Last May, I took part in a very special walk, that started at 4am. The Darkness Into Light walk raises funds for Pieta House, a non-profit organisation which offers support to people who are suicidal. It was a deeply symbolic walk; the idea of starting in darkness and walking into the light was very powerful.
And it made me think about the interesting relationship writers have with mental health. At one end of the spectrum, you have your Virginia Woolfs and Ernest Hemingways, tortured souls who were tormented by their pursuit of their art and ended their lives. And at the other, you have the delightful eccentrics, writers whose mental health is robust precisely because they’re able to express themselves freely.
In some ways, writing is brilliant for your mental health.
Mental Health Boost
Writing gives you a way to make sense of the world. You can use words to process your life experiences and shape them in a way that makes them relevant to others. Or you can just have a good rant and clear your mind. When you write, you indulge your imagination and you have the opportunity to play, to express yourself in the uninhibited way that many of us lose once we leave childhood behind. If you’re a writer, you can act a little bit crazy and no one minds, because you’re an artist.
If you want to write well, you need to blow off the dust of ordinary life to find the shining everyday treasures that most people miss. To create memorable descriptions, you’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on around you, to find the extraordinary within the ordinary. This makes life a lot richer and more satisfying and naturally boosts your mental health.
But writing is also bad for your mental health.
A lot of the time, it can feel like you’re toiling away with absolutely nothing to show for it. You write a lot of words that no one ever sees in order to find the ones that are fit to be seen. Even when you muster up a piece of writing that’s good enough to be published and you’re successful, it can feel as if your words sink into the void. That can take a toll on your spirit.
There’s a lot of uncertainty and isolation in the writing life. You deal with more rejection in a year than most people deal with in their lifetime. You’re on your own a lot of the time, which naturally gives you time to think. To come up with good ideas, you need to spend quite a lot of time inside your head, which isn’t always a pleasant place.
But there’s one thing that’s certain to damage a writer’s mental health, and that’s not writing at all. When you write, even if it never sees the light of day, you feel balanced and in sync. You’re better able to cope with the world. If you feel blocked inside yourself, why not try writing? It may be the path that brings you from the darkness into the light.