Monday, 22 August 2011

Writing and (Mental) Illness

Reading: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Writing: not a lot
Watching: loads of films; clearing up the Sky Plus memory!

I've been having a difficult time lately - I have done very little writing and this has upset and frustrated me. I have borderline personality disorder with depression and anxiety, which tends to make a lot of things very difficult. I beat myself up for not writing but when I do write, if I'm going through a bad patch with my illness, I can be hyper-critical and that's often more damaging than not writing at all. I convince myself that I cannot write, that I will never be able to produce a good piece of writing. I tell myself that I will never be able to sustain a writing career.

It is only in recent years that I've found the confidence (or foolishness) to expose my work to others. Most of this exposure has been under the safety and security of Open University courses: I either submitted my work to a supportive tutor or posted it in a forum full of encouraging classmates. I thought people would laugh at me and tell me I'm kidding myself if I think I could be anything other than a terrible writer, but that hasn't happened (so far). I've finally found the gumption to invest in myself and my writing.

But depression and anxiety can jeopardise this confidence. In fact, calling it 'confidence' feels strange - I see it as a vital attempt to see if I can achieve my dream. I would regret not trying to make it as a writer. I wonder if this is just an excuse - I'm claiming that it's better for me not to write when my illness is at its worst points, but maybe I would be better off writing through it and facing the worst of my self-criticism. Maybe. But I can't help feeling that it would be counter-productive.

Of course, this ignores the fact that when my depression is bad, it's virtually impossible to read or engage with anything or anybody, let alone write. I should view mental illness as I would view a physical illness: I shall write when I am able to write and not beat myself up when I am unable. Writing (and life) is hard enough without dwelling on the drawbacks; instead of lamenting the times I cannot write, I shall focus on when I am able to write.