I write because it’s cheaper than therapy

It turns out you can buy a whole collection of “cheaper than therapy” t-shirts and most of them make the valid point that doing something physical, or doing something you love, is good for your mental health. I guess the remaining ones (mostly about chocolate, wine and beer) make the point that the occasional indulgence is helpful too.

Most people I know who write, do include “writing as therapy” as one of their reasons. Sometimes it is the main one. I’m no exception. Writing anything is an outlet for me, and it is one of the reasons I blog, and at times keep a journal. In some ways the journal is the best mental health tool, because it is a place where I can explore my own issues without giving any thought to a reader.

However, fiction provides a sort of veil between my raw emotions and a make believe story while it allows me to delve deep into issues that might never surface in something more contained like a journal. Creating a plot has a certain non-linear element of surprise to it that can take me exactly to the places where I least want to go.

When I started my first novel, I promised myself I would do my best to write without fear. Some of that entailed pretending that no one I knew would ever read my book. (I still have to pretend that sometimes.) I got the chance to go to Ireland in the middle of my first novel, and toured the Jameson distillery. I was surprised to learn that every bottle of Jameson contains the two Latin words “Sine Metu.” Without Fear. Well, Mr. Jameson and I seem to have things in common.

I have a theory about writers block. So far, in my case, it is caused by one of two things. The first, and easiest to solve, is that my body needs something and I’m ignoring it. Usually it’s sleep, but sometimes it’s food or water or even a trip to the bathroom. My brain will eventually cease to create until I care for myself.

The other is that I want to go somewhere with the story and I’m censoring myself. Occasionally it’s because I have another direction I want the plot to go, but more often it’s because something deep within wants to take the story into territory that bothers me. I’ve learned that my muse becomes silent until I relent and stride into the dark forest that is scaring me so.

There, I find the demons that have my particular number, and as we stare each other in the eye, I become a little stronger and they become a bit less terrifying. As I write them into the ordinary, I turn them into creatures of the light.

The forest is huge and the creatures are many, so it’s not like this writing thing is a quick road to complete mental wellness, at least for me. But I do recognize that writing forces me to confront my worst of everything, and with the confrontation comes a measure of understanding.

While looking for information for this blog, I found a great post written by “The Angry Therapist” on tips for dealing with life if you can’t afford therapy.  I found the entire article worthwhile, and some of it surprising and wise. I especially liked tip seven: share your story.

A final word about therapy. Several people I’m close to either see or have seen a therapist and each one of them has benefited from it. It is, I’m told, expensive and hard work, but with the right therapist and the right attitude, it can be life altering. So please understand that I don’t mean to claim here that writing, or any other activity, can or should replace therapy when it is needed, or even wanted.

Therapy may be something I’ll try someday. Much as it may help me, I’m confident I have enough garbage in my head that writing for my mental health will always be an option for me. Besides, I have six other fine reasons to write, and there are four of them I haven’t given much thought to lately. One of them I’m kind of secretive about, and it will be the subject of my next post.

(Read more about why I write at at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions, and My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing.)

A no-peeing section of the pool

Once upon a time, you could specify whether you wanted to sit in the smoking or the non-smoking section of an airplane. It was a choice between between being surrounded by smoke or merely having it waft by you in smaller doses. Incredible as this now seems, the rationale for being able to smoke cigarettes while in flight was a common one: what I do shouldn’t affect you, so get over it and let me make my own choices.

But the problem is that my choices sometimes do affect you, and my viewpoint often depends on whether I’m the doer or the one dealing with it. I want to be able to lead my own life and not consider you. On the other hand, I don’t want you to be able to shoot off guns near my property, litter in the street or keep roosters next door. (I don’t mind your chickens, but I’m not listening to that damn rooster for six hours every morning.) You get the idea. I want all of my freedom and your good behavior, and we all feel that way.

So, as a society, we must compromise. In the Unites States we err towards personal freedom; it has been a cornerstone of our culture. Recent fear mongering has pushed some of us into demanding that all new-comers “act like us,” which, if you think about it, is a very odd demand. Anyone who acts like themselves is behaving like an American, aren’t they, here in the land of individual freedom?

Some areas are less open to compromise than most, even in the U.S.,  particularly those that involve caring for our common safety. My right to dump my toxic waste, to create fire hazards, or to drive as fast as I like all collide with your right not to die an timely death. Yet, reasonable people can and still do disagree about where these lines should be drawn.

The one area in which we are unarguably linked together is in the realm of insurance. It doesn’t have to be that way. We could live in a world in which if your house burned down, or you were in a traffic accident, or you were diagnosed with cancer, then you and your family were simply screwed. End of story. The 90 percent of us for whom everything was going well would feel bad for you, we really would, but hey, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

But that’s not our world. Some enterprising people came up with the idea that if we all paid a little into a pot called car insurance, or home-owners, or auto, or health, or life, then the lucky people would keep paying into the pot and get little to nothing for it. That’s right, the lucky ones. The unlucky would get back far more than they put in, but as they dealt with illness, devastation and loss, they would not be rendered penniless as well. And, of course, the insurance salespeople and their companies would make a nice bit of profit as well. It has been a wildly successful idea.

Consider that insurance is quite contrary to the American concept that my choices don’t affect you. Once we agree to insurance, we agree to be part of a larger pool. So enter health insurance. Like life and auto insurance, some people are deemed higher risk than others and not everyone pays the same. However, if payments (commonly called premiums) are allowed to deviate so wildly that those most likely to use the insurance can’t possibly afford it, then something in the system is out of whack. And it is.

Perhaps part of the problem is the cost of the medical care itself. We may have evolved a system in which we simply spend so much on our health as a society that even when we spread out the costs, we still can’t afford it. Maybe it is because of more expensive procedures and medicines, or a bloated system supporting too many employees, or individuals or institutions demanding a larger profits. Maybe it is a little bit of all of the above.

Maybe part of the problem is the health insurance industry, too. Has this group become too large for us to sustain or has the cut demanded by the insurance industry itself become too high?

Perhaps those with little need for health care now ( young single healthy males) would rather pay far less or nothing and not worry about the needs of families and aging until they have families and are feeling the effects of aging themselves? That’s understandable, when viewed through the eyes of ones own needs.

I say males, because women have additional health needs based on their reproductive systems. Contraception, check ups, prenatal care and childbirth are issues for the vast majority of females. It might be easy to say, well, that’s your dumb luck but not my problem. And in fact, some of the modifications being proposed to health care in the U.S. do say exactly that, to females, to those who are older, to those with pre-existing conditions or mental health needs.

But is that a wise thing to say? I once had a similar argument with someone who had no kids and therefore didn’t want to pay for public education. “Don’t you think that living in an increasingly ignorant and illiterate society would make your life worse?” I asked. “And do you really want to grow old depending on these people you refused to educate to keep your groceries coming and your lights on?” Public education benefits all of us.

So does basic health care for everyone. Contraception? Prenatal care? Whether you are male or female of any age, do you really want to live in a world with more unwanted children? More unhealthy children? A world in which those needing help with drug addiction or mental health issues cannot get care? By carving out pieces of health care and making them expensive add-ons, we bequeath ourselves a society that is worse for us. Not for those other people. For us.

I once read that having a no-smoking section in an airplane was like having a no-peeing section in the pool. Exactly. Those of you who want really low premiums for a health care system that provides you with almost no services, you can go stand over on that side of the pool, and just pay for what you need. The rest of you, well, you stay on this side here and do the best you can with this broken system. And if you just can’t help getting a little pee in the water, I’m sure those folks over there won’t mind.

Hey, everybody. Make sure you don’t swallow a gulp of water when you swim.