I never planned to become a freelance writer—I had been employed as an administrator for only two years in a community-based office in the center of my town, only a stone’s throw away from my home.
I had to write a few snippets and letters for work, and looking back now, I had found writing soothing and it put me at ease.
Writing made me panic-free, almost as if I was possessed by it in some sort of positive way. I just never realized it at that time.
Outside of work, it was quite the opposite. I had been struggling daily with severe anxiety and panic disorders. The more I attempted to rectify my fears, the more negatively I thought, and, in turn, the worse my anxiety would become.
No matter how many times I told myself to forget about my fear, it would increase rapidly.
I became antisocial by rearranging plans I had with friends, just so I didn’t have to leave my home—just so I could be alone. All I wanted to do was sleep, with the hope that when I woke, this fear I had would just evaporate.
It never worked quite like that, unfortunately. It wasn’t as simple as that.
At the time, I was aware I had some sort of talent through writing poetry in school, and bits and pieces during work, but I hadn’t been aware of just how powerful a tool writing would become for me on a personal level.
At that point in my life, I had no idea how to express myself.
I hadn’t even thought of taking up writing as a career. I had been too mentally frazzled. My mind was too foggy and I just wanted to feel good about myself again. I had no sense of direction at that point.
A mental respite was my only priority. Anything beyond that, I hadn’t even envisioned yet. I needed guidance at the time, but I had no idea where or how to seek it.
It felt like a game I played as a young kid—my mother would send me up to take a bath on a school night. I would leave the tap running so the water level would rise to the same level as the tiny sinkhole at the top end of the bathtub that prevents flooding.
But while the tap was still flowing, the water eventually would begin to overflow and start to spill out onto the ceramic tiles. The sinkhole at the top was too small to ingest the vast amount of water that had been gushing into the tub.
My mind was like that tiny sinkhole—too undersized to consume the vast amount of water (racing thoughts) that had been filling up the tub, which would later lead to spillage and flooding (panic attacks).
No matter how often I would tell myself to stay calm and forget my fear, my mind would flood further.
By telling myself to forget, I was actually reminding myself to be fearful.
It wasn’t until a month after I had left my post as an administrator that I realized writing was helping me, albeit slowly.
Fortunately, a friend I hadn’t spoken to for quite some time had given me sound advice from his own experiences with anxiety.
By chance, he initiated the subject in a telephone conversation.
He was brave enough to mention his struggles to me, so why shouldn’t I mention my struggles to him?
While he had gone a different route in battling his own demons, he knew I was an active writer, and he had stumbled across an article about how writing can ease anxiety and stress, so he suggested I use it to my advantage.
Right at that moment, it hit me. How did I not see it all this time? I was at my highest when I had an idea to jot down or when I was distracted at work by typing up conference letters.
I was so caught up in worrying about other things that I hadn’t realized that writing was setting me free from it all.
Every day that I departed work in a state of despair, I was simply going home in a desperate attempt to sleep it off.
Therein lay the problem.
I hadn’t inducted writing into my social life and out of work hours. The moment I left work, I instantly neglected writing, until sunrise. A bit like working out one day, and eating junk food the next.
Not thorough enough. Not effective enough. Not consistent enough.
I stayed persistent and positive, starting off by writing on small subjects from home and formulating them into short stories—only I was the superhero in each one of my own stories.
Being the superhero had just been a personal preference of mine.
Being a creative writer had given me the ability to be more articulate about how I would become victorious in my mental wrestle with anxiety.
I was cancelling out all negativity and panic and replacing it with vibrant, positive energy and ideas. I was climbing the ladder, step by step, story by story, and day by day.
There was a huge glaring light at the top of the ladder at this point. If I could have stretched out my forearm, I could almost have touched it with my fingertips.
Jotting down my feelings had given me a sense of control again. I now had a feeling of power that I had not possessed for many years.
Did it happen overnight? Absolutely not.
But I kept writing and writing so I never had time to think about anything other than how my stories were going to flourish.
I was learning to deal with all the negatives in life through writing down my thoughts, turning them into positive fiction stories, and using them as a positive outlook on life.
I felt like I had a purpose. I felt refreshed and my mind had been emptied of all negativity.
