Mental Illness and Writing

Mental illness and writing do not go hand-in-hand.

But then again, mental illness doesn’t particularly go hand-in-hand with anything productive.

It hits hard against writing and creative work, however. There are so many thoughts and so much subjectivity that it’s hard to separate from your mental illness. There is also so much production necessary in creative work. And when you’re in bed, depressed, or having a panic attack from your PTSD, it’s nearly impossible to receive anything, let alone produce anything.

A quick list of the things I suffer from:

  • PTSD (as described by my recent counsellor)
  • Depression (as described by my doctor and my previous therapists)
  • Disordered eating (as discovered by lots of googling and common sense)
  • Body and gender dysphoria

So life is difficult. Everything is difficult. Words are difficult and washing my face is difficult. And yes, I say suffer, because fuck do I suffer.

As writers, we’ve heard of and experienced writing burnout. We hustle so hard until we reach a certain point and need to stop. We know there’s something wrong, and we know that continuing at our current pace will spell certain disasters for us.

Having mental illness means I have a reduced capacity for tasks, whether they’re mundane or creative or whatever. Not every day is the same, of course—some days, my mental illness sits and doesn’t bother me. Other days, though, I lie in bed without the energy or desire to brush my teeth, wash my face, or eat something.

When I’m being told constantly that “writers write” and I need to “write every day” and I don’t have the capacity for it? I kinda feel like shit. I already feel guilty for not being able to do things “normally.” Hygiene and eating are such simple tasks, but they can become difficult when my mental illness flares up. Adding writing to that? Adding any kind of creative art to the list of things I need to do? I can’t handle it.

If you have a mental disorder or suffer from a chronic illness, you don’t need to write every day. You don’t need to hustle until you burn out from writing. You can be slow and write small amounts. 5K days aren’t always feasible. Write 100 words if you can. Hug yourself for not writing today if you can’t.

I know I can’t write every day, because 1) I’m a busy student; and 2) I have mental illness and need to prioritise other tasks than writing.