How Writing Helped My Mental Health And How it Can Help You Too
Mental health is a topic that I am incredibly passionate about, and I strongly believe that we should talk about it more openly and not consider it a taboo, which we sadly still do. Words like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are still words that people are afraid to say out loud. I really want this to change. I am writing this essay because I want to nudge you into talking about mental health and mental disorders. Don´ t treat it like it’s a deadly disease. You never know who might be dealing with something. There´s nothing worse than saying that being bipolar equals being crazy or “psycho.” I urge you to talk about it, and I encourage you to let it make you feel uncomfortable. I am trying to accomplish this with the poetry collection that I have been writing for the last year and a half. But I am skipping way ahead of myself here. Let´s rewind.
Ever since I was a child, I struggled with finding something I was good at. I have always felt this immense pressure from people around me (mostly my peers). Whenever someone asked me the most feared question I could ever think of- “What would you like to be one day?” I didn’t know how to answer it. I always went with something that I knew would sound “good.” It was like this pretty much from elementary school until my senior year of high school. My classmates at every stage of my education seemed to have it all figured out. Some of my classmates wanted to be lawyers; the other was just incredible at French… but me? I just couldn’t figure it out. Except I knew exactly what I was good at, but I felt like it wasn’t enough and that it could not possibly be a talent worth pursuing. Therefore, I didn’t really explore it at that time. I mean, yes, I started writing my very first stories when I was 7 years old but never thought much of it even though people around me seemed to like it a lot. No one really encouraged me, so I didn’t feel the need to do something about it. It was just a hobby.
"That was the moment when the poems started to unravel in front of me. It made me realize what a great therapy writing poetry actually is"
But then I started getting bullied in high school for no good reason- as it always is. That’s when writing found its way back to me and became a way to express how I felt, and it was a way to escape everyday reality. It helped so much back then. Even if it was something so silly like a fanfiction based on my favourite TV show. I mean, it was not good writing, let me tell you! When I found my old notebook after a few years (yes, I used to write by hand), I could not believe it. It really is amazing, though, to see how my writing has massively improved over the years. I am not a native English speaker, and not being able to be 100 % grammatically correct is making me incredibly self-conscious. But despite all the mistakes, it really helped me to channel all that negativity and pain and pour it into something meaningful- to turn it into some kind of art-whatever that meant at that time. Then I graduated from high school and went to university. I decided to study English because, like I said, I didn’t really know what else I was good at. English was something I have always been passionate about, so it felt like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it was the very opposite of what I was good at. I was horrible at it. I thought I would be mostly studying literature. Still, it wasn’t just that- it was also linguistics, which is not something I enjoyed. Being a creative spirit, it was something so extremely analytical that I felt like I was drowning. The first year was okay, but with the end of the winter semester, the beginning of the exam season crept on, and my classmates eventually started passing exams, and I didn’t. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t smart- I just didn’t have any motivation whatsoever to read about things like syntactic structures. That is when I first started dealing with depression. Before you ask- no, I have never been diagnosed with it, but some things you just know. I was so unhappy back then. Just thinking about it now gives me the chills.
But fortunately, soon enough, I realized what was happening. During my third year of uni, I started writing my first novel (which I am still working on). But I also started writing song lyrics. I think the “aha” moment was when I sent one of my lyrics to Dean Lewis (an Australian singer-songwriter). He told me I had a gift and to continue. But to be completely honest, there is one person that I owe the most credit to and who helped me from straying away from this beautiful creative path that I am currently on, and that is my amazing friend Tom. For years now, he has been there for me, and he encouraged me to follow my dreams no matter what. So if you are reading this, thank you, thank you, thank you!
After finally graduating from my BA ( it took me 5 years instead of 3- thanks to crappy health ( panics, anxiety, and chronic cold), I took a gap year to really think about where my life was heading. I started reading again after 10 years. Specifically, I started reading poetry for the first time. I started reading poetry by Amanda Lovelace. Reading Amanda´s poetry was incredibly cathartic. It showed me how to take the pain and all the other negative emotions and put them into good use. That was the moment when the poems started to unravel in front of me. It made me realize what a great therapy writing poetry actually is. I am not going to lie; I feel like most of the poems that I have written are really dark could be triggering for people who suffer from mental health problems, but that’s what helped me. I currently have around 120 poems dealing with different things that most of them are about to me.
But don’t worry; it is not all doom and gloom! Last September, I started studying Creative Writing and Publishing at Bournemouth University, and after 20 long years (I am turning 27 next month) I finally found my true passion. It did cost me a lot of trials and errors to get where I am right now and I am still nowhere near where I want to be, but that’s OK. And don’t think that there are not still days when I can´t write anything at all, which is related to my high-functioning depression. On those days that seem so utterly dark, poetry comes almost like a whisper, and I manage to jot down even if just a few lines into my notebook. Speaking of university- for my winter semester, I had the opportunity to write poetry in the style of confessional poetry. It was a massive risk since I have never written poetry as an assignment. Still, to my absolute surprise, it ended up being my highest graded assignment- 75/100. Getting a 75, a distinction in the UK (a 1st if you were in undergrad), was a sign that I was finally doing something that I love. I stopped caring about what people think of writers and poetry. That is the most important step. That and comparing yourself with other writers. If you do those things, you will never be able to move forward. I am currently finishing off my first collection called Aftermath, which deals with topics such as mental health disorders, society, and toxic relationships (friends or family). I already have an idea for my second and third one, which I want to start writing next year. I am really grateful that even if it took me so long to admit it to myself, I am an artist. Being an artist to me means not being afraid to voice my opinion- like writing this quite intimate article. Being an artist, to me, means being able to share stories with people around the world. It means being able to connect with them and let them know that they are not alone. It enables me to express my feelings, which is really important to me.
I would like you to take one important message from this essay and that is the fact that poetry and storytelling in general has evolved so much over the last few years, and I really hope it will continue to be this way. Poets need to continue tackling difficult subjects such as mental health, loss, death, and other topics that many people stir away from because they make them feel like I mentioned above, uncomfortable. It makes us uncomfortable because it is usually very personal. Just because something makes us uncomfortable or uneasy doesn’t always mean we should shy away from it. The problem won’t disappear. It will only grow bigger until it´s out of our control. I urge the new poets to follow my lead and write more personal poetry, which can maybe save someone´s life.
About Nicolle Knapová
I'm a 26 year-old freelance poet and content writer from the Czech Republic who is currently finishing up her master's degree at Bournemouth University. I love writing stories about topics such as mental health, relationships, and forbidden love. My work is influenced by artists such as Haruki Murakami or Halsey. I'm currently working on a debut poetry collection called Aftermath.