Self-Care and Writing

I thought I would take a slightly different approach to my newsletter today to talk about something near and dear to my heart: mental health. I’m hoping to make this a series about how mental health affects creativity and writing.

As some of you may remember, I have a background in mental health.  I have degrees in Psychology and Sociology, and a history as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor and Social Worker.  But I am also someone who has OCD, Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, and Panic Disorder. They are part of the reason I studied it in the first place.  They are also the reason why I address these things in my writing.  Kalina for example has a panic disorder.  My first character Roguelyn was a survivor of sexual assault and had PTSD.

I left the mental health sector about 10 months ago now. I didn’t leave voluntarily, but I failed to see my own massive emotional burnout. And within a month of leaving, I suddenly felt my own creativity slowly seeping back as I spent more and more time on my own self-care. I realized that as much as a part of me will always want to help others, I just can’t do it. I am happier now being a writer and working in an office than I ever was in my years working in mental health. Sometimes your mental health has to take precedence over a career or making money or your degrees.

Mental health is something that is not spoken about enough.  And for us creative types, we have a tendency to suffer more than the general populace.  This is for many reasons, but for me, it’s because I am highly empathetic. I feel literally everything and everyone around me. Which means I get overwhelmed quite easily, and often feel like I’m feeling things that don’t belong to me. It’s a very strange sensation and often unpleasant/unwanted. 

I don’t personally take medication for my depression, but I highly encourage it if that is what you and your doctor decide is a good idea.  But I do take medications for my anxiety, and this last weekend I took multiple doses.  For some reason (still not entirely sure why) my anxiety was through the roof.  Which meant I wasn’t able to get any work done on writing.  When I’m that anxious I can’t seem to get my brain to focus and I spend my time staring off into space or surfing the internet, my mind jumping from one topic to the next. It makes writing impossible.

Normally, taking a break isn’t a problem.  It isn’t really a problem right now as I’ve given myself a deadline that is far enough out, but what if it was?  What do you do when your deadline is looming and you are crippled by anxiety and depression (or other mental health issues)?  

Self-care.  But that can mean many different things to many people.  I don’t know what it means to you, but I can tell you what it means to me.  It means taking time to really focus on my husband, to spend time with him and not let little every day annoyances get in the way.  It means taking care of my body: cooking healthy food, going out to eat and eating good food, exercising, taking a long hot shower and pampering myself afterwards.  It means getting outside in nature.  It means accomplishing something off my non-writing or work related to do list.  It means taking naps when I’m tired and not feeling guilty for sleeping because my body always needs it.  It means calling and talking to friends and family and telling them I love them.  I means watching funny movies that don’t take much brain power because sometimes I need to turn off my brain.  It means crying when I feel overwhelmed. It means going to therapy. It means doing what feels right for my body and my mind.  

Only once I’ve done some of these things can I then sit down and write again.  Only then can I feel the creativity flowing again.  Sometimes yes, you have to push through the fear and frustration and keep writing, but also know that sometimes it’s okay to take a break too and just do self-care.  No deadline is so dire that you need to burn yourself out over it.  You can only work at your best if you take care of yourself first. 

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