Hello everyone! Today I am very excited to help share Kaley’s NEW blog Words! *claps excitedly* We will be sharing our thoughts on writing and mental health. *bows* Enjoy!
Writing in the Midst of Mental Health Problems: Personal Experiences
Hattush: I’ve always loved writing. I wrote my first story when I was five or six years old and it became a favorite pastime. I loved to bury myself in a corner and create stories. The content changed with my interests, but the writing never went away. Even when my mom got very sick and life was unstable and full of fear, writing stayed and I found peace in creating my own worlds.
A few years later, I found myself completely and totally lost in a world of depression and mental pain. I didn’t know how to react or what to do. I was exhausted and everything seemed pointless and purposeless. I tried to write the happy, hilarious stories that I used to love, but nothing came. I tried writing a novel. I didn’t get past page one. I tried a novella and it failed miserably. The only things I could seem to write were extremely depressing page long stories, weird blog posts and long journal entries.
I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get do what I had done for my whole life – write stories. It was so frustrating to sit down at my computer and stare at the blank screen until I was exhausted and have absolutely nothing to show for it.
Kaley: Meanwhile, I’ve loved writing longer than I could actually write and spent hours a day telling stories, whether through playing or through actual telling or through writing. Other worlds weren’t really an escape from this world… they were my world. I hardly understood this world, let alone the pain it held. Of course, I’d felt pain. I lost my home, lost my school, and walked away with nothing but the clothes I was wearing after a storm attacked our hometown when I was six. I should have died. But because my parents bore the burden and continued to seek as much normalcy for us as possible, I didn’t suffer for long. In fact, I thought of it as a cool story and a testimony. As I got older it became my reason for pursuing Jesus.
Then I met the world of the internet and fell into a horrible trap. It scarred me, and though I escaped and never looked back, I felt guilty, like its weight was still on my shoulders. I felt awful and didn’t hardly write during this time. Thankfully the Lord allowed me to find peace, but it didn’t last. I took one last breath of fresh air, not knowing I was about to get pushed back into my anxiety. This time it was much, much worse. I slept in my parents’ room a few times, even though I was a teenager, because I was so scared. I could write, but not much. Writing a thousand words in one day sounded impossible.
When To Take a Step Back
Hattush: I eventually realized that it was okay to take a break from writing. It was such a relief to finally say, “It’s okay to take a season of rest.” I learned that, for that time, I had to just do what I could when I had inspiration and be okay with resting when my brain was fried.
You don’t have to feel guilty for taking a break when you need one. Yes, consistency and perseverance are very important traits in a writer. But there is also such a thing as burn out. When you struggle with a mental illness, your mind is fighting so hard. It doesn’t always have the energy to pump out a thousand words a day. Sometimes you’ll only be able to write ten words in a month.
And that is okay.
You aren’t lazy for giving yourself time to heal. Your writing will be so much stronger if you let yourself have some time to recharge. Maybe you take a break for a week and that’s enough. Maybe it is a year before you find yourself able to write anything. That’s okay. Give yourself space and time.
Kaley: Even writers need time off, and especially writers need to clear their heads sometimes because trying to write good words takes a lot of mental energy, energy that you don’t have if you’re wrestling with depression and anxiety. Mental illness can drain every ounce of strength you have and when you run out, you can’t keep pushing because you’ll hurt yourself worse. Instead of trying to write good words and getting frustrated that you can’t seem to write what you want to write, focus on relaxing and healing. Remember that the better health you’re in, the happier you are, the easier it is for those words to flow. So take some time; if not just for your own health, for your writing’s sake. If you don’t have strength, you don’t have strength and you need to get it back.
When to Push Yourself
Hattush: Using a personal example again: when I was far into recovering from my depression, I was very displeased to find that I had picked up an awful habit. Procrastination.
The truth was, there was a time when I was struggling so much that everyday tasks were so overwhelming and I couldn’t do them. But as time went on and I got better, I continued to use that as an excuse (to myself) to get out of the stuff that I needed to be doing: cleaning my room, taking showers, responding to emails and letters, and writing. God convicted me of that and showed me that I needed to get out of my lazy habits and use the renewed strength that he had given me to take care of the tasks that he set before me.
If you know that you have enough strength and ability to write, go for it! If you are just avoiding it because you are scared or you don’t know where to start, pick up your notebook again. Start small. Maybe it’s only twenty-five words a day. Don’t burn yourself out by starting with massive goals.
Little by little, push yourself to write more than you did the day before. You will eventually find that you are writing like you used to.
Give yourself grace but also work to grow in your craft.
