The idea of writing to improve your mental health is a new one for me. For me, writing is, and always has been, something I do because I have to. It's written in my DNA that I have to create stories. However, I recently joined a local writing group which has its foundation in a local festival that focuses on Mental Health and Wellbeing in our town. Winterfest was originally about raising money for MIND, but as the festival of events has grown, the organisers have set up a Wellbeing Fund for the community. 80% of the money raised during the month long festival now goes into this community fund and locals can apply for grants to enable them to take part in activities that they may otherwise not be able to afford. One of Winterfest's aims is 'To promote the arts as a pathway to better mental wellbeing and raise awareness of mental health issues' and it is this goal that led our group leader to offer a creative writing workshop. A number of people came along and once Winterfest was over, they continued to meet on a regular basis to continue exchanging feedback on their writing. This year, they have even created a book to raise money for the fund with contributions of poetry, life writing and fiction making an eclectic mix. We (they're so nice they included me in this, even though they wrote the book before I joined!) are going to be reading some samples of writing from the book, as part of Winterfest 2020 and hopefully this will encourage those who come along to try creative writing for themselves.
As I said initially, the idea of writing as therapy isn't one I was familiar with, but it's something I've been giving some thought to over the last few weeks. Just before Christmas, my darling sister died unexpectedly and I found that every creative instinct flew away from me in the wake of what had happened. Writing was something she had always encouraged me to do and she was always the first one to read anything I'd written. Suddenly, she was gone and I no longer wanted to write anything because she wasn't there to read it. However, over the next few weeks I found that although I couldn't write my usual fiction, I was waking up in the wee small hours with fragments of poetry in my head. These fragments became longer pieces and although they are not my best work (being scribbled down with no editing and full of raw emotion), they allowed me to express what I was going through without feeling that I was imposing my grief on others less close to the situation. My aunt suggested that it was worth keeping them as a way of charting my progress through that grief, so that when I had a bad day I could look back at the early ones and reassure myself that I was coming through it. After this conversation it occurred to me that the last time I'd written any kind of serious poetry was in my late teens when I was suffering with depression. It seems that poetry is my reaction to and my way of coping with life being difficult.
As the deadline for my next assignment drew closer, I knew that I had to face writing fiction again, but was aware that I was putting off completing my edits because this was the last piece my sister had given me feedback on and somehow, in completing it, I was closing the door on that collaboration. It was something I didn't want to do. I wasn't ready for it. It took a conversation with my 'sometimes wise beyond his years' 14 year old, to realise that I just needed to get on and do it. Shirley would be telling me the same thing and with the promise of virtual hugs being sent from him at school, I sat down and made the changes I needed to. Strangely, once I'd done it, there was a sense of relief. I'd survived the ordeal. Almost immediately, I was able to write another short story and complete a literary critique I'd been working on. It was as if I'd suddenly been given permission to continue writing.
Writing the tribute to my sister for her funeral booklet was also therapeutic in its own way, as it made me focus on the happy memories we had of her, instead of simply drowning in my sorrow at losing her. Going along to the writing group as normal also helped. My friends and co-writers could not have been more understanding or more caring and we talked about how writing about her and for her might be the way for me to move forwards. Whilst I'm not sure that I'm quite ready to do the former yet (it took me 20 years to be able to write a piece about my Dad dying), the latter is certainly something I am determined to manage. I know how proud my sister was of my creative writing ability and she would have been devastated if I'd stopped writing because of her death. So, from now on, it's her I'm writing for as much as myself. I owe it to us both.
https://brightlingseawinterfest.co.uk - Winterfest website
https://www.poetsin.com/aboutus/ - charity that uses creative writing to help people with mental health issues (others are available, I just wanted to link to one in case it would be helpful)