Writing about mental health
I started my first diary when I was 12 years old and I haven’t stopped writing since. My diaries from middle school focus a lot on my friends, my crushes, shaky attempts at poetry, and how much my sisters annoy me. Nowadays my writing is a bit different. I still write about my relationships and I still write poems but I also write about living with mental illness. For me, writing has always been a really healthy way for me to process my feelings, rehearse how I’d talk about them, and then provide structure so I can share my story with the world. Over time I’ve grown from a writer who mostly writes for herself, to one who shares it with other people – but this was a process! The decision to share your writing is a serious decision that you need to think about.
Through my journey I’ve learned these lessons that have helped me share my writing in a way that is emotionally safe:
- You own your story! Never feel obligated to share anything. If and when you are ready to share poems, thoughts, essays, or ideas you need to do it on your terms. If you lose control of that power sharing your work can become incredibly stressful. A personal example: I wrote a poem about something that had happened in my childhood and I shared it with a friend who told me I should put it on my blog right away. I wasn’t ready to make the poem public but this individual said it was a great piece and it would help people – so against my judgment I did. But the truth was I wasn’t emotionally ready to put that piece out into the universe and dealing with readers’ responses afterwards was challenging. True, it might have helped someone, but I needed to prioritize my self-care! I need to make my own decisions about my story.
- I never publish anything in the heat of the moment! People can be impulsive and I think we all have said things we regret in an emotional situation – and you can share things you later regret too! The internet is forever. Posting a piece because you are reacting emotionally can lead to making a piece public that might not accurately reflect how you really feel. I have made this mistake! A personal example: I published something on my blog after a passionate conversation with a relative but after the dust settled I realized that the intense emotions definitely colored the post. It wasn’t how I truly felt after I had cooled down. Man, that made Thanksgiving awkward! I always wait at least 3 days before I publish anything. I write it, re-read it, edit it, think about it, and then when I feel ready, I post it.
- Having a blog is great and I like being able to share my work with people. However, when I publish things anyone can read them. And this means I really need to think about what I am ok with sharing (point number 1: own your story), I need to make sure that I stand by the things I publish and posting them won’t jeopardize my relationships or goals (point number 2), and lastly having someone you trust read over your pieces before you post them is usually super helpful. This person can give you some perspective and you can talk about the implications of posting something with them.
Writing can be a really powerful tool when it comes to processing your experiences and shaping your identity. However, you need to write and share responsibly – especially if you are addressing sensitive subjects like mental health. If you are interested in sharing your story and finding your voice, I think sharing your work on SOVA is a great place to start. SOVA is safe, anonymous, and has resources so if you need help you’re already connected.
I love writing and it has helped me manage my mental illness better, but I always have to remind myself that I own my story and I have to write it and share it on my own terms. I can’t share a story that sacrifices my own well being, because then how will I keep on writing!
PS My sisters aren’t as annoying these days