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Writing as Therapy? A journey through post-natal depression

I’ve been writing for a long time, but I didn’t take it very seriously at first — I bet you know the feeling, right? That one day — that elusive one day sometime in the future — it would something I would be able to do. Until then, I was just messing around.

The thing is, to get better (at anything) you’ve got to take it seriously.

For me, that time was after the birth of my second child.

Now usually this is a time when everything else gets thrown out of the window. I had a toddler and a newborn and, as anyone who has had a baby knows, the world shrinks down to the inside of your house. Or maybe your side of the street — if you manage to get out at some point in the day.

It was at this point in my life that I was diagnosed with post-natal depression (PND). I really struggled. Every day felt like I was going into battle — with my kids as the enemy. Surviving each day (and keeping the kids alive as well) was the ultimate goal.

Looking back on that time, and now with some space to reflect, I was clearly anxious and depressed. I would lie awake at night wondering how I was going to make it through the next day. I was constantly on edge. My children felt like strangers. I had sunk into a trench (there’s the war analogy again) unable to see over the top. I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. Just another day of struggle, hopelessness and failure.

I felt as though I was losing myself — my essential self. In becoming a mother, I was sacrificing my own dreams to look after a family. I promised myself that one day I would get back to doing what I loved. The trouble was, I wasn’t sure that when one day finally came, whether I would even remember who I was anymore.

Luckily, I had a very supportive husband, mother and mother-in-law. I got help. During my discussions with my doctor and my psychologist, I discovered that I wasn’t missing work, I wasn’t desperate to get back to my career. I was missing the writing. My creative self had gone missing and I wasn’t sure I’d ever find her again.

My psychologist suggested I set myself some small goals to further my dreams as a writer — taking a small amount of time while my kids napped to do a little journaling, to learn some more about the writing craft, or even some regular writing practice. Just something small and regular that would keep me in touch with my creative self and my writing dream.

Fast forward six years and I’ve published two books (Airwoman and Spirit Woman) and have just finished the first draft of book three of a series. I’ve got plenty of other (unfinished or unwritten) story ideas. I would consider that I’m still at the beginning of a writing journey, though if you’d said I would be this far progressed six years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Writing as therapy? Does it work? In the midst of my PND crisis, writing helped me to find something that was mine alone. Sure, maybe my kids will one day read my stories (they’re a little young right now), but they aren’t for them. Writing is for me.

A word of caution though. It’s also a question of balance. I know that I feel better (generally) when I’m writing regularly. If I’m not writing, I don’t feel as content with myself. However, writing can also feed into my anxiety. When I’m not writing (even for a day or so) I start berating myself about not doing enough. It starts to become evidence that I’m not good enough. That’s not healthy.

So, while writing is an essential part of my sense of self, I’ve got to remember to be kind to myself. Writing can be therapeutic, but it’s only one part of a strategy of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness that is the key to good mental health.