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.)

Am I turning into a wild animal?

Hip and HumbleI’m finding it ever more difficult to stay indoors these days. Cooked food doesn’t even sound good. I suppose some of it is stress. There is a big change coming up, and a move across the country, and of course a lot of new things are going follow. Still, I’ve been through these sorts of upheavals before, and my normal reaction is to, you know, eat chocolate and drink wine. Watch more TV and sleep late.

This time around, I can hardly make myself look at a clock, and my electronic devices all irritate me. I’m waking up before my alarm and I get though my day watching and waiting and I’m not sure for what. I mentioned to my husband that once we moved, I might just live on the porch for awhile and not come inside for days.

“Do you think maybe I’m turning into a wild animal?” I asked him. “Like, I used to be domesticated and it’s wearing off? Sort of like, I don’t know, rose bushes that revert back to what ever it was that they really were before some nursery grafted something else on to them?”

I can tell that I’ve lost him with the roses thing.  He’s not much of a gardener and he’s got no idea of what I’m talking about.

“You’re fine,” he laughs.

“How do you know?” I want a little concern here, some acknowledgement of the oddity of my situation.

“I know you. You love being outside. It’s where you go to calm down. But you are always going to come inside to use the bathroom, and you’ll never get so wild that you’ll turn down ice cream. That’s good enough for me.”

Me too, I guess. Once we move, maybe I’ll metamorphose into a creature that craves the sun and the wind and sky, but who won’t give up her indoor plumbing and can always be called with a dish of frozen sea salt caramel yogurt. That could work for us both.