Self-Care for Writers

It seems fitting that I’m writing about self care after having to take time off of work due to a migraine. This is also why my post is coming out on a Wednesday. Normally I would have fought through it, kept working, and made it worse. The fact that I was going to write this post made me rethink my decision because, truthfully, if I’m going to tell you how to take care of yourselves, I need to listen to my own advice.

I’ve covered some of this in other posts, but I wanted to create a comprehensive list for anyone who feels burnt out or needs some support in regards to taking care of themselves. Many writers don’t know what kind of self care they should do when they feel low or if they need self care at all. Here are a few warning signs to start off.

  • Anxiety/depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of desire to write or writer’s block
  • Irritability
  • Self-doubt or feeling hopeless
  • Overwhelmed

Some are you going to say, “Well, Erin, I feel this all the time!” I understand. I feel a lot of this as well, but when it’s starting to affect your everyday life, you need to step back and take care of yourselves so you can stay healthy. A healthy mind and body will lead to better writing.

  • Take a break/ Do something you love: If you’re feeling low and the depression is creeping in, try to take a break and do something you love. Even if you think it’s just “wasting time,” it’s not if it makes you happy. Play video games. Read a book. Go to a pet store and play with some critters. Host a movie night. Watch youtube videos. Or sleep! Basically do anything except write if writing itself is causing so much stress. Contrary to what others say, you don’t have to write everyday.
  • Sleep: Writers are pretty bad about getting enough sleep. Either we stay up too late or get up too early trying to get those words out. Consider adjusting your sleeping schedule so you’re getting more rest both for your brain and body. You’ll find you’ll become more productive and feel better.
  • Get off social media: If you’re struggling with self-doubt or comparing yourself to others, get off Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, etc. Shut technology down for a day and focus on you. Studies say that people often become more depressed after seeing all the accomplishments or exciting adventures their peers talk about on facebook. I know when I’m feeling overwhelmed, shutting down technology is my best route to recovery. It’ll still be there when you log on the next day.
  • Shower/Take a bath: If you’re stuck with writing, take a shower. Some of my best ideas come out there. And if you just want to get away from ideas and relax, take a shower or a bath for your body’s sake. I love how the water pounds across my ears and silences the world. For a moment, I just feel safe and like the world doesn’t need me. I’m doing this for me.
  • Take time for yourself: Make sure you’re taking enough time to rest and relax. If all you’re doing is overworking yourself to get that book done or meet social media standards, you’re going to burn out very quickly. Take time, again, to do something you love, or take care of yourself. Even setting aside a half hour a day to watch a favorite show or sit under happy lights is a great way to decompress.
  • Chores: This may seem like a strange thing to add in here if you’re stressed, but sometimes getting chores done helps me unwind. Cleaning, paying pills, making medical appointments, going shopping, etc.. Sure, it might be boring or frustrating at the time, but by the end of the day, you’ll have accomplished so much. Last Sunday I managed to get a bunch of chores done and that cleared my mind up to write for a little while.
  • Therapy: If you’re struggling with crippling self-doubt, depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, consider talking with a therapist. I see one regularly to help me keep my head on straight. People will say, “Oh, others have it worse” but whatever you’re going through is valid. If something is making you upset or hurting your quality of life, then it’s important to get that treated. Seeking out therapy is not a weakness. It shows strength.
  • Listen to your body: If you’re getting sick a lot, or you just don’t feel well, listen to your body. It may be telling you that it’s time to slow down. We only have one body and one brain. If either goes out on us, we’re in trouble. So take care of yourselves. If you’d tell someone else to go to a doctor, take off of work, or rest if they feel like you do, then please take your own advice.
  • Support team: Build a support team so that, when you’re struggling, you know who you can turn to. Maybe you just need someone to listen to you as you struggle through your writing ideas. Maybe you need a hug or a reminder that you’re enough. Either way, reach out when you need support. You don’t have to go this alone. That’s what’s both so important and wonderful about having a writing community.
  • Write your feelings: We may all get writer’s block, but I guarantee we can all write about how we’re feeling. No one else has to see it or know that you’re writing it. Create angry poetry, construct short stories, write a blog post…do whatever feels right to help you acknowledge your emotions and work through them.
  • Hydrate: When we get wrapped up in writing, it’s easy to forget some basic needs like drinking water. And sometimes we can forget that tea is a diuretic. So make sure you’re hydrating your body (even if it does mean a lot of pee breaks away from your computer).

