Working Through Depression
By: Dr. John Moore
Depression can often visit us like an unwanted guest from out of the blue. One day you’re feeling just fine and the next day – down in the dumps for no apparent reason. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Many people seek out a therapist for depression in Chicago for this very reason. What can be most frustrating about a depressive episode is how random they can be. And while situational or seasonal issues may be contributing factors for a dip in mood, there can often be no rhyme or reason for feelings of sadness.
But what if you could do something to help uncover why you feel so bad? Is there anything you can do to help lower depression’s intensity? It turns out the answer is – yes.
Depression and Creative Writing
As therapists, one of the things we like to do is help people better understand their emotions. One way we encourage our clients to get in touch with their feelings – and by extension thoughts – is to engage in what is commonly referred to as creative writing.
If that sounds like a fancy term, rest assured it’s really not. At its core and for the purposes of therapy, creative writing is nothing more than allowing ourselves to make up a story in our minds and recording the narrative on paper or in a Word document.
Examples of creative writing might a one page letter to fantasy girlfriend/boyfriend or taking elements from a recent dream and making up a short story.
Other examples include writing something about characters that have magical powers. In many ways, creative writing is similar to imaginative play, an activity that children often engage in as part of their development (see our post on imaginative play).
While creative writing certainly isn’t a cure for depression, it can provide an escape hatch for what you are feeling inside while also offering real ameliorative benefits. What follows are 5 specific ways creative writing may help.
1. Makes Feelings Come To Life
Writing creatively can help to externalize your feelings, making them more real as a result. Whether keeping a simple journal or writing a fictional story, parts of your feelings will come out in the form of content. When you look back at the words you have written, you may come to conclusions about what you are feeling, sparking insight for greater understanding.
What’s neat about this narrative process is that feelings you are bottling up in side can be projected onto fictional characters or placed inside of the story. In this way, you are allowing catharsis to take place without trying “force it” through some other means, such as talking.
2. Allows An Escape
When writing fiction, you are able to use it as a means of temporary escape from your everyday problems. The characters will be able to do whatever you wish, allowing you to have complete control over the way the story’s path transpires. What you may find is that some of your best writing happens when you are depressed, in part because you have built a bridge linking your thoughts to your emotions.
If you feel you feel like you have no control in your real life, you can revel in the fact that your creative writing is all yours and that no one can tell you how to write it. This escape from reality can become a true hobby in time, offering a psychological oasis during times of high stress or when you are toggling between feelings of sadness and anxiety.
3. Improves Health and Reduces Pain
Writing about things that are upsetting to you, whether as a personal account or a parallel problem for a character in a fictional setting, can help your health according to the research. As you write, you may notice your blood pressure lowering, which has the added benefit of keeping you calm.
We mention your immunity here and the physical manifestations of depression because they are both related. If you have time, be sure to read our post on depression impacts the body and causes us to feel real physical pain. And so it makes sense that the less depressed you feel, the less pain you will experience.
4. Gives A Sense Of Order
Therapeutic writing can help give you a sense of order in the way you do things on a daily basis. For example, keeping a journal of your feelings can be looked back at in the future and allow you to find patterns in your thoughts, feelings, and reactions. This is a great way to uncovering distortions in your thought patterns.
Examples: If you notice you are feeling especially depressed during the springtime, there may be an underlying reason for these feelings. Maybe you had lost someone around this time of year earlier in your life. Perhaps you are seeing a lot of pregnant women and wish you or your loved one was one of them. It’s possible certain smells or sights act as a trigger a previous trauma. Keeping a journal or looking at the way you write during certain times can assist you with identifying the ebb and flow of your depression.
5. Tool for Therapy
If you do creative writing regularly, you may find at some point that you no longer want to be the only one who reads your words. When you decide to expose your writing to another, you are on your way to possible healing.
Many people who attend therapy for depression find that by sharing a story with a therapist, they are able better express their emotions while having a silent witness as part of their journey. The therapist is also able to gain unique insight into what may be happening on a variety of emotional and psychological levels.
If you feel a bit anxious about the process of creative writing or not sure where to start, don’t feel alone. This is something we often hear from clients when this particular activity is suggested. We want to take you to a safer place and assure you that what you are feeling is normal. Anytime we try something new it’s bound to cause us to feel a little anxious.
If you are interested in learning more about the creative writing process or are looking for a few exercises to help you get started, we encourage you to pick up a copy of the book, Creative Writing for Dummies by Maggie Hamand.
Inside, you will find lots of practical ways to unlock your inner writer and channel some of your thoughts onto paper. It’s a great resource for anyone who is hoping to learn more about fictional writing as a tool for wellness.
Thanks for visiting the Chicago therapists at 2nd Story Counseling! If you are interesting in learning more about how working with a therapist can help your depression, please contact us at 773.528.1777.
If you are deeply depressed, you should seek out the services of a helping professional. If you are concerned you might hurt yourself or someone else, get help immediately by calling 911 or going to your local emergency room. You can also call 1-800-273-TALK.