I would like to tell you a story. It is a story about a woman, scared, imprisoned in a damp cave with no light and no way of getting out. One day, on the putrid floor of that cave, she happened upon a notebook and a pen. They became her best friends and we all know how friendship can lift your spirits.
I am a writer. Words are my thing. Since I was six and plagiarising Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree, not even bothering to change the storyline or names of the characters, I have loved to write. I like to watch the words, almost magically, flow from the pen to the paper, or the keys of my laptop click musically, in a race between hand-eye co-ordination and thought-process. It should be no surprise then, that I use writing to cope with the abundance of utter detritus that swirls around my head. It did, in fact, come as a surprise to me. I had always used writing as escapism. I wrote about the life I wanted to live, the person I wanted to be. It turns out though, that your own life is often far more interesting.
When I was in my darkest days of postnatal depression, one of the homework tasks set at group therapy was to write down all the things we thought we were doing wrong and those we thought we were getting right. I had an instant dilemma. As a fully signed-up member of the list-lovers club, I knew that two lists, neatly aligned on a page should be the way to go. But the verbal diarrhoea monster that lived deep within could see an opportunity not to be missed. And so, my first published novel, The Boob Group, was born. It started as an essay on my mothering skills but quickly became a fictional account, not of how I wanted my life to be, but how my life really was, with some humour thrown in for good measure.
In my writing, as in my life, I use humour to deal with the really grim stuff that is hard to face. It gives my brain some breathing space to process the stress. No matter how bad the situation in which you find yourself, there is usually something amusing to be taken from it, or maybe that’s just me. From the feedback I have had, readers also appreciate the funny anecdotes as a balance to the heavier subject matter. You would think there is nothing funny about living under a dark cloud, constantly crying, when you think you should be full of love and happiness at having a newborn baby. In reality, going out in public with baby poo smeared across your face, is mildly amusing, in hindsight of course!
I found myself writing for hours, lost in an imaginary world where I was able to put all my emotion, fears and pain into another’s voice. I began to really like my main character, who because she was based so profoundly on me, enabled me to like myself a little bit. I was able to cut myself some slack by realising that she was doing her best and probably wasn’t a bad mother at all. My novel gave me some objectivity. I was able to pin down some of the feelings that overwhelmed me when on my own with a newborn.
Choosing to write through my depression gave me structure. I dedicated time to my writing, which somehow hot-wired routine elsewhere. After writing, I would always go for a walk, to stretch my legs and to clear my mind. Writing put me in a positive mood, which made me want to exercise, to eat healthily and to try to be happy.
Of course, there is no magical cure to depression. I am a recovering depressive, at best. Just this morning, I sobbed my way through the washing up because “nobody appreciates me”, “nobody cares about me” and “why do I still not own a dishwasher?” I am writing this though and I will go for a walk after I have finished. I will probably even eat a piece of fruit. Due to the writing? No. To prove a point! But the end result is the same.
There were so many different things that helped me overcome my depression. My writing gave me a strength to face my demons. It also gave me a beautiful record of my journey to health. I can’t quite ever imagine things being as bad for me as they were for Lucy in The Boob Group. They were though. They really were. That is why the novel works, because it is true to life. Without it, I would convince myself that things were never that bad. When the depression hits again (and let’s be honest, it always does), I am now able to tell myself that I have been down before and it is possible to get better. I survived. Life can be good and we must hold onto that.
Will writing cure your depression? In much the same way that drinking “detox” tea is the answer to your dieting prayers, it gives you a little nudge in the right direction. You might pen a masterpiece. You might have emails from readers saying how they can relate to every word you’ve written. You might help others work through their depression (and there is nothing quite like feeling needed to make you want to keep going). You might not even want to keep what you have written, but it will at least help clear some space in your mind for fresh air to flow and to bring you some calm.
Maybe writing is nothing more than reality-based escapism. Maybe it is a perfectionist creating the life she wishes she had. Or maybe there is magic in that there ink, which has the power to heal invisible wounds. Pick up a pen and see what happens. Just don’t blame me when you find you’ve lost four hours, the shopping hasn’t been done, there’s nothing for dinner, the kids will be home from school in ten minutes and you can’t stand up because of pins and needles (currently my life). Right, now where is that fruit bowl?
Louise Mulberry is a best-selling author. Her writing is fiction, based heavily on her own life experiences. Her debut novel, The Boob Group, about a woman struggling with postnatal depression has been well received by readers. Louise can be contacted via Twitter. Her novel can be found at Amazon