|My early publishing success, and creative peak for about 25 years|
Apparently, poets were twenty times more likely to go mad than anyone else.
Suddenly, I wasn’t quite so sure of my long-term career plans. I didn’t really like the idea of throwing myself into something that promised me a lifetime of mental instability.
So I became a teacher instead. And then a journalist, and then a combination of the two. The poet quietly sloped away without making a fuss.
But whatever I did, the writer was always there in the background. Finally, about ten years ago, I left everything else behind and put myself on the line. I was a writer, and damn it, I was going to make a living being one.
But that statistic never went away. Even though I wasn’t writing poetry, I was writing – and surely all writing is a form of poetry anyway? Perhaps I wasn’t twenty times more likely to suffer mental illness than everyone else if I was writing full pages at a time rather than rhyming couplets. But I was pretty sure the odds were still fairly strong.
And sure enough, over ten years of writing, my mental health has felt a bit ropey at times. Nothing too awful – although there have been some bad times. But I am definitely prone to high levels of anxiety, insecurity, even panic attacks, and I worry about everything. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.
A writer buddy and I have this joke about our mental state. We call it Writer’s Brain Tumour. OK, so maybe that doesn’t sound such a great joke. But the idea is that whilst ‘normal’ folk will get a little twinge of a headache and pop a couple of paracetamol and get on with their day without thinking about it, we are instantly consumed with thoughts of bleeds inside our brain. A tiny itch to most people means they’ve brushed a nettle. To us, it can only mean the most dramatic of tropical diseases. Even if we’ve never been anywhere tropical. It is impossible for us to have a minor ailment without escalating it in our minds to catastrophic levels.
But it’s not our fault. Making huge leaps of imagination, upping the stakes, thinking of the most unlikely and unusual scenario - this is our day job! This is how our minds need to work in order to do our jobs properly. If we sat down and wrote about a girl who accidentally walked into some nettles and got a rash, no one would be interested. But give her a tropical disease and a mystery person who gave her the disease, and an exciting adventure that she has to go on to find a magical cure, and we are approaching the realm of a plot.
So it stands to reason – if we spend our working hours training our minds to function in this way, there’s bound to be some fallout. Doesn’t make it any easier though, when we’re fretting about the latest lump of fatty gristle on our legs that we ask partners, doctors and anyone who happens to be passing to have a feel of.
So what do we do? Drive everyone mad and hope they’ll stick around? Read lots of self help books? Meditate - or even medicate?
|Meditate or Medicate?|
And so it is with writers. The muscle that we constantly call upon, work hard every day and exhaust from time to time is our mind. So it’s no wonder if our imaginations can sometimes get a bit overworked and strained. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; it doesn’t make us abnormal. It’s simply a professional hazard – and we need to look after it. And sometimes, as with physical injuries, it can take a few different approaches till we find the one that works for us. It might be yoga, counselling, or exercise; it might even be medication.
The fact is, our mind – our brain, our imagination, whichever sounds right to you – is the number one tool for our jobs. So if we suffer from Writer’s Brain Strain (as I’ve decided to rename it) from time to time, well, let’s not be embarrassed, or try to pretend it’s not happening. It’s part of what makes us the writers we are, and we just need to call upon our own bag of tricks to work out how to give it the care and attention it needs.
On which note, I’m off to walk my dog on a big, white, sandy beach.
|Dog + beach + sunrise = the best therapy I've discovered so far|
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