Over the past year, I have had numerous conversations with people who seem to be struggling. It was the coronavirus, but it was also other stuff — work, relationships, creative struggles, the state of the world.
Everyone seemed to be running to a therapist, sometimes to talk, but a lot of times to get referred elsewhere for medication. My own views on medication have advanced considerably in recent years; I wasn’t raised in a family that dealt with therapy in any serious way, and we didn’t turn to doctors so quickly to solve problems we felt were solvable ourselves. The words depression, anxiety and trauma were hardly in my vocabulary until a few years ago.
But that’s a maturation of thought, I think. Our society has grown more comfortable with talking about mental health. Maybe even too comfortable. Nowadays, you can pretty much get out of anything by saying you’re depressed. Having a tough time at work, just say you need a mental health day. Cheated on your spouse, mental health. Forgot to pay your taxes, mental health. Anyone argues, just say they’re not receptive to your trauma… or something. It’s a get out of anything free card. Really.
Anyway, I’m not a master at self-care, and I’m not sure anyone can really claim to be. There was even an article published recently that said too much meditating is bad for you. Which makes sense. I mean, even a cursory knowledge of Buddhist thought would tell you that meditation is more linked to suffering than it is wellness. But hey, it’s America. We are a country that needs everything sugar-coated. They even made vitamins into gummies so you’d actually take them.
With that said, I think writing can be a wonderfully therapeutic thing, provided you do it often enough. How often? Every day. I recommend starting with a few sentences, trying to get a paragraph. If you can get a paragraph, keep going. The key is to do it each day, for about fifteen minutes. If you miss a day, don’t get down on yourself, just pick it back up the day after. It’s like the gym, the point is not to get there for any particular period of time — the point is to make it a part of your lifestyle.
You will find, over the weeks, months and hopefully years that you do this, that certain patterns will emerge. You will see yourself repeating certain thoughts, certain feelings; you may, depending on where your life takes you, even see a repetition of events, possibly with relation to your romantic dealings or your job.
In a different time period, they use to call something like this a diary. But then, I think diaries got too associated with teenage girls — as if that was a bad thing! — and that term fell out of favor. But that’s more or less what it is. A diary. To me, the only different is that a diary is more a record of what’s happening to you, or what you are doing, as opposed to how you feel.
This should focus a lot on how you feel. But not exclusively. Like I said, it can be pretty much anything. Just set a short timer and try to sit there until something comes out. You can even do it on your phone, typing into a Google doc, or better yet speaking it as a voice-note. Just having a period of time where you are reflecting and parsing your own thoughts in a material way — that’s the therapeutic part.
You won’t see results immediately. It’s not even a thing where you might actually see anything. But I believe you will, over time, feel differently.