It took a long time for me to identify with that part of my story, and then again, to admit it out loud. In fact, as I write this, I’m cringing a little.
I’d rather tell you I have it all figured out. How depression is behind me and I have all the answers sitting snugly in my back pocket. But that’s not how it goes with this ugly illness. It finds you in the cracks where you try to seek joy. And sometimes, you wonder if you’ll ever out-run it.
Depression is the secret that pervades many households—the one most hide away from in shame. I keep writing about it because as I learn how to catch up with, and hopefully outrun, this thing, I want to bring many others with me on the journey. And the fact that so many people do hide away makes me all the more determined to bring this thing into the light.
I’m not going to tell you depression can be cured with writing. I don’t believe there is just one cure—it’s a complex illness with different answers for everyone. But I can tell you that writing is a tool. It’s something that will help you stop running, if only for a little while.
Next year I’ll be teaching an online course right here called Journaling through Depression. But for now, I want to give you ten starting points to ease depression with only your pen and paper.
1. Give yourself at 10-15 minutes a day to sit and write. You may want to run from the way you are feeling, but if you remain curious about your emotions through explorative writing, you have a better chance of moving into a healthier state of mind.
2. Be present in your surroundings. Ask yourself where you are and how you are feeling, right here, right now. And write it down.
3. Explore one small need you have in this moment that can be met. This should be something that will nourish your mind or body (or both) and could be anything from taking a walk to sipping on a latte. Why is that need important to you? What does it feel like to meet that need?
4. Write about one thing that is drawing you deeper into your depression right now —something weighing heavily on your mind. Observe what it is and then write down your corresponding emotions, whilst continually asking the question, “why?”
5. Describe your depression. What is its form? Colour? Texture? Sound?
6. Write down 10 things that depression robs you of in your life. Then for each thing, write down one small way you can begin to get it back.
7. Have a written conversation with your depression. Ask it why it’s here and why it thinks it has a right to be in your life. Allow yourself to separate from it so you don’t identify with it as being a part of who you are.
8. Write about a time in your life when you didn’t feel depressed. When was it? What was happening? Write about it in as much sensory detail as you can.
9. Take it one day at a time. I always recommend journaling in the morning. That way you can think about the day ahead and describe your intentions for it. It may not work out the way you planned, but being intentional will help. Begin by writing down how you want to feel, then ask yourself what you need to do today to feel that way.
10. Don’t give up hope. Let’s face it, as a society we don’t care for people with mental illness very well, and sometimes with the lack of help around it’s easy for hope to slide. But the only thing that makes one person give up, and another keep wading through the trenches, is hope.
Do you have any additional writing exercises to add to the list? Or any other techniques that have helped you? I’d love to hear.
Image by Lauren Rushing