How writing saved my life

It’s on days like today, when the house is quiet except for the squeaking of my swivel chair and the hum of the washing machine that I wonder whether it was such a marvellous idea after all to hand in my notice and quit a job where, if I’m honest, would’ve kept me forever as long as I did my job and didn’t cause too much trouble.

And, to be fair, it wasn’t a bad auld job either. I did a bimonthly newsletter. I loved working directly with our clients. I did booklets, a film documentary, a fashion show, even a twenty year celebration event. By the end  of it I was left wondering what else I could do. I was out of ideas, and I didn’t want to waste their time and my own plundering along with nothing to show for it. Not good for the company, or my ego.

Indeed, they say that a lot of the reason that people write is for a good ego massage, and being honest that’s true. There’s nothing that makes me smile more (apart from my husband and daughter, of course) than seeing nice comments under my blog or the likes flying in on Facebook and Twitter. (Yes, everyone,  there’s a subtle hint in there somewhere – can you find it? I need your approval as much as I need oxygen)

But writing can also be therapeutic. It can help a writer make sense of himself/herself and his place in the world. It’s often a medium through which thoughts can be transferred through the safety of a piece of paper or computer screen, without having to face people, without the (immediate in my case) fear of being misunderstood.

I wrote here before in a blog called ‘Facing my Demons’ (9 December 2014) about the agonising time we had after having Alison, about how we were closely scrutinised, how we felt alone  and how we could tell no-one how we felt or what we were going through. Unfortunately, this contributed to me developing Post-Natal Depression. Feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, hopelessness? Definite signs of PND. Did I go to the doctor? No. Tell anyone the full truth of how I was feeling? No. That would’ve been the sensible thing to do, wouldn’t it? The fact was that I didn’t know how exactly to describe these feelings when I didn’t understand them myself. After flying off the handle one night, and leaving home, vowing never to come home again, I realised that I needed help. But I’d had counselling before, several times, and the experiences were largely negative. I didn’t feel I could go and tell a stranger my innermost fears. They would judge me, maybe think that I was an unfit parent.

Instead, I took two months off work, and within a week I was already starting to get bored. So I took out my laptop and starting typing out the first thing that popped into my head, much the same as I did when I started writing at the age of seven. No filters, no censoring myself. The words just flew out, like long-term imprisoned dragons celebrating their freedom. Seeing how I felt in black-and-white in front of me made me feel complete. This was me, and how I felt. It wasn’t disgusting, it wasn’t abnormal – in fact it was normal and understandable. Taking ownership of those words made me feel like myself again. When I started the exercise, I thought that I had reached thirty without achieving anything much, but when I read back how I’d been to college, held down a job, got married, had a daughter, lost my mum, been terrorised out of Portlaoise, a lot of things began to make sense, and I started to truly understand who I was and how much I meant to my daughter and husband, and my family and friends.

I’ve been out of ‘official’ work for a year now, and like every mother up and down the country I’m racked with guilt. You feel guilty if you are working, and feel guilty if you aren’t – you can’t bloody win, can you? (Well, I am working, I’m writing a novel. If you’ve seen the Family Guy sketches where Stewie asks Brian how his novel is going, you might appreciate how it feels to be me on a daily basis.) But I am happy. I’m determined to make a writing career for myself. And I have to stop comparing myself to others and instead remind myself that I’ll get there in my own time, and also tell myself that I’ll get another job, at some stage.

For now, however, my main job is to stay well and to be the best mum I can be to that beautiful rascal of mine. And it’s a job that I love and that I take more seriously than any other job I’ve ever had.

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