These are just a few tips to keep in mind when things feel rough. I’m sure you all have your own self-care methods, so feel free to share them below!

Just remember, you matter, what you feel is valid, and you are worthy of self care.

Depression and Writing: Don’t End Your Story

People often ask me why I write. I give them plenty of answers like, it’s what I was born to do (cheesy, I know), it’s as vital to me as the air I breathe (also cheesy), I love to create new worlds, I have stories to tell, etc. etc. Writing is also my outlet when I’m stressed or depressed. When I slip into the text and the world falls away, I feel a warmth in my chest that dissipates every awful thing I’m feeling. I’m lost in the story, and everything feels right with the world. In a way, my writing saves me from my negative emotions.

But what about those times when it can’t? What about the times when writer’s block is so strong is drives me into a downward spiral of depression?

I’ve written about anxiety, depression, and writing before, but what happened a week ago is very different.

On February 2nd, my depression almost won. I won’t go into great detail, but I checked myself into a psychiatric ward with the guidance and support of a friend so that I could take care of my mental health.

So I wouldn’t end my story.

You see, I love writing, but I do the same thing many writers do. I attach my self worth to my craft. If I can’t write, I feel like something’s wrong with me and I stress myself out more than necessary. It’s habit. It’s worse when I have a block on a big project I want to complete such as Purple Door District 2. For months I’ve struggled and felt disconnected with my craft. That’s bad enough, but when writing is supposed to be an emotional outlet, and I lose that, I sometimes feel like I lose my purpose too.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of things compounded over the months to make me so depressed, but not being able to write was a huge part of it. Writers tend to forget about their mental health when they’re so busy creating. We get swept up in what we should be getting done or how we’re not doing enough that we forget the warning signs our brain sends us when we’ve pushed ourselves too far.

-Lack of interest in the things we love

-Unable to deal with daily stresses

-Losing sleep over worry

-Beating ourselves down for not writing because we see ourselves as failures

Sound familiar? I was feeling all of this, and yet I didn’t realize just how depressed I was until it was almost too late. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m not shy when it comes to talking about my mental health. Several writers on twitter have been told that they shouldn’t discuss their emotions or mental health because it’s “unprofessional” or “no one wants to hear their drama.”

Bullshit.

Talking about how you feel makes you more real. It makes you more human and relatable. If Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blog posts are your outlets and the only places you feel safe talking about your emotions, then do it. The United States has such a stigma about mental health, like it’s a hush hush topic that no one should talk about.

Again, I call bullshit. If we talked about it, then maybe more people would know when to reach out for help. Maybe more creative minds would realize they’re not alone in their struggles and there are people who care what happens to them.

You are not your craft. Your worth is not measured by your word or page count, or your amazon reviews, or the number of books under your belt.

One of the things that struck me the hardest about going into the psychiatric ward was when the therapist said, “You’re a writer? Oh yeah, I’ve probably seen most of the writers in the city here.” What does that tell you about us creative folk? We push and push and beat ourselves down when we should be lifting ourselves and others up for our/their accomplishments.

So in case no one has said this to you today, you matter. You are amazing. You are loved. And you have a purpose. No matter how lonely you feel, there’s a community out there that understands what you’re going through. If you’re too nervous to call someone for help, then try #writingcommunity on Twitter, or any number of writing hashtags on instagram. Believe me, you’ll find that there are more people like you than you even realize.

And during those really bad moments, when you feel like the world is coming down and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, please consider calling the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Your story isn’t over yet, and the world wants to hear it. You’re not alone.

