I’ve been following the progress of Sanctus for a while and I love what they’re doing. I’m passionate about changing the perceptions of mental health and I share their dream of creating spaces on the high street specifically for mental health work-outs.
I’m also passionate about the power and value of writing as a tool in helping to maintain good mental health. Pens and notepads on a desk in a quiet corner would be one of the most important features in my ideal ‘mental health gym’.
So, it was a no-brainer for me to respond to a request, in a recent newsletter, for people to write for Sanctus. I immediately emailed James with a message, which went along the lines of:
‘… I have more than a passing interest in raising the profile of mental health…I love to write but I’ve only ever really published pieces on my own blogs…I wondered if you’d be interested in giving me a go?…’
I was delighted to receive a reply from James, which went along the lines of:
‘…would love it if you could write for us…!’
Brilliant! What an opportunity! Write a piece for someone else at last, around mental health, and have it published, just like a real writer! Fantastic!
So I sat down with my pen and notebook and started to write an article: “The Power of the Pocket Therapist”. I wrote about the therapeutic benefits of writing, explaining that getting in to the habit of writing every day, whether it’s in a Pukka notepad, a moleskin journal or tapping on a keyboard, can help you to gently explore your feelings and gradually become much more emotionally intelligent. I suggested that the blank page or screen can become your pocket therapist; there for you on demand, with no need to book an appointment, patiently waiting to help you untangle the knots inside your head without judgement or recrimination. I referred to the fact that writing can empower you, whether you’re a professional author such as Graham Greene (‘Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write … can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.’), or a professional mental health ambassador like James Routledge (‘…journaling gave me the confidence and the words to speak openly to people about how I was feeling…I was never suicidal, but journaling did save my life’). And I pointed out that spelling, grammar, flow — none of that matters when you’re using writing as a form of therapy, that your sentences don’t even have to make sense as you hold control over who, if anyone, you share your writing with.
After an hour or so of solid scribbling, I sat back to read over what I’d written so far.
Shit. It’s not good enough. I need to start again. No, keep that bit in and delete that bit. Type it out so’s I can move things around. Why do I always do this, start with a pen and finish with a keyboard? What an idiot, so much easier to edit on a screen. That bit doesn’t sound right, what’s a better way of saying that? Where was that article I bookmarked about the recent research into journal therapy? I’m never going to get the point across. Why can’t I say it how it sounds in my head? I’ll never be a professional writer. I’m hopeless…
I’d been accosted. The self-sabotaging whisper that lurks inside my head had raised its ugly voice to shout, ‘no matter how hard you try at this, you won’t be good enough! Stick to writing for yourself!’
The self-affirming voice that fuels my conviction in my ability and ambitions was reduced to a whimper. Self-doubt and anxiety took hold, self-confidence and tenacity dissolved.
Days, then weeks passed. I avoided the minimised ‘Draft Sanctus Article’ Word document on my task bar. Every day I thought, ‘I’ll finish the article today’. Every day I didn’t. I didn’t want to let James down, but every time I tried to come back to it I found some reason not to.
The psychologist Leon F Seltzer(1) explained that the push-pull dynamic of those ‘I want to but I can’t’ internal voices produces a great deal of tension and often leads to hesitation and procrastination — not just when it comes to writing projects, but in many areas of our lives:
‘It makes you apply the brakes with one foot even as the other is pressing on the accelerator. The inevitable result is stagnation…you’re at war with yourself, clearly your own worst enemy…your diligence in dutifully dis-confirming your capabilities shuts down your creativity, disenabling you from giving your all to anything you might wish to achieve’.
Like most things around our mental health, there’s no quick-fix to dealing with this conflict and self-limiting thoughts. But, like most things around our mental health, talking — or writing — about it can definitely help…
So, this morning I lifted my pen, reached out to my pocket therapist and dumped my frustration, self-doubt, anger, confusion and guilt onto its page:
‘I feel a knot in my stomach. It’s ridiculous. It’s only writing an article for a website, what is wrong with me?? I’m scared. I don’t know where the fear comes from. Scared of being judged by people. I don’t know who these people are and why their opinion’s important to me — but people reading my words, that I’ve agonised over, and thinking they aren’t good words or don’t resonate with anyone. I want every word I write to reach out and touch the reader. But how realistic is that, for goodness sake? It’s too much to expect. Stop being such a perfectionist! But it feels painful when I think of something I write not being right. Why is that? I don’t know. Because it’s the thing that I think I can do well, but my fear of producing a piece that’s rubbish stops me writing well, or even worse, writing at all. So it’s the thought, rather than the actual, because who knows what will actually happen till it happens. I’m letting the thought of being judged stop me. Instead of just staying with the present and enjoying the process of writing. Let the thought, the judgement thought, go. Sit down and write as if it’s only you who’s listening. Just write.’
Then, I lifted my laptop and wrote, with this article being the result.
Ironic really, but definitive proof of the power of the pocket therapist…
© Jane Milne 2017