The Calmness Writing Brings
Digital team's blog
Jonathan Lee and his brother and sister have all been affected by mental illness. Here he blogs about life with his family, and the calm he has found through writing.
From being a teenager my life has been a disconcerting mix of anxiety and hidden depression. I think mostly it was fuelled by worrying about my siblings and never quite knowing what would happen the next day. There have been periods of calm, but unexpected panic and anxiety have struck more times than I can remember, literally stopping me dead unable to move or speak until it passes.
When I was seventeen my brother, Simon made his first suicide attempt. Happily, that time he lived. It was another thirteen years until he finally took his own life. At that young age, I had no way of coping with the path ahead. I felt lost, alone and ultimately frightened, though I didn’t recognise it at the time. My sister was then diagnosed with bipolar when she was in her early twenties. The only way I knew to deal with my circumstances was to block everything out.
I held down a successful job, had a family and hid my thoughts for many years. We didn’t really talk about it, you see.
I’ve always loved writing – I self-published magazines and sold them at school aged twelve. Throughout my adult life I’ve collected journals, notes and scribblings everywhere I went. It took me five years from when Simon died to take the plunge and write. I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t.
In 2009, I began to write my first novel, The Radio. It tells the story of a father coming to terms with the suicide of his son. I set up my garage as an office, planned the story in my mind and began to write. Of course, I had no idea of the quality of my writing but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the feeling of total and utter relaxation I felt as I brought my characters to life. The real world paused each time I wrote and instead I entered a world I had created. The years of trapped feelings poured out and there were many times where a writing session ended in me sobbing at my desk. But these nights were far outweighed by those when I felt a sense of achievement. I now spent my days thinking about what to write next, instead of focusing on the past and how things could have been different.
I was fortunate enough to be nationally shortlisted for my debut novel. My third novel, A Tiny Feeling of Fear is out next month and deals directly with anxiety and depression. The lead character decides the only way to save his life is to be open and honest about everything he feels. It is a story of hope.
And it is drawn from my own life, because through writing, I can allow my mind total freedom; total calm and above all, total honesty. This brings me not only a release from the real world but also a cathartic way to deal with my feelings. My sister and I have an extremely close relationship, and although she suffers with high and low points, I am proud of the way she manages her condition. I have learned so much through experience and I am committed to telling my story both verbally and by the written word. I want to help others to realise that mental health issues are ‘normal’ and we can understand them better, together.
If you have a sibling who’s affected by severe mental illness, check out our Sibling’s Network, which has videos, information and advice on how to support your sibling and look after your own wellbeing. For tips about how to use creativity to boost your own wellbeing, click here, or try the Creative Voice section of our Members' Area.