My experience writing as a form a therapy started when I was I kid.
It seems silly when I look back at it because I can’t even remember what I was upset about at the time but I remember wanting to tell my dad and not being able to so he told me to write it down on a bit of paper and give it him, he would then read it, burn it, and we wouldn’t need to talk about it unless I wanted to. I remember writing the note, going to the landing, shouting him and dropping the note over the banister and watching it float slowly into his hands. I then went back into my bedroom and did whatever it was I did.
Whatever it was that I wrote I remember it working either way and since then whenever I have been in a bit of slump I have turned to writing to help channel some of that energy to and it’s usually taken the form of creative writing. Poetry specifically.
Poetry seems to be the go to format for people who are going through something and I have no facts to back this but I believe it is because writing poetry is quick. It’s immediate. There’s a start, middle and end in sight all in one page (usually).
I asked for volunteers on Social Media to share their experiences of writing as a form of therapy and four people got back in touch who I will feature below and share work from two of them.
But it wouldn’t be fair to ask others to share their work if I wasn’t willing to share my own little something, written in a moment of sadness – the below poem, “I’m Weak”, was written during some relationship trouble in the first year of University.
No courage in me.
So I invite you round
Whisper sweet nothings into your ear
It’s all a poetic lie
Nothing but sweet rhymes
To appease and paralyze
I wish “no” was a word I controlled.
We know it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be so
But yet we lie, then we lie
Next to each other on this mattress,
My mind cries out for me stop
I’m the worst best friend
And you’re my best worst enemy
I’ll get the courage soon
Then we’ll go our separate ways
Memories floating around,
In the stratosphere of my mind.
Sometimes these pieces of work come out of nowhere – sometimes they’re good and other times they’re bad but I think as long as it worked in any shape or form then that’s a positive thing. It’s up to you if you then decide to share it or burn it as my dad did with my letter all those days ago.
After thinking about this recently that’s when I put out a call on Social Media asking people if they’d like to contribute and I sent them the below email:
“Thanks for getting in touch!
And what types of writing you like to write when using it as a coping mechanism?”
I offered the chance of anonymity for this article: two of them were okay with me using their real names, the third and fourth didn’t say either way so I have changed their names just in case and my conversation with them follows.
Liam White was the first to respond to my email with the below reply:
I’ve suffered from depression for a long time, or at the very least a lighter form known as dysthymia, and that has always informed my writing to an extent, I’ve always tried to tackle themes associated with mental health and depression, over a wide range of themes (poetry, prose, and a trilogy of short plays on death- before-during-and after).
Has it helped? At times yes and at times no, it’s been the source of comfort and great stress as times, but the positives outweigh the negatives. I went this route because originally I wanted some way to get all of the nasty thoughts out of my head and put them somewhere, and because I can’t sing or play the guitar very well, i turned to poetry and it went on from there.
tips to get in the zone? there’s no such thing as the zone, I have to set myself targets every day and make sure i meet them, otherwise I would never be in the zone. If I was to wait for inspiration i would be waiting until the day i died, you have to go out there, fight it and wrestle it like the horns of a bull down onto the page. It’s the only way i can avoid great periods of inactivity and disinterest, unfortunately they go hand in hand with depression and there’s been times where I could hardly get out of bed yet alone write anything.
I find poetry to be the most immediate art form, so when I want to vent or channel any feelings I find poetry to be the best, especially because there’s less appropriation on form, whereas playwriting or prose has, arguably, more rules. (that is of course on the assumption that the poetry you are writing is free verse and is free of any meter or rhyme scheme)”
Liam was then kinda enough to share his poem “Depressed in Preston”:
Depressed in Preston:
There’s a devil on my shoulder
He whispers of a night but
There’s an angel on the other,
He promises he prays for me
But I’m not sure if that’s true
I don’t believe that there’s a Heaven
Or a Hell, although I used to.
Depressed in Preston:
I feel myself growing older
As the short days grow shorter
And the cold nights grow colder
I always wake up in the dark
To find the birthing of new light
But I never feel a stirring
As a neutered mammal might.
Depressed in Preston:
My mental cat of nine tails
Leaves its mark upon my back
On my skin the leather flails
The pain radiates through me
And I can’t ever leave the bed
I close my eyes, cross my arms
Dot the I’s, as good as dead.
The second person, Edith Ruebens, who got in touch with me via Facebook replied with:
“I’ve wrote many times about different things that affect people with mental health issues, poems mainly but also just sat and poured my heart out to the only person who would listen, myself. It helps when you feel all alone, even when surrounded by hundreds of people, if no one is truly listening then the only place to go is to the one person who knows 100% what you’re going through. You write all your feelings down and it does sometimes help, but it’s also a documentary of your life in case it ends, so that if you don’t manage to get the help you need, the understanding, the acknowledgement of the things you have been through whilst you are still around, then hopefully people will read it and understand why you aren’t here anymore.
