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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lie Down on My Couch

As writers, we tend to invest a lot of time in our characters and their emotional paths.

We sift through the hero's past, looking for those events that shaped him into who he is at the outset of the story. We create situations that will force the villain to make a decision and initiate change. We watch the heroine grow and become more than she was when we first met her, and we rejoice in her progress.
The changes we see in our characters are our lifeblood. With no emotional growth, there is no hero's journey. Essentially, if our characters don't change or grow in some way, we don't have much of a story. It is stagnant.

But here's something all writers should think about: When is the last time you put that much effort into your own mental and emotional well-being? Have you become stagnant in your own growth, your journey through life?

It is much easier to take our characters to task for their emotional issues than it is to do the same for ourselves, so often, our mental health is overlooked. That's not just true for writers--it happens in every area. In fact, I have heard on more than one occasion that counselors and psychologists are more screwed up than anyone.
Why would that be? They supposedly have the tools to get their lives in order. The plain truth is that it is often easier to help someone else than it is to help yourself.

I don't know about you, but I'm not one to shy away from a challenge. If someone tells me that taking care of my emotional and mental well-being will be hard work, I say when can we get started? That's something we should all do.

So, the question remains: How
can you take care of yourself on an emotional level?

  • Accept yourself, just as you are. We all make mistakes, but it is unproductive to wallow in them. Learn from your mistakes and move on. What you did may have been bad, but that does not make you bad.
  • Create time each day for relaxation. Whether you choose meditation, prayer, yoga, reading a good book, deep breathing, or any other relaxation technique is unimportant. What is important is that you spend time every day focusing on something other than your stressors.
  • Discover your strengths and weaknesses. Recognize that no one is good at everything. Capitalize on your strengths and use them to build confidence. (It's okay to be proud of yourself and your abilities!) At the same time, try to build on your weaknesses without berating yourself.
  • Identify and process your emotions. It is okay to feel anger. Everyone does. What is not okay is to allow your anger to fester. One important thing to remember is that anger only truly hurts one person--the person who is angry. There are many ways to process emotions. Some people journal. Others go to a trusted friend to talk through their emotions. Still others may need professional assistance. The method isn't what is important. The result is. Find what works for you and use it.
  • Create your reality. If you want something, pursue it. Don't be passive and allow things to happen to you. Make them happen.
  • Volunteer. Giving your time and energy to help someone else will help you to feel better about yourself. It can give you a sense of purpose that you will not find in other areas.
  • Spend time with the important people in your life. Writing is a solitary pursuit. Life is not meant to be.
  • Maintain a positive outlook. If you assume the worst will happen, it likely will. If you expect good results, you will likely achieve them. Others may have the power to affect your life, but only you have the power to control how you react to those things.
  • If you recognize that you need assistance but cannot afford it, look into what options are available in your area. Many universities offer free or low-cost counseling from their counseling students. There are public mental health organizations available that will help, with charges varying depending on your financial circumstances. Check to see if your employer offers an employee assistance program. Also, there are a number of non-profit organizations throughout the country that offer life-enrichment seminars and other services for a much more affordable rate than traditional counseling. Do a little research. You'll likely find a number of options.
  • Perhaps most importantly, learn to love and respect yourself. Start by accepting compliments. Then, try to believe those compliments as truth. Place positive "I am" statements in prominent locations where you will see them every day. "I am worthy." "I am a great writer." "I am organized and focused." These statements should be what you need to believe about yourself. Put them on the bathroom mirror. Have them scroll across your screen saver. Hang them above the stove. Place them on the sun visor in your car. Put them where you will see them every day. Read them every time you see them. Eventually, you will believe them and they will become who you are.
These are just a few things you can do to be sure you're in the best emotional health possible. What are some things you've done? How do you maintain your sanity, even as you put your characters through the wringer in your writing?

8 comments:

  1. Great post, Cat. Life can pass us by while we're caught up in the writing. I'm lucky to have my children to keep me grounded.

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  2. What great reminders to practice good self-care. Some things I do to maintain my good mental health are staying connected with family and friends by scheduling times to spend together, having people in my life who are nurturing and straight-shooters (Not necessarily everyone in my life fulfills both roles), exercising and being kind to myself. Also, I'm real big at reframing situations. Not everything can be taken at face value or personalized when we received negative feedback or a rejection. In fact, I don't even like to use the word rejection, but rather that an agent passes. Why is that a big deal? Is that splitting hairs? Well, the word rejection has negative energy associated with it and negative energy interferes with my creativity. And really, the word rejection takes the unspoken stance that I'm not good enough, not my writing or timing, but me personally. What a lie we tell ourselves.

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  3. Excellent post Cat. Hmmm, I will light candles, get a glass of wine and treat myself to a bubble bath when I need some down time. So often my chaotic life leaves me very little mom time. So I feel it's hugely important to shut the family out once in a while and take care of me. All too often we tend to take care of everyone else but ourselves. It's nice to be reminded that we're important too. Great advice and hopefully, a good reminder for us all.

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  4. Gail, that's great that you've got kids that help keep you centered. Sometimes its easy to let family take over, so having a good balance is so key.

    Samantha, that is such an important thing to remember--that negativity can block creativity. I try to always think of the positive associated with any negative.

    Ooh, Melissa, I might need to do that candle/wine/bubble bath routine tonight! Great way to refocus before the new week starts.

    Thanks for commenting!

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  5. Wonderful post. We all need to remember to accept ourselves as we are - this is so hard for me. I sometimes try to be the person everyone else wants me to be - needless to say, this leads to stress and isn't healthy. Insightful, practical advice.

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  6. I love this post, Catherine! Well done!

    I used to struggle with depression/anxiety quite a bit (but it's like pulling teeth to get me to take a Tylenol, so anti-depressants were not really an option). But then my hubby and I discovered The Secret. It made us change our inner monolgues and it was amazing how that changed our lives - physically, emotionally, monetarily - you name it, and every aspect of our lives got better times 100! Using positive self talk attracts more positive energy to you, and the world begins to seem as if it's filled with endless possibilities!

    You are right on with this post. You MUST take care of yourself physically and emotionally! This is something I have worked on daily for 3 years now. It might be hard work sometimes, but not nearly as hard as dealing with depression and anxiety :)

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  7. Victoria, thanks for stopping by! It is so easy to fall into the trap of being everything to everyone. But in the end, we wind up losing ourselves in the process.

    Jerrica, I keep hearing about The Secret. One of these days I'll get around to reading it. But it sounds like I've already been putting many of the principles it teaches into practice. Like you, I spent much of my life dealing with depression. Several years ago, I was introduced to a life enrichment seminar. It completely changed my life, and I've been volunteering with them ever since. Still need to work on the physical aspects though! LOL.

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  8. I SO need to take your advice. As soon as I finish this book. I promise. :)

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