4 Ways Writing Can Help with Recovery from Mental Illness
I am a big believer in the idea that writing can help with recovery from mental illness. I am a professional freelance writer now, but even before I made my living by writing, I used writing in a variety of ways to help with my recovery from mental illness.
Why Writing Can Help Your Recovery from Mental Illness
One of the main reasons writing can be so helpful when it comes to recovery is because writing forces us to slow down our thoughts and actually process them. Something I've learned recently is that it's one thing to understand something intellectually, but processing and emotionally accepting something is a totally different beast.
For me, this means accepting that my childhood was traumatic and that I will never receive an apology from the people who caused that trauma. Intellectually I know this, but it's only through writing that I've finally started to understand that truth in my core. Now I can work on accepting that I can't control other people, but I can control myself by setting boundaries and disengaging from enmeshment.
Without writing, I feel like my emotions would be overwhelming and unclear. Writing helps me tap into my powers of insight, and sometimes when I write something positive, I feel like it sticks in my mind better than had just had the positive thought without writing it down.
4 Ways to Use Writing to Help in Recovery
- Keep a gratitude journal. This might sound silly or pointless in the face of the pain and dysfunction caused by mental illness, but a gratitude journal really can help. It won't cure your mental illness, but when used in conjunction with therapy and possibly medication, a gratitude journal can help keep you in touch with good things in your life. It's important to recognize that the good things don't mean your pain is invalid or not real, it just means that pain isn't the only thing in the world, even when it feels like it.
- Write about complicated experiences. This one is intimidating but really important. My relationship with my parents is complicated and I often want to avoid thinking about it so I don't have to hold my anger, love, and grief in my mind all at the same time; but even though it's hard, it's good for me. It's good to accept complicated situations for what they are, rather than trying to simplify them into something they aren't.
- Make recovery goals and journal about your progress. I am so afraid of setting goals because I don't want to fail, but it really is so helpful to set goals for your recovery. My recent goals for my recovery have been to become less emotionally reactive and more emotionally responsive, and to process my childhood trauma in a way that validates my experience but also allows me to move forward with my life. Those are big, challenging goals, and when I journal about my progress, it helps me stay on track, even though it's a slow process. I can see my small wins as part of a bigger picture, and it motivates me to keep working.
- Write poetry (even if it's bad). I love poetry. I actually got my Master's degree in poetry a few years back. I think it's incredibly helpful for recovering from mental illness because there is so much about mental health that can't be explained literally. When you're depressed, sometimes a literal explanation of what you're experiencing doesn't actually capture how much it hurts. That's why I love writing poetry. I love using metaphors to capture my feelings. And it doesn't matter if the poems are terrible, as long as they help me validate my experience and share it with others.
How can writing help with your mental illness? What might you write about? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Griffith, M. (2020, June 23). 4 Ways Writing Can Help with Recovery from Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2020/6/4-ways-writing-can-help-with-recovery-from-mental-illness
Author: Megan Griffith
Writing is so potent, so powerful! I love that you included poetry in this list -- yes!! What an amazing art form, exercise, and release. I think there's something so beautiful about the connection you made, between literal thinking and mental illness. How many people will read that and know it to be true. Poetry takes away that need for the literal and gives us an acceptable means of expression, and explanation.
Thank you so much Lizanne for your kind words. I love poetry, mostly because of how it has gotten me through hard times with my mental illness. I'm happy to spread the good word of poetry!