Venting negative thoughts in writing – is it always therapeutic?

Edward Munch

Commenting on my “Slump-A-Dump” poem in the last post, Bob Sanchez praised my quasi-rap rhyming and characterized the piece as “healthy venting.” He got me thinking – how healthy is using your writing as a way of venting negative thoughts? Can it be counterproductive? I’m afraid that sometimes the answer is yes.

This morning I attempted a poem about the depression that’s been plaguing me since May. One passage reads:

I score my mood on scales of one through ten,

with one as suicidal, ten as manic, trying to uncover

conscious weather patterns I can manipulate at will

by choosing wholesome activities that bring me pleasure

or failing that, alleviate the pain. Writing works sometimes.

Writing didn’t work today. I woke up with my mood at three or four, but wallowing in negativity for the hour it took me took me to come up with a first draft left me feeling like a two. I wrote about the heat wave that’s forecast to roll in tomorrow,* and how that will give me a more valid excuse for misery than I’ve had during the recent stretch of gorgeous summer days. Did committing my thoughts to paper have a positive cathartic effect? On the contrary, I felt even worse.

M.E. Kemp commented that short stories are one option for barreling through a creative block. I began one a few days ago about a woman who decides to take to her bed for good. She converses with a shadowy archetype who encourages her in her resolution, and speculates about how high a dosage of her favorite sleeping pill, Lunesta, would prove fatal. Only the need to feed her cats prevents her from carrying out her plans – for the time being.

As I wrote about Gladys’s sweat-stained sheets and wondered how long it would take for her cats’ hungry nudges and love nips to morph into full-blown attack mode – would she have to die first? – I realized I didn’t want to go down the path my imagination was taking me. I couldn’t envision an epiphany for Gladys, something for her to live for, nor did I want to accompany her on a slow and painful death. After three pages, the story peters out, possibly for good.

On the other hand, healthy venting fueled the fire that inspired both my mystery novels. Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders is about transcending the stigma of mental illness, and Eldercide explores the ethical dilemmas that arise as our allotted life spans grow ever longer. For me, writing has to spring from conviction, something I feel passionately about that I’ve absolutely got to get down on paper. I’m waiting impatiently for that subject to manifest itself.

 *The heat wave is here, threatening to break all kinds of records in upstate New York, and sure enough, the external excuse for misery helps me feel a little better about myself. I wrote this post a few days ago but felt it was too downbeat to publish unless I could come up with a more positive ending. But what the heck – I need to get something up here regardless. Maybe you can come up with some more upbeat comments to help cheer me up.


4 thoughts on “Venting negative thoughts in writing – is it always therapeutic?

  1. Julie, it must be hard to struggle with depression for so many weeks, from May to July. Perhaps “venting” (whether in writing or other modes) can be looked at in at least three different ways (and probably many more nuanced combinations of these ways):

    1) Venting with genuine honestly is healthy because the truth sets you free by putting you in right relationship with others.
    2) Venting is unhealthy because it pays attention to something that you don’t want to encourage: ignore that which you want to desist, and pay attention to that which you want to persist)
    3) Anyone who is clinically depressed lacks the biochemical means to achieve cheerfulness. Asking a depressed person (who is not taking an effective prescribed anti-depressant) to “be happy” is like asking someone whose body doesn’t produce sufficient insulin to regulate his/her blood sugar without medication. Not physically possible.

    I suggest that you look into the book Stop Smiling Start Kvetching…Creative Complaining by Barbara Held. Read the reviews of it on Amazon. Of course, clinical depression is more serious than routine complaining.

    My above comments are just my way of responding to your public post, my supportive way as an acquaintance and fellow writer. But, as you know, I am not a doctor, not in any way certified to give you medical advice on your depression.

    What does your husband think?

    • Hi Therese,
      Thanks so much for your comments – insightful and helpful as always. Your comparison of diabetes and depression is so apt.

      I’ve been in touch with my psychiatrist, and am switching one of my meds – going back from Abilify to Seroquel, which worked well for a long time. I’m hoping that’ll bring about the positive change I’m craving.

  2. Julie, I hope you find your way through the mood swamp soon and discover a bit of sunshine and laughter on the other side. Venting through writing is only good if it works.

    I’ve never suffered from extended periods of depression, perhaps because I’ve always escaped into books when things aren’t going my way. That definitely works for me.

    • Thanks for your kind thoughts, Patricia. I agree, writing definitely helps. The problem with serious depression is that it slows down the fluidity of writing, at least for me – “mood swamp” is an apt description, because there’s the feeling of slogging along and getting stuck.

      Fortunately, I may finally be writing myself out of the muck.

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