thought it was just procrastination and I would get down on myself but it didn’t help my writing. I never stopped to consider it may have to do with my depression. I am not suicidal or anything so I never considered it was serious. I am wondering now if I talked to my doctor about increasing the medication dosage if that might help. You have helped me realize something very important and I appreciate it so much! Thank you! Hugs!

    1. Thank you for your honesty and sharing. It’s always useful to see your doctor and keep in contact regarding your mental health.

      Don’t beat yourself up about not getting pieces finished. Writing is hard. Even when we’re mentally robust it’s challenging.

      I wish you well. Take care.

  2. I am no stranger to depression. I have lived with it for what seems like a lifetime. It is one of the many little people that inhabit my reality, vying for my attention. It cannot be ignored and you cannot hide from it. It must be confronted. But we are all different, and it is not for me to assume any particular insight into another, and I will not do so here.
    Nutrition and exercise and even therapy can be a piece of the puzzle, but for me, it has always been the process of thought that has brought me back from the abyss. It seems counter-intuitive. Thinking just brings all the fears and discomfort to the fore, and that sometimes can be more than can be borne, but to achieve any degree of success it is imperative to understand self and to deal with it. It never just goes away.
    Philosophy has been the key for me. Understanding self by the use of contemplation, and understanding others through the attempt at empathy. Writing makes me sad at times but ultimately helps me find a sweet spot where there is a degree of peace and contentment. And acceptance of what is possible, then try to do it.
    Writing is another key. I do not write for others. It’s a nice thought, but not really relevant. I think, I write, I understand. If I am broken, there will be no words, and there will be nothing to offer another, much less myself.
    So write, and think. And write some more. And never stop thinking. Find your sweet-spot. It’s out there somewhere. You just need to find it. Take your time. I hope you do. I hope we all do so.

    1. Thank you for sharing how you work alongside depression. It’s clear you’ve given it a lot of consideration and are doing what works for you.

      I feel privileged you’ve taken the time to reply and be so open.

  3. Beautiful, Lisa. My experience with depression has been limited to situational, and I know how hard that was, even just to function on a day to day basis. Well done you for not only writing when you can, but speaking out to help others. I think you’re entirely awesome. <3

    1. Situational depression is tough too. I’ve had that as well as the messed up chemicals one. Situational depression tells you ‘if only’ all the time.

      If only this was different
      If only I could change me/them/it.
      If only I was stronger.
      If only I hadn’t let this happen.

      If onlys are a bitch and need to be silenced. Not easy to do. You have my complete respect for recovering from that. You’re an awesome human being too.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I thinks you’re brave. Your honesty will help your writing for sure.
    I’m some kind of hyperactive and have to mindfully slow down to get in the characters head and tend to pass up opportunities for more emotion and bring my compassion to the surface.

    1. Thank you for your kind words.

      Getting into a character’s mind is tricky. I hope you’re finding suitable strategies. Half the battle being won is recognising issues like this. That’s bravery too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.