I’ve always wanted to be a writer. During fourth grade, I had to win the golden pen! I experienced the thrill of seeing my words in print when I won honorable mention in a newspaper Christmas story contest, and received a $50 savings bond. And the pen! You’d think I would’ve stayed motivated. I mean, come on, what writer doesn’t want their words where others can read them? And to get paid in some way? Even better!
In my teens and early adulthood, my fiction was… um, self-indulgent. And bad. I’d start out with all these words and scenes and feelings. Angst, passion, conflict. But no resolution.
It may not have been worth reading, but it was worth writing. Writing allowed me to process my thoughts, insecurities, and emotions I couldn’t talk about.
You won’t be surprised that I dabbled in poetry.
Did you know April is National Poetry Month in the US, UK, and Canada? Many creative people find an emotional outlet in writing poetry, which can be a useful tool for mental health. Sometimes we have thoughts and feelings that just need to go somewhere.
I’m not a poet. I’m just not. I may never understand what makes a poem good.
But like my bad, never-resolving fiction, my “poetry” served a purpose. It gave me a framework to not only express my feelings and questions, but to examine them in the light of day.
And who doesn’t need that?
Putting trauma in words can give us power over it. What seems monstrously overwhelming in our minds can be shoved into tiny letters on a page. Poet Bruce Wiegl, who fought in Vietnam as an eighteen-year-old kid, says that writing about trauma allows you to externalize it, control it, own it.
I love how words can be organized and reorganized. Reframed. Erased.
How I use writing as a tool has evolved as I’ve matured. As a kid, I felt I didn’t fit anywhere. I was only on the edge of a pattern of worsening episodes of depression. I had no clue that those times I shut down, or froze, or obsessed, were anxiety. “Social anxiety” wasn’t part of my vocabulary. Though “socially retarded” was thrown at me. Not helpful.
I’m not the only one who’s felt misunderstood, not even able to understand myself.
Now that I blog, I usually have more than myself in mind when I’m driven to write out my mess. Since I know there is more than whatever I’m going through, I want to sit long enough in my words, no matter how painful, until hope shines through.
I want to find the hope. And I want to share it.
Not everyone is going to take their struggles, confusion, and pain and put them out there for others’ benefit, but everyone can benefit from writing as therapy.
Types of Therapeutic Writing
Have you ever had a relationship end, either through a falling out or death, leaving you with unresolved feelings and words left unsaid? Maybe you need to forgive someone but don’t know how to get past your hurt. Why not work through it as if you were writing a letter to the person?
There’s no shortage of information out there on how beneficial keeping a list of blessings can be. There’s always something to be grateful for, though we can’t always see it. Sometimes we overlook blessings that don’t come in pretty, shiny packages. And we too quickly forget.
Writing your story can have many benefits. Our stories aren’t just the events in our lives, but also the emotions. Articulating them in connection can help in many ways, including allowing us to see patterns we may not be aware of, and identifying current reactions that are colored by our pasts.
Any of these exercises can begin or end as free writing. It’s often not appropriate to say everything we’re thinking, and there are many things we don’t ever want to say out loud, anyway. But we’re free to write anything we want. They’re our words and we can do with them what we want.
Writing helps put things in perspective. I don’t know who first used the crow on the windowsill as a metaphor for our circumstances compared to God, but imagine that through your window you have a beautiful view of a majestic mountain. A crow lands on the sill. When you look at the bird, it dwarfs the mountain, and may hide it completely.
Too often I let things obscure my view of my BIGGER-than-a-mountain God. I get overwhelmed by my circumstances and swirling thoughts. When I write, I give my brain a chance to catch up to the reality that whatever is overwhelming me is smaller than it appears, and God really is still there to give me stability.
How about you?
How have you found writing helpful to your mental health?
Melinda VanRy writes about mental illness and faith on her Fruit of Brokenness blog. She wants everyone to know they have inestimable worth, though she often fails to believe it for herself. Bouts of severe depression have nearly destroyed her but instead make her stronger and give her a desire to help others who struggle with mental illness and faith as she does. Melinda lives in New York with her husband, their three kids, and more cats than she ever wanted. If you’re thinking big city, don’t. The VanRy family makes their home in rural Central New York. Way closer to Canada than New York City. And not far from Lake Ontario, which she loves.