Writing about Mental Illness

Every writer goes through phases, right? Little quirks they get stuck on for awhile, or certain topics they chew on for several projects in a row. I’ve always written, but about five or six years ago, I started getting more ambitious and productive with my work. Not coincidentally, I was also getting effective therapy for the first time in my life. I received a new diagnosis and processed all the relief (“This explains so much!”) and anxiety (“What, what did you say is wrong with me?!”) that goes with that.

So naturally, I wrote about all of that. My symptoms, my experiences in therapists’ offices and psych wards, the stigma of mental illness – both external and internalized. After awhile, it started to feel like anxiety, depression, and a certain personality disorder were basically my beat. It made sense. Mental illness is finally becoming the hot topic it should be. There’s so much amazing discussion going on all over the internet and the literary world, and I wanted to be part of it.

I have a short story due to be published online in the next few weeks. Guess what? It’s about depression and psych wards. These are still important topics to me, and I hope someone out there gains something useful from reading my story. But…

On the one hand, mental illness is a broad topic can be interpreted and discussed in endless ways. Still, I feel like I’ve pretty much covered the bulk of what I wanted and needed to say about my own experiences. Certain ideas and emotions used to chew on my brain – misconceptions I saw in the world that needed to be corrected, or small, never-discussed issues that needed to be dragged out into the light. I don’t feel that gnawing so much any more. I don’t mean like, “Mission accomplished! Stigma over.” I just mean that I, personally, can only harp on the same points for so long.

Back in high school, I once went through an extended shitty phase for various reasons. When I look back on the poetry I wrote then, it’s clear how stuck I was. For about a year, everything I wrote was on the same narrow theme. I was engulfed, and as a writer, that made me pretty tedious.

I just realized this post might come across as some kind of announcement. I don’t really have any regular fans or anything (other than my dad), so it would be pretty grandiose to write up some kind of press release about a new direction for my stories. I’m actually typing this because I’m still trying to sort through my thoughts and feelings about writing on mental illness. It’s one of my favorite topics, but I never want to become stuck or tedious again.

I think mental illness will always be a theme in my writing in one way or another, simply because I am a mentally ill writer. I couldn’t entirely break away from that if I wanted to. But I really think that I don’t want to be a Mentally Ill Writer – some kind of spokesperson who lacks the flexibility to write about anything else. Maybe this whole post is simply a note to myself: expand!

I don’t want to narrowly define myself as a person any more than I want to be narrowly defined as a writer. I’m kind of crazy, but I’m not just a crazy person. That’s always a risk with a new diagnosis, isn’t it? What if you start seeing yourself as just that note on your healthcare paperwork? Blech. We’re all so much more.

 


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