Writing Therapy: An Example of How Easy Does it
by Jonathan Harnisch
Let’s get the facts straight up front to avoid any confusion later. I am a person first, a human being, just like anyone else. Maybe a little different, that’s all. Years ago, I publicly disclosed my diagnoses with comorbid schizoaffective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorder NOS (not otherwise specified), and Tourette’s syndrome. One might argue that I have been dealt quite a handful of cards and put through the ringer. Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, or maybe it’s not luck at all. But some time ago, when I felt internally trapped and suffocated and hiding all my inner demons (as I call them) while secretly writing about them, it simply grabbed hold of me, and boy did it grab hold.
I had made seven suicide attempts and had over 30 hospitalizations and addiction rehabilitation stints within a decade. Then, one day, I just made a choice. It felt like the sun smacked my face, allowing my mind, my experiences, and my altered sense of reality to burn, twist, deform, and coil. I am referring to a metamorphosis, which had taken place inside me.
I looked into the mirror where everything came alive–my delusions, my dreams were burying everything within reality as I experienced it. Now, I no longer saw impossibility in the mirror. My imagination ignited once again. I kept staring at my reflection. My delusions of grandeur formed a shape on their own in my reflection, in my double reality, if you will, not a multiple personality, which is one of many myths surrounding schizophrenia.
Within the depths of my mind and psyche my imagination began to dream while awake. In short, the metamorphosis occurring inside caused me to begin my mission, exploiting all that I had kept buried inside for far too long, letting loose all my secret weariness of suffocation of and derailments from the truth, my truth.
I opened up, raw, unabashed, facing perhaps my hugest fear. I went public with my mental health conditions. One morning, I awakened for the day at midnight and was unable to think clearly, concentrate, or remember much of anything. I dove into my art, my work, my life purpose of productivity, but I couldn’t concentrate. Growing more and more upset with myself, I felt a very familiar stinging sense of shame and disapproval. My thoughts, my executive function deficit, were askew along with my condition. My morning writing session had gone awry, at least at first.
This happens to be a part of my morning writing session.
My concentration had been thrown off, and an overload of stimuli within the silence of my home office frustrated me. I took a hot shower to ground myself, which often does the trick, and then returned to writing. At this point, the original thesis or subject of my words shifted with my thoughts, and that suited me just fine.
Earlier I had been overcome, irritated beyond belief, mentally physically and perhaps spiritually too, by my role of being an artist, which is commonly known to involve, for example, my latest novel Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography, my masterpiece. However, the point to my sitting at my desk began to metamorphose on its own. That’s one thing I love about writing and writing therapy–how it helps me. It keeps things simple, and it helps my thinking become clearer.
Being a mainstream literary author is known to be 50 percent writing and 50 percent marketing, and it was the business aspect, the marketing, that ripped at my soul. At least that was how I felt. I felt defeated. While writing therapy is a tool I take quite seriously, perhaps I was not upset with the onslaught of internal difficulties, my own goal of being the best, being on the best seller list; that doesn’t matter any longer, and that’s not why I write. I write for therapy, and that is why I keep fighting my mental health condition, my mind, every single day, because I can overcome the demons, the delusion, and the distractions.
Perhaps this morning my cognitive behavioral therapist would have reminded me that my mind plays tricks on me, or that we all suffer in some way from cognitive distortions. He would remind me of how cognitive distortions and living with mental illness can take its toll on interpersonal relationships. After all, I believe we are all in the same boat in many ways. And it comes down to something very clichéd yet entirely true.
We all have problems, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s how we deal with them that makes the difference. I ponder on what the difference is. In my question, I see the answer. I see my self-confident smile once again. Relationships with family and friends have faded and deteriorated in my world, and then just the opposite occurs, sometimes at the drop of a hat. I am grateful for living on a mental roller coaster and not a merry-go-round.
My illnesses make me unusual as I said, and sometimes I think we all just need to give ourselves a time out to be alone for a bit simply to figure some things out. Usually, we can see a problem in a new way when we focus our eyes some place new. That’s what the past hour has taught me. It’s good. Good enough.
Realistically, things may not be as bad as they seem. Sometimes another perspective on distressing matters can help. I see it as my task, perhaps our collective task, to be resilient even if some days we just have to be there for ourselves when we are feeling alone in the enterprise. We move on. There’s no way around it. I ask myself now if I feel okay, and the smile is back. Thank goodness.
One last note, I’ve often doubted my abilities and my perception of my reality by fearing others and feeling myself withdrawing and going inside, losing hope of coming back to myself with any peace of mind. The future, that’s not where I am; I’m right here in the now.
Katherine Hepburn once said, “If you obey all of the rules, you miss all of the fun.”
I apply that to writing and writing therapy, as well.