In the past, I was operating under the mentality that the more I beat myself up about something, the better I would become at it, and, in turn, the better I would eventually feel about myself in the future.
Subconsciously, I assumed it would push me to do better the next time.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Focusing on the negatives and telling myself I could do better was actually plummeting my self-esteem further.
So how did I change? Well, I did the opposite. I began to write down and focus on the positives.
By writing about something positive, I was sending all the correct messages to my mind. It made me feel and act more consistently upbeat.
It gave me an assurance that I could let go of fear and begin to move forward with a positive attitude.
By writing positively and therapeutically, I became more focused on what could go right, rather than what could go wrong.
Writing down my thought process educated me that fear was not a symptom, and that uncertainty was just a part of life.
Once I had learned to accept fear, I could push it to one side, let go, and move forward.
My body language even started to become less restrained. It felt like the shackles had come off.
I was rehabilitating my thought process to think more positively by taking these small but significant steps:
These steps also taught me to stop taking things so personally. Criticism from others played a huge role and factored into why I had become so stressed.
Criticism and rejection made me run from my problems rather than face them.
But after taking these steps of action and strictly abiding by them on a daily basis, I educated myself that to me, criticism was not only a part of life now, but it was part of the learning curve.
I learned that there was so much more to life than fear and rejection.
While it took some practice, after three years of writing, my mind now automatically responds to criticism by turning it into an asset rather than a hindrance.
I now feel I have a choice—I choose to move forward. You can too.
There are a number of reasons one might choose to be a writer, but one of the most beneficial aspects of writing (and not enough people know this) is therapeutic stress management and anxiety relief.
Putting words on paper (or a screen) can help ease those anxious thoughts or that general feeling of uncertainty and fear.
Sure, you can call your doctor for prescription drugs, which may make you less anxious—but heading off to the chemist, or to your GP, may represent a major expense for many individuals, and may also cause side effects, such as dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea.
Try using your writing skills to create distance from the stress and fear that are holding you back.
Many psychologists and authors recommend to individuals with anxiety, depression, or stress to jot down their emotions.
Susan Borkin, author of The Healing Power of Writing: A Therapist’s Guide to Using Journaling With Clients, suggests you pick up a pen.
According to Borkin, a psychotherapist, journaling is“[a]ny type of writing or related expressive process used for the purposes of psychological healing or growth.’’
Writing group leaders are also adamant that therapeutic writing is a method that can have excessive benefits for people who have physical and mental illnesses.
Those people have not only bettered their health through writing, but also have furthered their careers as freelance writers, authors, and poets.
Bill Watterson, an American illustrator and the author of the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes,” once said, “Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery — it recharges by running.’’
According to a study found on a Help Scout blog post, writing about traumatic events actually made the participants more depressed, until about six months later, when the emotional benefits started to stick.
One participant noted, “Although I have not talked with anyone about what I wrote, I was finally able to deal with it, work through the pain instead of trying to block it out. Now it doesn’t hurt to think about it.’’
It is thought that writing can have a beneficial mental effect on a number of mental illnesses, such as:
Those waves of anxiety and stress, threatening to drench you, can be significantly reduced through many forms and methods of therapeutic writing.
In reality, I am no superhero, of course. Not even close. But writing gave me something I thought I would never have: peace of mind, power to succeed as a writer, the stability and resilience to bounce back when I need it most, and a business-like mindset through sheer determination and self-discipline.
Through traumatic experiences, I have now also unearthed a quality and skill set to connect emotionally with my readers.
There is nothing more valuable in life, on a personal level, than your health and future. I have been victorious in battling anxiety through a force of writing—I found my healing through words, and you can too.
Any talented writers who may relate to my experiences, please, do yourself a favor and write more frequently.
Finish that novel you’ve been meaning to complete. Write positively and vibrantly.
Start writing about how you will become your own superhero.
Michael Bradley is an entrepreneurial writer currently based in Ireland who lends his services to various brands, SEO agencies, and magazines through his own website: www.freelancemichael.com, or directly through his personal email: [email protected]. When he isn't attending to his clients, Michael is a passionate Liverpool FC supporter and his dream is to one day see Liverpool win the Premier League. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.