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Writing and Mental Illness

February 20, 2012

Every writer has their own motivations for writing, and it’s crucial that their motivations be genuine in nature, and emotionally-grounded, if a writer is to write passionately. For psychotherapist Laurie Nadel, that motivation was mental illness. Through the process of writing and keeping a journal of her issues, Laurie was able to work through her mental and emotional issues, face her fears, and eventually make a full recovery from mental illness, going on to get a PhD in psychotherapy and help other people with the same problems she once had. Writing is an effective, time-proven treatment for mental illness, and a good way to release all that energy in a productive manner.

Writing, or any kind of creative expression for that matter, allows a person with excess positive or negative energy to channel (sublimate) that energy into a safe, controlled form. For me, writing was particularly effective to that end, as I could effectively and efficiently express anything I wanted or needed to via writing; this would never work as well with painting or music, as these channels proved to be a bit too chaotic and abstract for me to properly communicate my thoughts. By getting all that excess unexpressed creative energy out of my system via writing, I was able to restore myself to a state of psychological homeostasis, thus offsetting, or often completely eliminating the stress that would otherwise result in mental illness, and the symptoms thereof. Homeostasis, a state of biological balance, is an ongoing struggle between positive feedback (the need to progress) and negative feedback (the need to regress). The biological cycle of homeostasis occurs with the waking (positive) and sleeping (negative) cycles. In psychology, there are few better specimens of homeostasis than in the bipolar patient, who is constantly struggling between the manic and depressive moods, and unable to find and maintain a balance (homeostasis) between the two.

When a person is manic, they’re driven to progress in life (positive feedback), but they have no negative feedback (known in electronics as “Ohms”) to properly control that drive; as a result, the excess positive feedback of people with bipolar is wasted. The negative feedback of the depressive cycle takes the inverse approach, by overcompensating for the “progress” that the mind has perceived to have been made. Because no actual progress has been made, homeostasis cannot be accomplished, and the mood plummets as the negative feedback forces the person through a hollow sense of accomplishment, and they are unwittingly sent to an abyss-like state, because of a lack of proper mental judgment. This cycle continues on again, the mind being filled with the positive feedback again, and because the conditions that brought that person to a depressive state in the first place were as hollow as the sense of accomplishment that had brought them up, the person’s mood is trampolined right through that hollow barrier once again, and sent spiraling high into the air, once again repeating the vicious cycle that is bipolar.

It is here that we finally realize the paradox that is bipolar: To be plummeted to such a sense of false accomplishment requires that the sense of abysmal depression be validated, and to become so abysmally depressed requires that the falseness of the sense of a accomplishment be validated. To resolve this paradox, it’s understood that the poor judgment and the tendency to overcompensate moods are what caused the hyperbolized bipolar mood cycles to begin with. Herein this paradox is also the solution to curing bipolar: to correct the imbalances before they occur, by preemptively forcing a state of homeostasis.

This where is writing comes in, for me and for anyone who has mental illness. By using writing to channel that excess negative or positive energy into an acceptable form, one can force a state of homeostasis at the conscious level, which the mind could not do at an unconscious level. While this isn’t a cure in the “normal” sense, as most people maintain homeostasis unconsciously, it is a cure in that it allows people with bipolar to eliminate all of the symptoms in a healthy manner, and eventually lead what would be considered a normal life.

I’ve found that the positive and negative feedback are better channeled into different types of reading and writing: positive feedback should be channeled into academic reading and writing, and negative feedback should be channeled into creative reading and writing. The details and reasons for this are covered in my post “Channeling Your Creative Energy”.

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