I'm a Writer Living with Mental Illness...
...and that Challenges Me a lot Most Days
The good news is challenges are meant to be overcome
Writing is my lifeline. Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve always been writing in one way or another. My first experience with writing regularly came from journaling on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. This underrated act of self-care got me through many difficult times in my life. But that was all it was. Words for me to spill onto the page to help make sense of living life with anxiety and depression. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I took to writing fiction to process past trauma, and to rewrite the narratives in my life.
Fast-forward a decade, or so later, I decided to try and help others by sharing my experiences publicly.
Never could I have imagined how challenging it would be to be a professional writer living with mental illness.
It’s emotionally draining to write on the topic of mental illness and everything that goes with it. Trauma, triggers, and flashback, I’m looking at you. And, while yes, I write about mental health often, I’m talking about all the other times too.
It doesn’t matter if I’m writing about society, or fashion, or education. My anxiety, depression, and PTSD couldn’t care less about what the topic at hand is.
Honestly, the most consistent experience I’ve had, as a writer with mental health concerns, is that the symptoms tend to always show up are the worst possible time. You know, like when a deadline is looming, or I have an interview scheduled for an article. Because, of course, what better time for an anxiety attack than mid-conversation with someone you’re trying to impress.
Yes, The Struggle Is Real
As a writer, you have several responsibilities, just like any other job. Let me just get this out of the way before we dive any deeper. A freelance writer, content creator, pen for hire, or whatever you want to call us, people who leave words on a page don’t have the stress-free lifestyle Sex and the City portrays. We have deadlines, pressures, and stress. Do I have the freedom to make my own hours? Sometimes. But usually, those hours fall outside your typical 9-to-5.
Another situation that pop-culture fails to represent is the ability to have a proper work-life balance. Depending on whether you are self-employed or employed by a company, your time off looks different too. When you’re self-employed, there are no holidays or sick days. It’s not that I can’t take a day off. But if I do, it will hurt my bottom line.
My brain is too foggy with depression, or my anxiety has been massively triggered by the way an email response was worded. I read in between each and every single line, fixating on all the wrong things. Or sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, I feel so overwhelmed about everything I have to do that it keeps me from doing much of anything at all. When you have those really hard depressive episodes, and everything is moving in slow motion, you have to push really hard to just get through each moment. Occasionally, I just can’t, and for someone who is high functioning, that is even harder to admit.
Sorry, dear editor. I know it might sound ridiculous, but is it possible to extend the deadline? I’ve had some difficult PTSD flare-ups and haven’t been able to get this article quite finished.
Having to send that email is my worst fear. I don’t want them to think I’m a flake who is incapable of doing my job. Sincerely, I’ve never been more grateful for opportunities to advocate, educate, and empower using my words. But, sometimes, my mental illnesses feel like they hold me back. Have you ever felt like this? Desperately trying to find the balance between practicing enough self-care to allow yourself to flourish and doing what you love the most? Never fear. There is hope, and there are ways to have a career you love and take care of your mental health at the same time.
Real Talk? It Isn’t Easy, But It’s Totally Worth It
When you plan accordingly and communicate honestly, you can be productive and serve those who need to read these words. You might even help someone who is going through the exact same thing. I know, I know. I’ve painted a less than wonderful picture of being a creative with mental health concerns. But I’m writing this for you today, not to tell you I’ve got it all figured out (because I most certainly do not), but instead, to share with you that it is possible to pursue this kind of career even when you live with mental illness.
Being self-aware is one of the most important things to wrangle early on. When you are self-aware, you can identify the nagging feeling that begins to stir right before everything turns upside down. Even when you have the best-laid plans, triggers can muck it all up, and that’s okay. That’s where making sure you have open and honest communication comes in.
Having honest communication is hard. Like really, really hard, especially when it involves disclosing a personal struggle. Now I’m not saying you have to delve into your trauma and everything behind your mental illness, but there is nothing wrong with giving your editors (clients) a heads up.
On the other hand, reflect within yourself because you know yourself best. Am I taking on too much work? I know what my limitations are, does the proposed deadline work?
No matter how badly you want to be super (wo)man, at the end of the day, we are all human, challenges, quirks, and all.
As a writer who lives with mental illness, it can be a helluva challenge, but it’s not impossible. I do my best to plan and be self-aware about how I am feeling. I keep an honest and open line of communication with the people who I work with. Because here’s the thing, if we want to break the stigma around mental illness and health conversations, we have to start having them.
Don’t be afraid of judgment or raising anyone’s eyebrows just because you’re being true to yourself. Because honestly, are those the kind of people you really want to be working with in the first place?
Header Image source: Kat Stokes on Unsplash