Wednesday 18 January 2017

#DisabilityDiaries2017 | The Writer Diaries - The Challenges of Writing With Depression and Anxiety

(This post discusses mental illness, depression, anxiety, and brief references to suicidal thoughts.)

There's this myth that having a mental illness somehow makes you a better writer.

The tortured artist, able to bring forth the most beautiful art from their pain.

That myth is complete b*lls**t.

If anyone with a mental health problem is creating beautiful art or writing, it is in spite of not because of their illness.

For the love of whatever higher force you believe in, do not demean the efforts of artists and writers by saying that it's 'only' because they have mental health problems that they can do these things.

woman typing on typewriter

Because it's damned hard.

It can be hard enough to do the day-to-day things with mental health problems. Writing? Can be a constant f**king marathon.

Like a lot of people, I've always wanted to write.

Maybe 'wanted' is the wrong word - I've always written, because it's just a part of who I am. Call it a character trait if you like.

Now, I'm sure a fair amount of you will be familiar with the insecurities and worries of being a writer.

There's something about writing that is intensely personal, and you're putting it on display. Who wouldn't be worried?


When you have depression and anxiety though, all those insecurities are magnified.

There are challenges to writing, to wanting to be 'a writer' when you have these conditions.

Here are a few them:

(This is just my own experiences and opinions guys. Everyone experiences mental health problems differently. Also, self-care guys - if you have to stop reading for your own mental health, you freaking do it!)

1. Feeling you're not good enough.

I'm sure most people have thought this at some point when looking back at their own writing. I think it almost every time I read something I've written.

Worse, sometimes this can lead to a thought spiral: this isn't good enough and it's what I've always wanted to do, I can't do anything right, why do I bother...?

Sometimes it gets darker than that, but I don't want to bring you all down.

one yellow umberella amongst several grey umberellas

2. What if...?

When you have anxiety problems, 'what if...?' is a dangerous trap to fall down. It can keep you stagnant just because you're too terrified of either success or failure.

Yes, I have anxiety issues around success, as well as failure.

  • If people actually like what I write, what if I can't replicate that a second time?

  • What if I have to go to events and lit festivals? That would mean travelling, meeting new people, speaking about my own writing, ending up in the right place at the right time... all things that give me massive anxiety issues.

  • What if people don't think I'm worthy of the success?

Imagine these sorts of thoughts, spinning through your head faster and faster, as your breath gets shallow and you shake and start to feel dizzy. Anxiety is a b**ch.

3. Writing affects your mood.

I'm pretty good at listening to the warning signs when I'm reading something that is going to send my mood off-kilter.

...It isn't always what you think either - sometimes I can't read happy things because I think I'll never have that, and that has a bad effect.

But with reading, like I said, I've gotten pretty good at matching to my mood. It's part of the reason I read so many different books at once - I can match the book to what I'm feeling.

Writing? Writing is something I get lost in... and I don't always notice when it's affecting my mood.

sad girl

4. My motivation goes to sh**.

I nearly gave up on this post numerous times. If you're reading it, it means I somehow managed to a) finish it, and b) convince myself to actually publish it.

I will start writing something and just... give up.

I won't be able to convince myself to finish it. Why would I? It's never going to be decent enough for people to read anyway... See? That's the sort of sh** my brain throws at me.

And sometimes I'm just too damned tired.

5. I can't concentrate.

Sometimes I actually feel like I just can't think.

Depression makes your thoughts fuzzy and makes concentration difficult. So I will start writing something, and then just... not know what I was doing with it.

Or I'll not be able to get out what I'm thinking onto the page or screen because it just... gets lost somewhere.

So yes, writing is something I've always wanted to do. No, I'm not going to give up... but my writing doesn't come from my illness.

My illness has tried to kill my writing - has tried to kill me - on more than one occasion. Please bear that in mind.

Like this post? Try these:


  1. I'm not a writer in the sense of writing novels or poems etc, but my god is this pertinent to blogging for me! Especially the thought of not being able to replicate things and not being able to concentrate or motivate myself. I have a lot of discussion posts I want to write up but my brain is like 'nope, I'm in a cloud of fog and I'm going to stay here' so I'm left scrambling and writing stuff that isn't even coherent.

    Powering through all the bad though gives you SUCH an uplifting feeling though - despite it being the hardest thing. Loved that you touched upon this, Cee. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you!

      And if you're a blogger then YOU ARE A WRITER. I've decided. So there. :P

      I've just had enough of people assuming that creativity is somehow 'easier' with mental health problems. No. It's not!

