How Writing is Saving My Life

My last real blog post was exactly 25 days ago. I just checked.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, I’m not exactly sure which) my lack of writing has had nothing to do with forgetfulness, or not having enough time. I admit I have been busier since the school year began, but it cannot be discounted that my mental health has been steadily plummeting. Despite multiple visits to the doctor, countless hours of therapy, and about two months worth of anti-anxiety/mood disorder medication, I have been getting worse.

This may come as a surprise to you, and then again it may not, depending on how connected to my life you are. I am writing this post simply to ‘check in,’ to assure you that I am still alive and moving in the world despite my lack of activity on the internet.

Oh, and I wanted to tell you how writing is saving my life.

You see, this past summer I was given the amazing gift of time. I was in a good place monetarily and I was wise enough to realize that I may never get a free summer again, or at least not for a long, long time. So I dedicated myself to my writing. I had an idea for a novel and I sat down every morning and wrote until it was finished.

The writing wasn’t easy. I mean, who am I kidding? It never is. It drained me mentally and emotionally. My boyfriend has a vague theory that my obsession with writing became so all-consuming that it contributed to my poor mental health at the end of the summer. This, I can’t agree with. After finishing hours of writing in the morning, I would jog, shower, eat, and then read. I can’t remember a time I felt more satisfied with my days. I felt proud of myself for my progress. I felt — dare I say it? — happy.

The reason I felt proud, I suppose, was because I was writing more than I ever had before. My word count rose by the thousands daily. I had never thought myself capable of that amount of writing, and it astounded me. In two months I had scribbled a very rough draft into my notebooks, and in another two months I had completed a full rough draft.

What I am trying to get at here is that writing at that speed and producing that quantity of work (please don’t ask me about quality) was entirely new to me. And, in being new, it taught me lessons. These are lessons I have carried with me into the current school year, and lessons, I believe, without which I might not be living.

Lesson #1: I have the ability to persevere.

Though I say ‘I,’ I am speaking for all of us, for everyone. I am speaking for all of those who have suffered from mental illness, and all of those who have suffered from the tragedies of everyday life.

This first lesson may seem obvious, but it is something I think everyone must realize in their own way. My way was writing a novel. My realization came when I found the strength every day to plant myself in front of my writing desk and spew words (some days the worst of words) onto the page.

Perseverance is important. It helps us do those necessary things that we don’t want to do, or that we believe we do not have the courage to do. This can be anything from running a marathon to folding laundry.

And believe me, folding laundry can sometimes feel like running a marathon.

Lesson #2: I can always find the solution to a problem… eventually.

Writing, and writing a novel especially, taught me a lot about problem solving. Too many times I ran up against a major dilemma in my plot or character development. Too many times I decided I had worked through every possibility and that I would have to tear the whole story apart and start from scratch. And then, over and over, I would set my unconscious brain to work on the problem and wake the next day, or two days later, or five, with the solution clear in my mind. Best of all, it was never a half-solution or a cop-out. It was a pure, perfect solution that hardly ever required change in the previous text.

This lesson I have especially needed during the past two months or so. Mental illness is by far the greatest dilemma in my life. It dominates everything, warping my view of the past, present, and future. It is debilitating, crippling; it is whatever horrible word you want to stick onto it.

But many things that are crippling are not dilemmas. Mental illness is a dilemma because it is not easily solved. As I said before, my trips to the doctor’s office, to therapy, and to the bathroom drawer to get my medication have brought me no where. There is no right way to cure myself (or, because I hate the word ‘cure’ when speaking about mental illness, to heal myself). Most days I feel like I will never find a solution, that I have worked through all of the possibilities. A terrified little voice runs through my head, explaining the hopelessness to me.

“You’re going to therapy.”

“You’re taking medication.”

“You’ve dropped a course to give yourself less stress.”

“You’re exercising, you’re meditating, you’re doing activities you like to do, you’re praying. Everything still sucks.”

“THERE IS NOTHING LEFT.”

There is something left. The problem solving part of my mind reminds me that sometimes the dilemma needs to be put on the back-burners, that sometimes all reason and rationality must be thrust aside for faith. Faith that a solution will arise, faith that there are things I simply cannot see and understand at this time, faith that I do have choice and possibilities.

Faith that, as with my writing, all I need is a little creativity and patience to make it through.

In these moments I often think of the movie Castaway. If you haven’t seen the movie, or haven’t heard how it ends (which is pretty unlikely), then please know that spoilers lie ahead!

The main character, Chuck Noland, escapes his long struggle through isolation and hardship on a deserted island when the wall of a portable toilet washes up on shore. He builds a raft, uses the porta potty wall as a sail, and is found out in the ocean by a passing cruise ship. Later he makes this speech to his friend after adjusting to civilization:

I was never gonna get off that island. I was gonna die there, totally alone. I was gonna get sick, or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when, and how, and where it was going to happen. So… I made a rope and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I – , I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow, I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass … And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

We may never make it off our own separate islands, but we at least have to keep living and breathing. In my case, I have to keep writing. We have to remember that problems don’t solve themselves in an hour, in a day, in a week — sometimes not even in three years or more.

And mental illness, for me the biggest dilemma of all, could take a lifetime to solve.

So I must wait… patiently… for my sail to arrive. I cannot give up, because I will never know what the tide could bring in.

crossroads

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6 thoughts on “How Writing is Saving My Life

  1. Erica, Your writing moves me so much. A reason for that is, I identify with many of your feelings. Been there! Still struggle. Yes, keep persevering. One who has not suffered from mental illness can ever understand the hopelessness. Your Doctors and meds are not working.. keep searching, going forward. Giving up, letting go will not make it better. Keep looking, keep sharing! Keep believing in yourself!! And, keep the lower thoughts at bay. I’ve learned though it is so not easy, that we can choose secure thoughts or insecure thoughts. They are thoughts, not real. We put them there. So hard. BUT, when one does ‘persevere’ in choosing the secure thoughts one MUST celebrate the achievement – like getting the laundry folded.
    I feel fortunate to have met you here. You have so much to contribute to so many who struggle. Keep being here!!

    Like

    • Janis, as always I am so touched to know that someone is being affected by my writing. I love to know that there is a community of people out there working through mental illness, even if that community only exists as a group in cyberspace! It is incredibly encouraging to know that my insights and emotions identify with yours.
      I will keep searching and keep moving forward, as you have clearly done. You’re right when you say thoughts are only thoughts, even the most intrusive and horrible ones. I will keep writing for people like yourself!

      Like

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