Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Janna Marlies Maron. She recently released her first ebook, How to Manage Depression Without Drugs, which is her personal journey of using story, music food and ritual to find her way out of depression. You can find Janna on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog.
You might think that writers are naturally inclined to use writing as therapy. But that’s not always the case.
I used to be super depressed.When I say “super depressed,” I mean like don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed depressed and go-to-bed-for-the-night-as-early-as-4 p.m. depressed. And although I’m a writer, writing wasn’t particularly therapeutic for me.
Writing and my depression
Yes, I wrote while depressed — nearly every day. But I wrote emotional rants. Diatribes about how awful life was and how horrible I felt. What an untalented, unskilled, unlucky, unlovable, un-everything person I am.
The problem with this kind of writing is that it reinforces the negative pattern of depression. I think and feel miserable, therefore I write down the miserable thoughts and feelings. This cycle is not helpful. It is not therapeutic.
Sure, maybe I get some of the negativity out of my body and mind, but then it is down on paper or computer screen — glaring back at me in black and white — telling me that, yes in fact, that negativity exists. It is real.
When I think back on it now, it strikes me as odd that my editor-brain was completely blind to my own writing.
If I were to read an emotional rant from a peer or client, someone asking for my professional feedback, I would view it with a critical, editorial eye as a shitty first draft, and I would look for ways to revise it to the next best possible draft.
Writing and my personal narrative
It took the help of a therapist to help me revise my personal narrative. (You might say he was acting as my editor.) I remember distinctly going for one appointment and saying, “I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel.” I was referring to a new health regimen that I had recently started as a treatment for multiple sclerosis.
“Do you want to be on a hamster wheel?” my therapist asked.
“No,” I said.
“Well, what do you want?”
In the moment, I didn’t know and I couldn’t answer the question. I started crying.
At home, I sat in front of my computer and wrote the question “WHAT DO I WANT?” in all caps at the top of a blank word document.
I started typing. Out came things like, “I want someone to tell me this diet is working” and, “I want to know that I’m making progress” and, “I want to see a light at the end of the tunnel” and, “I want to know how long it will take” and, “I want to see results.”
Finally, after about 1,000 words, I wrote, “I want to be healthy and strong.”
Instantly I knew that I had to revise the story I had been writing. I had to revise it from the miserable emotional diatribes that I wrote while depressed to this better story of vibrancy and rejuvenation: I want to be healthy and strong.
Writing and my revision process
It all began with writing. Anything. What comes out doesn’t matter. What matters is that something comes out, because then I have a starting point. I have words to work with. Any words are better than no words.
Once I have some words I can revise. I can read the words and think about whether they are the best words.
Are they the words that I want? Do I want to be that miserable person? No? Then how do I change the words so that they are not so miserable? I change one word here and one word there. “I am unhealthy” becomes “I am healthy.”
Then I write some more and see if the revisions have transferred into the new work. Do I continue to write the miserable stuff? Or do I begin to write revised stuff that is slightly less miserable?
Revising is improving — always improving, moving closer to the positive and true version of the story I want to be writing and living. (tweet this)
Writing and my health
A person who is healthy and strong doesn’t write about how miserable she is.
A person who is healthy and strong doesn’t write about being unlucky, unskilled, untalented, unlovable — she doesn’t write about being un-anything.
Instead, she writes about being full of energy and how she can do yoga poses now that she couldn’t do just one year ago. She writes about how she manages her health.
She writes about her own creative life in spite of depression and chronic illness. She writes about how much progress she has made in one year. She writes about her personal journey and publishes ebooks so that others may benefit from her story.
Has writing played a part in your personal narrative? Share in the comments.