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Writing is My Therapy

Writing is My Therapy

career mindset motivation Dec 27, 2023

Not to be the pretentious person who starts her article off with a Kurt Vonnegut quote but… Actually I am. I don’t have the hubris to assume I can phrase this better than he did: “Writers get a nice break in one way, at least: They can treat their mental illnesses every day.”

This article could easily turn into an essay about the merits of writing as part of the therapeutic process, with me enjoying a throwback to my Master’s dissertation and Judith Herman’s amazing book Trauma and Recovery (seriously, everyone should read this book), but instead, let me just tell you a story.

At the age of seven, I was sent to see my first therapist—about the same time I started writing. In the past nineteen years, I’ve had nine therapists and written twenty-five books (an assortment of poetry collections, fiction novels, and fantasy novels). If someone forced me to choose between the two, it’s no contest: my writing has definitely enabled me to understand myself, my mental health, and my trauma better than any therapist ever has. 

Please don’t take this to mean that writing is an absolute substitute for a qualified therapist. They’re different in so many ways, and often exploring our thoughts in a designated safe space with a therapist is a great way to start (and continue) this process of self-discovery.

But, for someone who had the misfortune of encountering child therapists who tried to tell me how I felt and who I was, writing felt more like a safe space than a lot of those offices. So, when I was diagnosed bipolar and BPD in my early 20s, it’s no wonder that I eventually decided to process what this meant for me in my writing. Here were two labels that didn’t fundamentally change me, but changed people’s – including my own – perceptions of who I was. And that was what I wanted to understand: perceptions. 

Becoming Dangerous, my most recently completed fantasy book, started with a single scene: what if a bipolar witch, on a come down from a manic episode, was at a coven gathering, and someone had brought aggressively pink frosted cupcakes? I wasn’t having a manic episode at the time, but I had recently come to notice that I was extremely sensitive to certain stimuli that were seemingly benign. So how would I feel, what would I do? And, what’s more, how would people who don’t know me – not my mental illnesses, but me – react to the change in my disposition? 

That’s where Adra came in, the character that I poured my problematic, early 20s traumatised self into. She quickly filled the therapeutic role of being a me distinct from myself, a me I could walk through particular scenarios in order to understand how she felt and, by extension, how I felt.

ALSO: Why Do We Write What We Write

But after writing that scene, I quickly realised that Adra’s perception of herself was not going to be enough to get her full story, or for me to get mine. To understand who she and I were, I needed to stop isolating her like some anomaly, an unrelated occurrence. 

When I was first diagnosed, I was so fortunate that my family was supportive, giving me the time I needed to negotiate my own understanding of myself. But it wasn’t always the best thing for me. I treated myself like an isolated incident, someone whose actions and lack of accountability had no effect on anyone else, when in fact there was a whole network of people who were affected by my choices, even if only because they loved me and didn’t want to see me in pain. 

So, in order to understand Adra, I had to likewise position her amongst dynamic characters who had distinct interior lives totally independent of who she was, which would react with her personality in different ways. 

There was Evora, the self-sacrificing natural caretaker. There was Ruelle, whose lack of self-esteem meant she capitulated to Adra’s overwhelming personality. There was Theda, who loved Adra but had an equally strong personality and so was ever at odds with her. And lastly there was Cassius, the ex who was forever romanticising Adra and her trauma, seeing neither herself nor himself clearly. 

ALSO: Why is Literature so Important in a World that is Literally Dying?

By writing Adra’s interactions with these characters from her perspective as well as their perspectives, I was able to consider not just who I felt I was after my diagnoses, but who I was in relation to the people in my life. Through understanding Adra, I relocated myself within the network of people I surrounded myself with and learned to take accountability for who I was and my choices, which was something my friends, my family, and I had absolved me of for a long time. 

When I look back on Becoming Dangerous, I am grateful that Adra’s perspective is one I would now struggle to write from, purely because I’m not the person I was a year ago. I’m sure I could if I tried, but I have no desire to reinsert myself into her self-indulgent inner dialogue, pandering to her self-victimisation. Still, I am forever grateful to Becoming Dangerous and Adra for holding up a mirror in which I could see myself clearly, enabling me to grow into a person, and a writer, that I’m proud of.



Hi, I’m Jasmina! I’m a fiction writer and poet, as well as an editor. I wrote my first book or, rather, attempted to write my first book when I was seven. Since then, it’s been hard to keep a pen out of my hand or my fingers from straying to my keyboard.

I studied English Literature and Creative Writing before pursuing my MA in Contemporary Literature at King’s College London. While doing my undergrad, I also started working for a small publishing house, before, five years later, starting my own publishing company, Little Lion Press. You can find me on instagram @jasminareadstoomuch



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