A Writer’s Therapy Pets

As I write this entry, I’m curled up on my couch with my parrot, Aladdin, fast asleep on my chest. Sometimes he grinds his beak happily, and I feel the vibrations, which help bring down my anxiety. On some of my worst nights, I know he’ll be willing to cuddle and slow my pounding heart.

aladdin1

There are no words to describe the importance of therapy pets. For writers, I think having that constant furry, scaly, or feathery companion is extremely important. Writing can be a solitary project, and when you feel alone in the world, it’s nice to feel needed by a little critter.

I’m not shy when it comes to talking about depression and anxiety. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I deal with both, and sometimes they make me hate my writing as well as myself. On the darkest nights, I’ve even had the thoughts of not wanting to wake up the next day. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone into the aviary and picked up Aladdin, or my other parrot, Orion, and just held them so I could feel their little bodies against my heart. Their warm presence reminds me that I’m needed, and even if, at times, I feel cut off from the world and alone, I’m really not. They need me. And I need them.

Now, having pets doesn’t come without it’s drawbacks. There are days when the anxiety gets so bad that even the slightest squawk or noise can set me off, in which case I know I need to walk away. My babies are pretty forgiving, though, and always welcome me back. I just hope they all understand just how much I love them.

Dovies.JPG

I see writers post pictures of themselves with their pets, and it makes me so happy. There’s nothing better than settling in to write and having your furry/feathery companion with you to keep you company. While Aladdin snoozes under a blanket on me, Orion likes to perch on my computer screen and fall asleep. I feel lucky to have them, as well as my doves, Luna, Apollo, and Nova, and my finches, Zeus and Venus.

finchies

So if you’re a writer, and you’re feeling particularly alone (and you know you can take care of a pet), consider bringing a companion home. There are always animals available, especially those in the shelters, looking for homes.

Most of my babies are rescues of some sort. Nova, my dove, came from a bad home where she and her mate were used in videos. She was discarded because she was too much work after her mate died. I don’t think she even had the opportunity to fly around much because she grew exhausted quickly when she tried to fly at my home. It’s taken a few years, but my little girl is a happy bird who adores Orion and spends her days playing with him, warming her eggs, or hanging out with me at the computer. Without me, it’s likely she wouldn’t have found a home in time to save her. And without her…well, I don’t know what I’d do without my little honey bird.

orionandnova

Luna came to me ill and I spent weeks nursing him back to health and making sure that Apollo didn’t come down with the same sickness. Zeus, Venus, and Athena (rip), were cast aside by their previous owner, so I brought them in. Aladdin was deemed a “mean bird” and no one wanted to buy him at the pet store. He was there for 10 months before I brought him home. While still bitey at times, he’s such a little lover, and I can’t imagine my life without him.

They’re part of the inspiration behind my writing. My main character in The Purple Door District is a werebird after all. Don’t be surprised if you see a little parrot show up in one of the stories. Besides helping my anxiety and depression, they act as my little muses too.

If you have pets at home that help inspire your writing, feel free to post them below. I’d love to see them!

Happy writing!

aladdin2

 

Mental Health and Writing

I’m no stranger when it comes to depression and anxiety. I walk with them, hand in hand, everyday of my life, and sometimes I get dragged along, kicking, screaming, and crying. The US is notorious for looking down on those with mental health. We’re supposed to suck it up and be strong, but really, that creates more problems in the end. So when the world gets to be too much, I turn to therapy writing and reading.

Everyone uses writing in a different way to help themselves. Some write journal entries, spewing out their emotions so they don’t have to hold them so heavily in their hearts. I write violent scenes so I can feel something other than the pain inside of me. Poetry, short stories, novels…they can all help because they give you something else to focus on.

If you want to deal with the problem or emotions you’re going through, use therapeutic writing as a chance  to center on the issue. Write down how you feel and what events have led you to those negative emotions. As you do this, you might see patterns form. Maybe you’re not getting enough rest and that’s causing problems, or a new stress was added into your daily life. Whatever it is, remember, your feelings are valid. You’re allowed to be upset, and it’s good to take the time to work through your issues.

