We’re all Mad Here: Writing (and Reading) for Wellbeing

Today I want to show you how writing can be a means to improve your mental health rather than driving you to the edge of insanity.

In the beginning, we foray into the world of storytelling as a means of escape or for the pleasure of creating. Taking the ideas in our heads and shaping something concrete has a cathartic effect on the soul.

But then the real world catches up. We want to make a living or treat our hobby as a vocation. Maybe we just want to share our inner truth, only to discover that success requires a lot of dedication and hard work. Our friends and family might not understand our passion or our dreams. Soon, we start suffering for our art. Deadlines loom. Crippling self-doubt creeps in. Taking a break feels like giving up, something we promised ourselves never to do.

Where did it all go wrong?

I truly believe that most cases of Writers’ Block come down to one thing: pressure. Pressure to write well, to write a certain amount, to do justice to one’s artistic aspirations. No longer a pleasure, writing has turned into a chore. This is when progress slows to snail’s pace, and many writers throw in the towel. Once our mental equilibrium tilts, just showing up at the computer is an obstacle in itself.

How can we work our way back to that childlike joy? Can taking a break from our word ‘chores’ actually improve wellbeing?

Using Story to Reframe your Life

Narrative structure lies at the heart of both fiction and non-fiction. The writing craft insists we have a clear beginning, middle, and end, which includes unexpected events or twists that push characters to develop as human beings. Many writers are therefore drawn to psychology and philosophy as a means to further understand the complexity of the human psyche.

One branch of thought, narrative psychology, argues that the way we interpret our experiences and our past, as well as expectations for the future, has a strong bearing on our personal identity. We tell stories about ourselves and our role in the world. The way in which we cast our parts and stories either empowers or disables us. Read Shakespeare’s All the World’s a Stage and you’ll get the gist – as well as proof that people never change.

As writers, we possess the instinct to reshape the world with words. If you find yourself in a dark place, if you are judging your life and achievements in a black-and-white way, consider rewriting your own story with you as the hero or heroine. Think about the challenges and difficulties you have overcome, and where you adapted or changed your behaviour towards others. Instead of being your harshest critic, make yourself the sympathetic character for once. Try to keep this picture of yourself in mind in your daily life. Does it have any effect?

Writing for Stress Relief

Did you ever pen awful emotional poems or song lyrics as a teenager? It can’t be just me! Being someone who suffers from anxiety, I find that a good way to deal with thoughts stuck on repeat is to write them out by hand and deal with each issue one at a time as well as coming up with rational solutions. This is a surprisingly effective method to cope with stressful situations. The key is consistency; while daily diary-keeping is unnecessary, you should aim to write-out your problems on a regular basis.  

Fantasy and Daydreams

Were you always the kid told off at school for staring out of the window during lessons? While spending excessive amounts of time roaming your inner landscape can have negative side effects (especially if you use fantasy and daydreams as a means of wish fulfilment), it is the perfect place to retreat when you hit a roadblock with your writing. That’s because adhering to plot-graphs, plans, and the expectations of others can stifle creativity. When you take time to let your mind loose, you might stumble upon unexpected treasure.

Paracosms are a quirk of many writers. A paracosm is a detailed imaginary world, a place that a daydreamer returns to again and again. These worlds are often incredibly complex and develop over many years. If you’re in the process of coming up with a new story or cast of characters, it might be a good idea to search for inspiration in the secret world of your personal paracosm. Test characters in extreme situations, make them argue in the tavern, have someone unexpected turn up out of the blue. Taking a mental break by ‘playing’ like this can reinvigorate your storytelling and take you in entirely new directions.

Reading for Good Mental Health

How did you get into stories in the first place? I’ll take a wild guess and assume that you enjoyed literature as a child, scribbling drawings of funny characters or making your own little books. I suggest you let your next read choose you, even if it isn’t intellectual or ‘worth’ much in the literary sense. But other than reliving your childhood, consider seeking out non-fiction books specifically beneficial for your wellbeing. Here are some of my recommendations:

Alain de Botton

The Consolations of Philosophy

How Proust can Change your Life

Status Anxiety

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

For the non-spiritually minded

Happy by Derren Brown

For the spiritually minded

The Earth Life Series by Sanaya Roman

The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama

Miscellaneous

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Staying Sane by Dr Raj Persaud

F**k It by John C. Parkin

How do you use writing to help you cope? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Ciao for now,

Sofia

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