It happens every few months, or weeks, or years. I get busy, which means I get tired, and then I get sick. I rely more on junk food. I stop exercising. I withdraw from friends and social situations (not always a bad thing; see also the care and keeping of an introvert).
At some point, I stop writing.
Does this sound familiar? I suspect most of us, whether we have a history of mental health problems or not, will recognise some of what I’ve just described.
It’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve realised how crucial writing is to my mental health. If I’m not writing, I’m not matching up to my mental image of myself, and that’s the perfect recipe for self-hatred – which, of course, further contributes to the downward spiral.
(Side note: since I started thinking about life as a series of spirals, my mental health has been much better. I don’t descend into the pit in which I once found myself, realising belatedly that I’d barely made it out of bed for six months. Instead I drop down a couple of loops, realise what’s happening and take action.)
I caught myself in one of these spirals in late March. I was still writing, but it had dwindled to the odd half hour here and there, and I could barely look at my novel in progress. The last time I journalled was in early February, and I stopped then because I couldn’t handle the pressure; I didn’t want to face myself. If I took an honest look at how I was feeling, I’d have to do something about it, and I didn’t feel able to.
So towards the end of March, after working up the courage, I did my usual “sit down with a coffee and force myself to write about what’s wrong”, and came up with my usual “put routines in place to meditate, journal, and so on”. I also made some decisions about things that have been stressing me out generally. And reminded myself that yes, the world is a shitshow, but I am privileged not to have to live with that on a second-by-second basis (thank you, Leechblock, for saving my sanity on Facebook and Twitter).
I made all of those decisions…and then I got sick. Well, truthfully I’ve not really been well since mid-February, but things came to a head and I found myself on two different kinds of antibiotics for two separate infections.
I’ve only really started feeling better over the past week or so, after being truly out of sorts for a while. Mostly, all of those good habits I decided to implement have fallen by the wayside again – to some extent with good reason, since I’ve spent a lot of time in bed.
Aside from the basics (earning money, feeding myself, doing the minimum to get by), the only thing I’ve focused on has been writing.
Despite this, I’m feeling SO much better than I did a few weeks ago. I guess writing really is crucial to my mental health.
I reprioritised so that writing gets done before my paid work, even if all I do is show up and stare at a blank screen, and even if it means working on paid work until ten at night. Last week I passed a milestone on the work in progress, one I’ve been aiming at since I returned home from Sweden. Today I started on a new story, one that’s been nudging at my subconscious for a few months. My fictional worlds are expanding again, filling my mind with wonder and possibility.
It turns out that, while all those other positive habits help, the One True Habit for me is simply writing.
It made me curious about others – do we all have a One True Habit? What’s yours? Is it writing? A wander through a bookshop or your local park? Shutting the world out and reading a good book? Let me know in the comments if you feel like sharing.