Poetry can be helpful, too. Splatter your page with the rushing thoughts in your head and see what you create. You can always go back to it later if you want to adjust the rhythm, rhyme, or form. There’s also nothing wrong with writing the poem for your eyes alone. Don’t worry about editing or how the words might sound. Let them flow and see if that helps alleviate some of the stress. Some of my best pieces have come out when I’ve been at the peak of depression.

Working on my novel can be very therapeutic too because it gives my brain something else to focus on. I have a huge issue with stress eating; I always have. So if I feel depressed or overwhelmed, I try to turn to my computer instead of grabbing a bag of chips or cookies. Does it always work? No, but more and more I find myself sitting down to my work instead of eating, and I consider that a success.

Right now, I’m in a hospital getting treated for cellulitis. Deep down, I’m scared, angry, and frustrated with myself, but I know those emotions aren’t going to help me heal. So I’m keeping my mind and hands busy by writing this blog to you. My body is resting and my brain is getting a break from fretting over the pain and stress.

I’ve said many times that it’s important to take care of yourself when you write. Writing can, at times, be the healer we need to get through stress, depression, grief, and more. Find what works for you. If you have any suggestions on how to use writing for healing, post them below! The best way to help each other is by sharing ideas.

Your feelings are valid. YOU are valid.

Happy writing.

Writing With Anxiety

Let me paint a picture for you. It’s the middle of the night, and you’ve just completed a chapter in your book. When you crawled into bed, you were excited with your progress. But as the clock ticks on, you start to dread what’s on paper. What if it doesn’t work? What if it’s not good enough? What if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t cut it as an author? What if I’ll never get published? What if—

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say that anxiety sucks. It’s horrible for everyone, but as a writer, it’s something that niggles at the back of my mind everyday. Even as I write this blog post I feel its cold claws digging into my shoulders. Will this help anyone? Am I making sense? Will anyone read it? What’s the point?

The point is is that I’m sharing a story with you and revealing a part of myself that a lot of others might keep hidden. Our country is notorious for turning its back on those with depression, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses. You’re called weak if you cry or share your feelings, or you’re told to toughen up.

Well, I’m here to tell you that your feelings are valid. It’s okay if you think you’re not the best writer. It’s fine if you think you’ll never publish anything. You’re allowed to feel all these things… for a moment. What you do with that energy is what’s most important. Will you let it stop you? Or will you use it to push forward and be the best that you can be for yourself?

Even the greatest writers feel like they were 1. the worst at one point or 2. they still feel that way. We are our own worst critics. Your book may not be perfect, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end. Take the time to polish it. Work with someone you trust to go over the manuscript and make it better. Or, put the writing away for a day or two, take a breath, then return to it with a fresh mind and heart. Feel… and then move forward.

Here are a couple of things I do when my anxiety consumes me as I’m working on my novel.

  1. Breathe. Really, just close your eyes and breathe in and out.
  2. Step away. If you start hating your work, then it’s time to back away from the computer or notebook and take a breather.
  3. Work out or do something else active. Get that serotonin moving again and let your brain rest. You might be overworking it.
  4. Do something else creative. It’s perfectly fine to have another hobby to focus on when your writing gets to be too much. Researchers actually encourage it especially during moments like these.
  5. Support. Reach out to a support group. Post on twitter, facebook, instagram, wattpad,… wherever you feel safe. Believe me, someone else will be going through the same thing.
  6. Be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. You can always edit later. And if editing is the problem, then write for a little bit. Just try not to beat yourself down for it. You’ve got this.
  7. Use your coping skills. Whether it’s taking your medication regularly, or doing yoga/meditation, take time to treat yourself mentally, so you can get back to the thing you love.

Anxiety is an awful thing to deal with, but it’s not impossible to work through it and keep writing. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, other people do.

I do.