How Writing Saved My Life

I’ve always been a big reader and have often dreamed about becoming a writer, but I never imagined that writing would one day save my life.

Well, perhaps that’s a little melodramatic, but it is definitely true that writing about my experiences enabled me to process what I’d been going through and allowed me to finally recover after years of struggling with depression, anxiety and insomnia.

This blog was originally written for Mind, the Mental Health Charity. They never got back to me, but I’d already written it, so I thought I’d share it here.

Backstory

Let’s rewind. The year is 2011 and in the space of ten days, I got dumped and made redundant from my “dream job”. Suddenly, after nearly a decade of building a life for myself, I was back to square one; back in my hometown, living with my parents, single and jobless. I felt broken, hopeless, worthless…

I spent the next few months on my parent’s sofa, watching rubbish TV and trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid thinking about everything I’d lost. I was never suicidal, and never self-harmed, but I struggled to motivate myself to do… well, anything. I was always tired, but could never sleep. It was a vicious cycle that I just couldn’t break. My friends and family tried to comfort me, but nothing could lift my mood or distract me from the swirling vortex of negative thoughts and emotions. Because I’d lost so much in such a short space of time, it was impossible to process it all. I just kept going round and round in circles, never actually resolving anything.

Eventually, my mum persuaded me to get off my backside and to start trying to get on with my life. A former colleague contacted me with an amazing opportunity and, though I was reluctant to return to the city where everything had fallen apart, I took the leap. I found a flat, started work and… well, at least I wasn’t moping around on the sofa all day! 

Getting Help

Things didn’t really improve over the next few years and so, after another rough couple of months, I finally decided to get some proper help. I’d been on medication since The Sofa Days, which took the edge off but wasn’t helping me to actually get better. So after some research on Mind.org.uk, I spoke to my GP, discussed my options and ended up being referred to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) therapist called Jo.

Progress was slow and I ended up seeing Jo for nearly two years, but she was amazing and with her help, I was finally able to turn things around. And it was during this time that I discovered the power of writing as a way to process my thoughts and emotions. 

I had tried to keep journals/diaries before, but writing about what I had for breakfast and how little sleep I was getting seemed pointless to me. But I started to keep notes about what we’d discussed in our sessions and Jo quickly latched onto the idea, working with me to turn my notebook into a therapeutic tool. I initially called it “The Crazy Book” but Jo told me to come up with a better name, and so was born “The Muggle’s Guide to Dementor Defence” (because yes, I am a huge nerd!).

Incidentally, the book would go on to become the basis for the mental health series with the same name that I have written for this blog. 

The Muggle’s Guide to Dementor Defence

Rather than writing every day about what I was doing, I wrote every few days about whatever topic had been dominating my thoughts, interspersed with bits of advice from my sessions with Jo. I wrote as if I was writing for someone else (even though I never planned to actually share it) and wrote about various topics, including the job and the relationship. By focussing on one thing at a time, I was able to break my problems down and begin to work through them. Plus, by writing it all down, I was able to get the thoughts out of my head and onto the page, which stopped me from obsessing over them quite so much. 

I came to realise that I had been depressed for some time before that fateful fortnight in 2011, I just couldn’t see it at the time. I also realised that I had actually hated my job and that I had trapped myself in it for the sake of what was actually a toxic and unhealthy relationship. The realisation that the things I had been mourning and obsessing over had actually been bad for me, and that I was better off without them, was a major milestone in finally being able to move on from them. 

With that realisation, I could finally break free from all the poisonous thoughts that had been holding me back. I went on to earn my PhD in 2016, before buying a house with the amazing woman who would become my wife. Sadly, Jo passed away before our wedding in 2019, otherwise she would have been a guest of honour. Thanks to her, after years of struggling and emotional turmoil – after years of “just surviving” – I was happy again.

And then 2020 happened…

Of course, my story doesn’t end with a “happily ever after”. Real-life doesn’t work like that. In 2020, a brand new, beautiful baby arrived in our lives, but so did Covid. Being a new parent in lockdown with limited support while trying to hold down a job… as you can imagine, it was a difficult time. But I made it through, thanks in no small part to “The Muggle’s Guide” and the tools that Jo helped me to develop.

Final Thoughts

So, maybe writing didn’t “save my life”, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t learned to break down and process my toxic thoughts and emotions. I was sceptical, to begin with, and the first few things I tried didn’t work for me, but I persevered and, eventually, I learned not just how to manage my condition, but how to actually be happy again.

Jo may be gone but she helped me discover my own ways to look after myself and pick myself up when times get hard and, for that, I will always be grateful.