Here’s one of my poems, it’s not that good but I was just trying to explain a little bit about how frustrating it is trying to get some help, no one understands fully unless they have been there for they?”
The following poem is untitled but really hits home because I’ve heard a lot of things said before, not necessarily to me specifically (though some have), but to others around me as well.
These are some of the words I’ve heard,
From the people who claim, that they, ‘only cared’.
“Come on I’m trying to help you, I’m trying to be kind
Just pull yourself together, you’re depression is in your mind”.
“You’ve got a great big telly, and a lovely great big house,
There’s people who are worse off than you, just stop being a mouse”.
“What have you got to moan about, you’ve got a roof over your head?
You’re being really selfish, keep saying you wish you were dead”.
“You need to take up a hobby, find something to do,
Go for long walks, then you’ll soon be feeling like ‘you’”.
“Here, try these tablets, but they might just make you worse,
But it will only be for the first few months”, (how many times have I heard that verse?)
“Here’s a number to ring, but it’s only from 9 till 5,
If you need any help outside of those times, try to keep yourself alive!”
(There is an emergency number, but no one’s ever there),
“But yes we really do promise, that we do truly care!”
If you have a ‘plan’ and want to end your lives,
They will take you into hospital, keep you away from pills and knives.
They will leave you in a room, so you have time to think,
They will ask you if you want to make cookies!!!
Not ask how low you can sink.
They will ask if you have anything on you, that you might use to cause you harm,
“Don’t worry” they say, “if things kick off, every room has got an alarm!”
“We will keep you all locked up but not really talk to you,
We are very busy you know, we have lots of things to do”
But listening is what we ask for, understanding, just a kind word,
Not just a nodding dog constantly looking at her watch,
We really need to be heard!
No one is listening, they blame it all on you,
It’s easier to kick the ‘dog’ than admit what YOU say is true.
Not long later I received another poem from Edith, this one is a lot longer coming to 436 words and for the sake of the length of this post you can click to read it in a PDF format.
The third person to get in touch was Harry who writes:
“All my life I have suffered from depression, addiction issues, self harm and difficulty creating worthwhile relationships with people. Since the age of 13 I have been writing songs and I have (in the past) used this to deal with the extreme emotions that I felt. I found that as I grew older that this style of writing lost it’s ability to help me cope with things. I was going through an extremely bad patch when I started writing stories and scripts. This style of writing helped me to cope with the things that regularly went through my mind. I didn’t realise how much it helped until I turned 35 and was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. My whole life made sense after this, I have difficulty expressing myself with people and the stories/songs/scripts that I create are my way of expressing myself and ridding my mind of the strange and twisted things that it creates. Everything that I write is a piece of me. I like to equate it to a horrible tar pool that is always rising and spilling over the edges. Each thing that I create is like dipping a cup into that pool and emptying the excess. It is a constant task and if I don’t create something for a prolonged amount of time I find that, mentally, I begin to suffer. I find that I cannot create when I am either too happy or too low. I do remember the emotions that I feel during these times though and they help with creating things. If I need to get something out of my mind desperately, I find that flash fiction or song writing is the best way of dealing with my thoughts. They are quick to create and allow me to release a lot of emotion in one go.”
Harry’s analogy of a tar pool is a good way of visualising how writing as a form of therapy can really help a person. Another analogy with the same basic concept would be imagine if you had a pen but the ink wasn’t inside the pen and it was actually your emotions, as you write your inner “inkwell” starts to empty onto the page. The ink in the inkwell being the emotions you can’t get out any other way.
The fourth person who got in touch was Emma who says:
“You’re right. Feeling as I have been, it’s been difficult to want to sit down and write on the ‘black’ page and not think dark thoughts, but sometimes it is a good thing. Especially if you’re into horror!
Channeling your thoughts to whatever is causing the blip, and trying to fix yourself by writing helps. I have been known to write the problem down, look at it, read it out loud, then tear it up and throw it away. Then, symbolically, it has gone…it actually works! Taking your mind off it altogether by writing poetry, flash fiction or homework from the group does too. The book (haha) I am writing at the moment is proving very cathartic. I am now able to write humorous passages, whereas before I found it really hard.
Poetry is my thing because it makes me think. The way words rhyme, how they sit in a sentence and how they make you feel. More importantly, it takes my mind off the sense of impending doom.
Let me know if there is anything else you need, Emma x”
The line that resonates with me the most here is “read it out loud, then tear it up and throw it away. Then, symbolically, it has gone…it actually works!” because this is the exact same feeling I had back when I sent my letter fluttering down to my dads hands before he took it into the garden and burnt, not just the letter, but the feelings that were stuck inside too.
So if you’re reading this and currently struggling with some inner conflict and you just can’t find away to communicate this with the world, or even just yourself, write it down and do something with it.
Burn it. Throw it. Rip it. Shred it.
Or maybe even publish it online – who knows who you may help?