Anxiety and depression can leave you crippled with self-doubt, constantly seeking assurance and approval, and the belief that you will never be good enough. So is writing about your mental health issues a good way to deal with them? Or is this just another way to seek approval? And is considering a career in writing in general a bad idea for someone who takes rejection personally? These are all thoughts that have been whirring round in my head since yesterday. As a result of having a panic attack on the bus into work. The first one I have had in some time. I started questioning where this sudden outbreak of intense anxiety had come from. Could it be that, subconsciously, I am thinking about anxiety a lot at the moment after starting this blog? I’ve started following other people who write about mental health issues on twitter so even my social media feed is becoming full of thoughts on anxiety, and advice (sometimes conflicting) on how to cope with certain issues. I’ve started to feel a bit like anxiety is the only characteristic of my personality. I have been branching out into other forms of writing after getting a feel for it since blogging. I’ve written an article for a food social networking site and a TV Review which is, hopefully, soon to be published online. Even these projects, though, have caused a certain anxiety – are they good enough? Will people like them? Will they get published? I have stayed up late working on them which has meant I haven’t slept as well since I’ve caught the writer’s bug. Getting enough sleep is essential for improving mental health and my sleep has suffered since my first forays into writing. But, I have woken up early keen to get my thoughts down on paper for new ideas about pieces I could write and have enjoyed researching topics – not wanting to go to bed as I’ve wanted to keep reading. And, writing about my mental health has felt liberating. So should I carry on writing? I’m not sure, as yet, but these are a few things I’m taking into consideration:
Out of sight out of mind
Writing about my anxiety means I am thinking about my anxiety a lot. So is this good for me? I’m in two minds (not quite sure why I’d want another!). On the one hand, thinking, reading, and writing about anxiety and depression can get a bit too much, and, dare I say it, a tad depressing. I suppose it’s like when you’re on a diet really. As soon as you start the diet you want all the bad food and eventually end up falling off the wagon. Before the diet you probably wouldn’t have eaten a whole tube of Pringles (popped so can’t stop), a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and a (big) bag of Malteasers all in one night – but that’s all you’ve been thinking about for a week and you just cracked on Thursday night (Ok, so the diet only lasted three and three quarter days, but you got past the mid-week hump). Food was just on your mind all the time. Your diet defined you. It was too intense, you were bound to have a little slip-up. Lately anxiety has been on my mind a great deal of the time, but I thought it was from a slightly more objective view. Looking at mental health from a, shall we say, experienced viewpoint. I’ve been very ill in the past but I’m pretty well at the moment so I thought writing about my anxiety and depression wouldn’t really affect me. Perhaps I started writing, researching, and reading about it all a bit too much at once. As we know, everything in moderation is how to live the perfect life. Too much of anything can be bad for you. On the other hand, maybe I needed to educate myself a bit more about my anxiety and maybe all the reading I did actually helped me through my panic attack yesterday, after all I sat through it, got off the bus and went to work for the day. I didn’t let it take over. Starting this blog has also introduced me to a whole online community of people who have experienced what I have and understand how hard living with a mental illness can be. This has definitely been a good thing and I wouldn’t want to turn my back on all of this. There’s also the sense of liberation, writing about something so personal which has not always been easy to talk about. But writing about myself does make me feel a little exposed, after all, what will people think?
Seeking approval and dealing with rejection
Despite always getting good grades at school and even achieving a PhD I have always doubted myself and worried I wasn’t good enough. This lack of self-esteem and confidence in my abilities is probably due to my mental health issues, as these symptoms are experienced by the majority of people with anxiety disorders and depression. These qualities do not make it easy to publish writing. I remember just after I had published my first blog on here anxiously awaiting comments finding fault with what I had said. Posting a link to it on Facebook was a decision I agonised over. Not even the flood of supportive comments had the ability to entirely assure me I had done the right thing. After a considerable number of comments I actually dreaded my phone beeping to tell me someone else had commented – I was worried people would keep seeing it come up in their news feeds and get sick of it, thinking I was just jumping on the bandwagon now that people have started talking more openly about mental health issues. Or would they think I was doing it all just for attention? After doing a few more posts about anxiety I decided I might sound like a stuck record so tried writing a few things on a different subject matter. I posted a blog about a chocolate tasting experience I had done on a social networking site for food and, again, got a good response. I started looking at other posts on the site though and worried that my post wasn’t as good as it was more about the experience and not focussed entirely on the food. I also kept checking my profile to see if my piece had got anymore likes. I needed proof it was good enough, I was good enough. Pretty much everybody has this need though. I have friends who’ve complained they’ve put something important on Facebook and only received a handful of likes, disgruntled they had been ‘beaten’ by someone else’s post about how drunk they were the night before. But maybe we shouldn’t always strive for approval from others, especially when those ‘others’ might be people on a social networking site whose opinion we don’t even value when we see the type of posts they make. Maybe I should look less for approval from others and concentrate on the process of writing and how it might help me.
This is easier said than done when you submit an article to the Guardian Comment is Free (maybe aiming a tad too high with my first piece) and don’t receive a reply, then try Country Life and receive a rejection – it’s good but not for us. Hhhmm, what does that mean, not for us? Am I not good enough to write for Country Life? Nobody likes rejection and as a new writer I expect you experience it a hell of a lot. How many times was J.K. Rowling turned down again? You can be good enough and be rejected, that’s life. I need to learn not to take every no as a personal attack on me.
So will I stop writing? Well, ironically, I think I might have found my answer by writing this. My mind feels calmer and I feel better about things. Or maybe I’ll just wait and see how many likes I get for this post ….