I have spent a lot of time reflecting lately on my own mental health, the things that have helped me to grow and accept my experience of life and how I can use that to help others. It’s dawned on me that, like most other aspects of my life, I have been drawn to stories throughout my mental health journey; the story of friends and family, strangers online, my own acceptance that this chapter is a part of me, all helped me make sense of my mental health and understand that I am not alone.
Mental health can be hugely isolating – stories have always been my safe space since childhood. I want to give that safe space to others and to do that, I need stories. Storytellers is a guest blog series that I will be including in my regular posts. Some posts will be anonymous. Others won’t. Some will be supportive. Others will simply get their story out in the world. I hope you find some comfort in the words of our storytellers.
In Chapter One, we hear from Rachel about how she takes care of her mental health as a writer.
Self-care for Writers: Looking After Your Mental Health
As writers and creatives, we have to pay particular attention to our mental health. We pour everything we have into our stories, hoping that people will connect with them, but at the same time, it’s an industry that’s almost defined by rejection and setbacks. The Help by Kathryn Stockett was rejected sixty times over the course of three years. The Tales of Peter Rabbit was rejected so many times Beatrix Potter self-published it. Now Peter Rabbit is a household name.
Although I’m an editor running my own editorial business, I’m also a writer, and I know how difficult it can be when you’re trying to break out, especially if you have a mental health problem or are prone to things like depression. My fourth manuscript (yes, fourth, the others were far too terrible to even consider submitting!) was rejected over fifty times by literary agents before I put it aside. My newest book has generated a bit more interest, but it’s still a long, tough slog. Publishing is notoriously slow and difficult to break into. There may be moments of hope and excitement; equally, there may be moments of pain. At times, it’s tempting to give into the little voice that says: You’re no good. Just quit.
If you’re naturally anxious like I am (I’ve had issues with anxiety for as long as I can remember), it can be even harder to ignore that voice. It nags at you. Your dreams can feel so far out of reach, and that can wear on your wellbeing and even cause depression. Common writing advice might tell you to ‘write every day’ or ‘start a new project as soon as you finish one’! There’s a problem with this advice, though. It doesn’t take into account the stress, the burnout, and the mental fatigue that might happen to you, or the possibility of making yourself unwell.
So, what can you do if you feel yourself slipping?
Take a break and forget about writing for a while.
It doesn’t have to be forever, but take some of the pressure off. Take a few days, a week, a month if you need to. If you love writing, you’ll come back to it, and you’ll feel better for the break. One of the luxuries of being unpublished is that you don’t have the pressure of people waiting on your work—you can step away from it if you need to.
Refill your creative well.
Do something else creative or artistic. Immerse yourself in stories—catch up on your reading or binge-watch a series on Netflix. Enjoy the art of others. Do some colouring. You’re under no pressure to keep writing, especially if your mental health is suffering.
Remind yourself of the positives.
Gather all the positive responses you’ve received about your writing, even if they’re just compliments from a friend. Think about why you love writing, how you feel when you get a juicy new idea, why you love the process. This can be hard if you feel like you’re sinking into the clutches of depression, which leads me nicely on to my next point…
Seek help if you need it.
Be aware of your mood, and if you find yourself feeling low or anxious the majority of the time, consider seeking help. There’s absolutely no shame in reaching out if you feel your mental health slipping. I can guarantee you that most people have been there at one stage or another. Contact your GP or the Samaritans and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
Rachel J. Rowlands is an editor and a keen writer of fiction; she loves helping authors polish and shape their stories. She’s partial to fantasy, young adult, and children’s books, but reads a wide range of genres. You can find her at http://www.racheljrowlands.com. She also tweets at @racheljrowlands.