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A short and mostly accurate guide to mental health for writers

Before I begin in earnest, here are a handful of things you need to know about me:

Though I live and work in the UK, I am Canadian. (I tell you this primarily so that you are not confused by the quantity and variety of apologies that will undoubtedly appear in the course of this article. Sorry about that.)

I am a single parent to teenaged twins.

I have, at various points in what I stubbornly insist on referring to as a career, been an actor, a singer and a filmmaker.

I am a writer.

And I have bipolar disorder.

Needless to say, I am seldom short of stories to tell. Though I have no plausible explanation for why so many of them are about the early days of the steam engine.

It’s probably a metaphor.

You would be forgiven for thinking, of all of the above strains on my time and character, that writing - a nice, quiet activity - might have had the least impact on my mental health.

Well, shows what you know.

Actually, I’m being unfair. Those of you who are writers know perfectly well that, however outwardly sedentary our profession may appear, writing is, perhaps, the most precise antonym for calm ever devised. I know it’s not working down a mine, or levering collapsed buildings from the tender backs of puppies, but it’s still a hefty and continual workout of body and mind.

Even without the added wrinkle of a chemical imbalance, a writer’s brain is, approximately ninety-seven percent of the time, on fire. And the remaining three percent is comprised of petroleum by-products.

"Whether it’s medication or meditation, as your needs demand, get the support you need."

And that’s purely on the creative side. There is, of course, also the business side to consider. Deadlines, rejection, frustration and, most common of all, specialist medical insurance to cover chronic back pain and paper cuts.

Striking the necessary balance to prevent flights of imagination from becoming fevered hunts for the ejected black box of imagination is key to surviving and thriving as a writer.

I have not always done this.

Here, verbatim, is a conversation I have regularly had with my brain, in those dark days when I eschewed treatment for my mental health.


ME: I note that we have an important deadline in two weeks.

BRAIN: This is true. I left a note in blood on the bathroom wall to that effect.

ME: We should probably make a plan.

(We hear the sound of a bottle being plonked on to a table)