Writing my way back to mental wellness.

If you are thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis, help is available. Please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. No one needs to face their problems alone.

On July 31st, 2015, minutes before midnight, I decided to set myself a challenge: to write 2000 words every day for the next 31 days.

As a writer who hadn’t written anything in a very long time, it would be a way to reconnect with the one activity that had consistently brought me a sense of meaning, purpose and inner contentment to my life. Writing had always helped me make sense of a world that often confused me. The act of putting pen to page had a calming effect on my sometimes-errant mind. The challenge became a kind of ‘creative pilgrimage’ in the sense that I was writing my way back to the meaning and purpose I’d lost.

This creative challenge came off the back of another decision I’d made five months earlier, a decision that left me in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit for three days followed by another week in the mental health ward. There wasn’t one particular event that led to my decision to end my life, but a growing sense of loneliness and disconnection definitely played a part.

During the two weeks I spent in hospital I met with three doctors, one of whom asked if I was doing anything differently that contributed to my decision to end my life. At the time, I couldn’t give him an answer and simply shook my head.

It was only once I had embarked on the creative challenge to write every day that the answer to his question arose. Although it wasn’t what I was doing differently, rather it was what I wasn’t doing. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t creating anything. As a result, I asking dangerous questions like ‘What’s the point?’

hedley direnzie suicide attempt
Hedley. Image: Supplied.

The same doctor had solemnly pointed out how lucky I was and how most people who took the action I did, don’t get the second chance I had been given. He was right of course. The statistics are well documented.

Black Dog Institute, a not-for-profit organisation, aimed at diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression, reports that every year over 65,000 Australians make a suicide attempt, and more than 2,500 Australians take their own life.

And while suicide rates are declining, as Jack Heath, CEO of SANE Australia rightly states, this is not the time to celebrate. Rather, it’s a call to expand our mental health horizons and explore further healing and prevention options.

During my 31-day creative challenge, I discovered creativity has far more to offer me than just simple enjoyment. Writing every day helped keep my thoughts pointing the right way up and my emotions on an even keel. After every writing session, I noticed a notable shift in my overall mood. While it didn’t make my problems go away, it helped place me in the right frame of mind to face and, ultimately, solve them.

As a result, writing has become far more than a passion. It’s part of my daily wellness practice which is just as important as eating right and exercising regularly.

Creativity, I’ve discovered, is medicine for my mind, as well as my soul.

If you are thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis, help is available. Please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. No one needs to face their problems alone.

Hedley Derenzie is the author of Write Way Home: Writing My Way Back to a Meaningful Life (Xoum Publishing 2018) available online and from all good bookstores.

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