      And I love your posts, whenever they're ready :) (And I know I haven't been over to your blog in a little while - you're on my list for blog-hopping, I promise!)

    2. I think people underestimate how tough blogging can be as well! The ideas aren't an endless flow!

      Yeah - they romanticise depression to be this never-ending waterfall of despair and tragic ideas when really... It is that waterfall of despair and tragedy, but you also feel so shitty you don't deserve to get up and work. You CAN'T get up, let alone wax lyrical about it.

      Thank you! And no worries - I'm the worst at remembering to comment on things and blog-hop >.<

    3. Ha, I think you can only wax lyrical about it if you have a chaise longue and a corset... I'm pretty sure it's in the rules there somewhere ;)

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  3. Do people seriously still think that having a mental illness makes you a better writer? Omg. If anything it makes you have to fight even harder to put out a piece of writing. But once you overcome it, then you can write freely.

    1. It does seem to be a general opinion *sighs*

      Thanks for the comment Em XD

  4. I can relate to this post. I had really bad depression when I was a kid/teenager, and it definitely didn’t make anything easier. Mostly I slept a lot. It's hard to get things done when you're sleeping.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. I tend to have the problem of lack of sleep - I can't sleep in the night, so I end up tired and unable to do things in the day.

      Thanks for the comment XD

  5. I definitely cannot imagine mental illness making writing easier. I've never even thought about, until now, how that fear of publishing any writing would be amplified. That's a great point because it's terrifying enough just publishing anything for people to read period. And my CFS gives me cognitive symptoms like brain fog and difficulty concentrating, and it's just SO HARD to think straight when you're exhausted, so I can completely understand that one. Sometimes it's too overwhelming to respond to a comment let alone write something creative!

    1. Thanks for the awesome comment!

      I think there are a lot of conditions which make things more difficult in ways that people just don't understand - and, unfortunately, a lot don't want to understand.

      But we're lucky in that there are people out there (like you!) who do appreciate how hard it is sometimes to do things that people take for granted.

  6. Awesome post. I agree w/ so much of this. #s 1 and 2- wondering if you're good enough, AND being afraid of what comes after you ARE out there. I think a lot of writers suffer from this, it's such a solitary craft- and also the guilt you feel if you DON'T write? Since you feel like it's part of you so it doesn't fel right not to do it? And being able to replicate...

    I think you read a lot of minds with this post. :)

    1. Thanks so much! :)

      I think depression and anxiety has a tendency to enhance the worries and insecurities you'd already have as a writer anyway.

  7. I forgot that people romanticised mental illness and artistic ability - it's so weird to think that people can think that mental illness helps people in creating their art, after learning more about mental illness. I'm glad that you posted this - because I know a lot of people need to read this and understand. Thank you for sharing, Cee <3

    1. Thanks very much for the awesome comment - it really made me smile XD

      I think people see the way that people with mental health problems sometimes use art and writing to help them, and get completely the wrong impression. Art therapy etc. is awesome and has helped a lot of people, but it doesn't mean it's easier to do creative things!

  8. writing really does effect your mood - especially I find, when you come down from a writing high. It's normally this that leads to those dreaded "what if" thoughts for me - but know you aren't alone in these dark moments, even if it feels like. Creative pursuits come with a price - however the people who enjoy the work don't always appreciate the darkness behind the light. Great post!

  9. I think it's funny that people have that impression. A lot of people also have the impression that writing when drugged up or drunk is really effective as well - even though the most times I've seen one or two people try it, they don't even know what keys they are hitting. So much for that xD

    Anyway, I can totally understand how there are these elements which also come into play. I've read a novel written by a dyslexic and I was also impressed. Everyone has their struggles writing, and thank you for sharing some of these ones.

    1. Thanks for the awesome comment :)

      And yeah... inspiration might come from mind-altering substances (though I don't recommend it) but motor skills are going to go out the proverbial window.

  10. This is SUCH an important post. I really hate the trope that depressed artists = better artists. I'm not an artist myself, but I know that when I'm mentally ill, there is nothing that can motivate me to even get out of bed, let alone create a masterpiece.

  11. Great post! I love how you have highlighted the challenges of writing with depression and/anxiety. It's an uphill battle that each individual faces and what we see as a reader is only the final product. I agree with you that self esteem can really hinder you from starting and finishing what you write. I am glad that you wrote this to make people more aware of the problems that some writers face.


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