Writing Your Way through a Depressive Episode

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Writing about One’s Own Depression

          Over the past few weeks, as I have struggled with my own recovery from a debilitating depressive episode, and as I continue to receive acute and aggressive treatment, including ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy) along with talk therapy, and a pharmacist’s-dream list of medications, several people have asked me why I choose to write about my experiences, rather than just “try to forget about it”. The answer is simple. Writing is the best way that I know to process an experience, to come to grips with the outcome, to accept it, and to move on.

            Writing in a daily journal has long been accepted as a valued treatment tool for the stabilization of mood disorders. While publishing those daily writings for public consumption hasn’t been studied, in my view, if even one person reads my words and has a moment where they think “gee, that sounds like me”, or “I wonder if that’s why my wife acts that way”, then I have provided a valuable public service. One of the most difficult aspects of mental illness is the secrecy- the fear and shame that someone will “find out” that we have been ill. Unlike any other illness, when a mental illness causes a debilitating episode, it is unlikely that friends and neighbors will appear with casseroles and cards: it is more likely that you willl be talked about, the topic and source of gossip, and ridiculed for your “weakness”. In my recent acute episode, lasting several months, there was one friend from work who called to see how I was after I had been off sick for over 6 months. Had I been ill with a brain tumor, instead of a brain neurochemical illness, the cards and flowers and visits would have been almost overwhelming.

           Additionally, writing has such value…It creates something permanent and lasting, so that long after my mood has lifted, my memories of the illness will remain, helping me to identify a relapse more quickly perhaps, rather than pushing this area of my life into the back of the closet and hoping to forget it forever.

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