Kaley: Like Hattush said, starting small is the best place to start. I can’t write very well when I’m frustrated and I get frustrated quickly if I keep lying to myself that I’ll get it done, only to find that I can’t or just don’t. I have to remind myself that, while I definitely have the capacity to be free from my procrastination, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Slowly the soldiers marched through the world, slowly the builders built. Slowly, slowly, the empire we know as Rome was formed. I do have the capacity but I have to slowly get there. Small goals, day by day. The goal stays the same until I can regularly meet it, and then it changes until I reach exactly what I’m capable of. But when I don’t feel the strength to change the tab from YouTube to Google Docs, I need to double-check that my goal is reasonable and that I’m actually ready to write. Sometimes our minds are mean and stubborn and try to do things they aren’t ready for and sometimes they like to hide from what needs to be done. You need to find out what you’re ready for and push yourself just that far.
Turning Pain into Beauty
Hattush: As a writer, you have an incredible gift: the ability to impact people through the written word. People hundreds of miles away from you can read your words and feel God touch their hearts through them. That is incredible.
Mental illness isn’t fun, isn’t easy and isn’t what any of us want to struggle with. And yet you do and thousands of humans do, too.
Your experiences and struggles with mental illness can bring hope to others in the same situations. You don’t have to be on the other side of the pain before you start sharing hope. Start now. Let others know that they aren’t alone in their trials. Let them know that even though the world seems so dark, there is a Light greater than all the blackness. Let them know that they are stronger than they ever believed possible.
God has an amazing ability to turn our worst circumstances into something beautiful. This time in your life isn’t pleasant at all. But it is there for a reason and maybe that’s to bring a little more beauty and light to the world. ❤
Kaley: A writer’s job is one of the best jobs ever because we get to be healing, growing, understanding, and even distracting to the people who need us most. When I’m down and out, a good book can give me energy and motivation and I want to do that for others. Books also show me that I’m not alone, that there’s someone out there who sees people like me and understands them. That’s a powerful feeling.
Yes, you’ve struggled. But that doesn’t mean you should stop here, soldier! If your war is over, you learned a thing or two that could help another in their war and you can take up your shield and pen (which is so much mightier than the sword) and stand at their side in the form of a book. You can be peace in the trial, joy amidst fear, and hope in the middle of confusion. Don’t you want that, friend? Why not offer it to others as well?
As I find peace, as I find strength, I learn that God put me through it so I could see Him more fully and understand those struggling more deeply. I realize that what I thought of as my worst moments are my greatest advantage. And that feeling is amazing.
Writing the Worst
Hattush: Maybe you, as a writer, have a heart for people with mental illness and want to include them in your story but you’ve never experienced depression, anxiety or any of the other numerous mental pains. How do you write about something so serious that you’ve never felt?
First of all, let me say thank you. Mental illness and some of the coping things that follow (eating disorders, self-harm, various substance abuses) aren’t talked about enough in stories – especially Christian ones. There aren’t easy answers. Sometimes people don’t get better. Sometimes it takes years and years and years of hard work. And that can be hard to fit into the few pages of a story. I applaud your heart and thank you for wanting to share this story. ❤
So how do you go about writing mental illness realistically? Talk to people who have been in it. Ask them questions about what it is like, what their daily struggles are, and how the world appears to them.
Research. Read books and articles. Study. Observe.
Use your own pain. Maybe you’ve never experienced mental illness, but I know you’ve had other pain in your life. Channel that into the story.
Don’t let yourself be pulled down. Mental illness is really heavy and a hard thing to write about. Take it slowly. If you find yourself down and taking on some of the feelings that you’re writing about, take a break. Be careful. ❤ You are precious.
Kaley: When you come to write about the struggles you’ve been through, the battles you’ve fought, it can be hard. It can hurt. It can be scary. But just think, just think of that one person out there who needs your words. Imagine them in your past situation and write for them.
But what if you don’t know how? What if you’ve never had these struggles and want to write them to reach out to those who have?
Write what you know, not necessarily in your story but on a separate page. Take a moment to reflect on all the feelings, all the memories, and your journey. It might take several drafts to get it right, but it’s the perfect place to start. Ask others what they know. Find people who have struggled and are struggling and just listen. Know the situation as well as possible and pour all that pain, all that fear, onto the page. Because the world needs you to shine the light into the darkness, revealing what hides in the deepest shadows. You, braveheart, get to be the one who lets those who are hurting know that they aren’t alone, that they can make it through. You, shining one, get to show those who don’t know pain the pain that they can help combat. You can change lives. Will you?
Kaley Kriesel is a 15-year-old Christian author from Oklahoma, USA, where she pursues Jesus and studies from her home. She has been writing for as long as she can remember, and when she isn’t writing, learning, or socializing, you can most often find her playing ukulele or reading a book. She has two blogs, Words and Sketch Scribble Scribe. This tour is for Words.