I’ve tried all sorts of ways to try and keep my depression at bay, but nothing ever seemed to work – except for one simple activity I accidentally discovered.
I was never a good writer, even when I was in high school or college. It was not what I was passionate about, nor was it something that I wanted to do in my free time. After decades of dealing with a multitude of feelings, issues, sensations and whatnot, I finally understood how helpful it could be.
Why did I end up writing?
It is not about a person acting out or just giving up on life. It is about someone experiencing debilitating pain without even knowing that it is happening. We use coping mechanisms that look normal on the outside, but are in reality, damaging us all inside.
When you are depressed, it is no laughing matter. Ironically, the goal of the treatment is to laugh more and be happy. Luckily for me, that is what happened after I started writing.
How did writing help me with my depression?
It was purely an accident. Surfing on the web I was bombarded with a barrage of information, both positive and negative. Unfortunately, the world itself is an unhappy place, which means that I always ended up seeing things that could depress me more.
There was, however, a silver lining. Out of all the links and news I’ve read, one stood out the most. In the early 80’s, James Pennebaker did an experiment with a bunch of people. They were mostly people, who experienced traumas in their lives.
He posted that writing about their experiences may help them improve – and it did. Thirty years later, people are still thanking him, while other scientists have been corroborating the effectiveness of expressive writing in helping people cope with anxiety, stress, depression and many more.
What did I write about?
I looked at most of the research and there were different suggestions. The one common factor among all of them is this – just start writing. Don’t stop until you run out of words. Some even advised that I should write for a total of 20 minutes. Eventually, I started to enjoy being alone.
I had no idea which one would work for me best, so I experimented with several methods:
• First, I chose to write three things I was grateful for every day before sleeping. I wasn’t sure if it worked after a week, but I pushed on with the next method.
• I wrote about my pain and my views on the things that I felt caused that pain. I tried that for the 20 minutes that the research required. I almost ran out of words, but I just kept on writing anything that popped in my head. I was surprised to see after that I had a lot more to write than I initially thought.
• Next, I started journaling about my day. Like I said, I wasn’t a very good writer, which is why I wrote down my activities in bullet points.
How did I feel after?
I can’t tell you that I felt better immediately, but I did notice a lot of positive changes in the succeeding weeks when I started.
• I felt more organized because I was following a pattern.
• I felt that I was achieving small goals day by day.
• I felt relieved to get the most painful parts of my experience out on paper.
• Reading it again gave me a new perspective on how I thought about the things that were happening in my life.
• I started feeling more introspective. I thought more, rather than reacted instinctively.
These improvements in my life started a chain reaction of moments that felt better, most of which made me visibly healthier in mind and body. I could still feel pain sometimes, but at the same time, I was forgetting about it gradually.
What else improved in my life?
Initially, I did not believe that the research could work on me. That’s how depressed people tend to be – hopeless, pessimistic, confused. Even then I tried really hard. It was very difficult to follow at first, but once I got my flow going, I started writing just because I wanted to.
Now, other aspects of my life have improved considerably, such as:
• I sleep better.
• I get into less arguments with people in my life
• I’m finally a glass half-full kind of guy – on most days.
• I’ve improved at work as well and recently got a promotion.
There are so many benefits to writing, not just in an artistic and creative way. It can truly help us feel better and even heal out hearts and minds.