Depression is a difficult problem that often goes undetected in the sufferer. It can have a paralyzing effect, wrapping the depressed person in a fog of darkness that prevents him or her from thinking clearly and getting help. There are also many circumstances in which the individual experiencing the depression can be unaware of it, or of its intensity and impact upon their lives.
An example of this can be postpartum depression – the sheer exhaustion of taking care of a newborn and keeping up with the demands of family life can lead to depression before it is even recognized as such.
Depression can begin to seem so enormous and overwhelming that many sufferers give up without even trying to help themselves. However, writing can be very therapeutic for a depressed person, especially because it does not involve having to face people – which can be difficult at a time such as this.
While seeking therapy, counseling, and possibly any required medication are important steps to take in getting help, writing definitely holds a firm place in healing from depression.
Define the Problem
One of the things that can make depression so frightening is that it is hard to define. When you write, your thoughts and feelings are in black and white and can be evaluated and read by you. Problems look more manageable that way. Being able to view these issues clearly can help you get a handle on them. It can even make your problems look smaller.
I have found that the best time for me to do my writing is shortly after waking (a great time for recording any dreams), or just before bed. Writing before bedtime helps me to unwind with my day and uncover any thoughts or emotions I may have previously been unaware of.
Record of Your Progress
As you write down your thoughts, you have a record of your thoughts and feelings to look back on and see your progression. What you were struggling with five years ago or five days ago may look quite different now. As you read your journal, it can help to see that you came through the struggles of the past. That means you can make it through your present struggles as well.
Perhaps once a year, I read back through some of my journals, and I am always blown away to rediscover what my thoughts had been and what I was experiencing. It is always amazing to see the markers of where I have been, and take note of both the similarities and the differences of where I am presently. This allows me to use any wisdom and insight gained in order to better plan for my future and my next steps.
The Inner World
Sigmund Freud had a theory that depression is a symptom of some unaddressed issue of the subconscious that needs attention. He theorized that the inability of depressed people to go about their normal routine – you can not eat, sleep, or concentrate it seems – is your subconscious way of forcing you to stop everything and pay attention to it.
Regardless of what you may think of Freud, writing truly does give you access to your personal inner world that you could ordinarily ignore. Learning what is actually in your innermost being can be very insightful and healing. There are many writers that speak of the power of writing as a therapeutic, and even cathartic source of healing potential. How about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic? I mean, I couldn’t get enough of Eat, Pray, Love (and I still can’t!) and then she comes out with this beauty of a work. Be still my beating heart.
Writing Down the Bones is an incredible work in which Natalie Goldberg has helped create positive change in the way that writing is exercised in workshops, at school, and at home. She utilizes personal reflections, straight from the heart, along with beautiful Zen-inspired exercises to assist one in writing as a method for healing, expression, and deep exploration. Here, Natalie shares stories of her meditation studies with Katagiri Roshi, a Zen Master.
Lifelines is another wonderful program designed for accessing the power of the “writer within”. Christina Baldwin teaches you how to tap into the power and potential of personal writing for deep self-reflection. Through Christina’s process, you learn to transform fear and chaos into gratitude and clarity. Her process follows the steps of the Survivor’s Tale, to the Story of Integration, which ultimately lead into the Story of Insight and Meaning. The techniques utilized are Flow Writing, Writing in the Third Person, The Light Eye and Dark Eye exercise, and Godalogues – or accessing guidance from the Divine.
Keep It Private for Now
When you write, you do not need the judgment of others or the pressure to appear brilliant or “correct.” You are not writing for others, but for yourself. If, in the back of your mind, you are thinking of who is going to read your writings and what he or she might think of them, you have effectively inhibited yourself.
Remind yourself as you are writing that you are the only one who will be privy to your writing, unless there comes a time that you choose to share. It is incredibly important that you feel secure and safe enough to write whatever comes to your mind, and do so freely. Eventually, you may want to share your writings, but perhaps only with your counselor, therapist, or a trusted friend. For now, write only for your own therapeutic and healing purposes, and be accountable only to yourself.
Writing is helpful in that you are doing something – something that does not require money, making appointments, or anything else that can seem overwhelming when you are depressed. Depression can make you feel very helpless, but knowing that you can take solace in writing – and that writing is actually something you can do to help yourself – can help you heal.
It is very helpful to set aside a portion of time in your day that you dedicate just to your writing. Be sure to make a date with yourself. Set up a sacred space, make sure that your dedicated writing time will remain uninterrupted. Leave your phone in another room, and turn off your landline. It helps me to light a candle, and some incense. This brings me into the present moment and helps me to breathe more deeply, which equates to deep relaxation. Then the thoughts and words can flow that much more freely.
There is a wonderful program I have followed for years now, called The Artists Way. Julia Cameron is truly a master at the fine art of creating space and time for writing, particularly with the creation of her method known as the Morning Pages. She has condensed the primary points of her work into an audio called Reflections on the Artists Way, which includes some practical exercises, a lecture, and a question-and-answer segment.
Making It Beautiful
As you write, you may be delighted to find that ugly, sad thoughts turn into beautiful phrases. Your depression can be transformed into something moving, meaningful, and creative. This can transform your view of your depression, along with your experience of it. You can take the potency and power of your deep experiences and use them as a catalyst for creating the life which you truly see and desire for yourself. Take the time to make a small investment in a lovely journal and pen that ‘speak’ to you, and that inspire you to write each day.
At a time when I was experiencing a bit of a slump with my writing, my mom gifted me with a beautiful journal and a matching pen. Each of these were adorned with a matching golden ornament that really stimulated the good feelings around my writing once again. Take your time with it, make it your own, and enjoy the process.