It’s been a rough news week, and I think the story that took it from frustrating to downright depressing was the death of Robin Williams by his own hand. Now the 24 news cycle is devoted to him, and I think that’s perfectly appropriate. He was an icon. I hope, however, that this also opens up more dialogue on mental health and suicide, the #10 killer in our nation. It seems fitting, then, to write a piece on looking after yourself as a writer, both mentally and physically. Here are 5 things to keep in mind as you pursue your writing dream:
1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: Because doctors’ appointments are sometimes expensive, depending on your insurance situations, it may be tempting to avoid them. Don’t ever do that. The same is true for dental appointments. Always get routine checkups and stay on top of any health issues before they become life threatening. It is MUCH cheaper to pay for routine visits than it is to foot the bill for a catastrophe. A lot of health problems start small and can be caught early if you give your doctors the chance by going to see them regularly.
2. Watch your waistline: I don’t mean to get preachy here, but a lot of writers are overweight. Many are obese. Writing is a sedentary activity and sometimes the most prolific authors are the least mobile. Exercise and healthy eating don’t just keep your body running as it should, they keep your mind sharp and creative. It may be difficult to pull yourself away from your work in progress to do something as uninspiring as cook a meal, but there are shortcuts and tricks. I’m a big fan of E-Meals, an online service that emails me a shopping list and week’s worth of recipes every Wednesday. It takes all the mental drudgery out of food prep, and that’s my biggest obstacle. It’s important to know yours and overcome it.
3. Exercise: This kind of ties in with #2, but it is possible to be an unhealthy skinny person. Sitting down for long hours has been shown to impact a person’s health. I’ve seen ridiculous headlines that say things like, “Sitting down increases risk of death by 40%”. I only insert that for a laugh. I’m pretty sure we all face a 100% chance of death, but there’s no need to bring it on sooner than necessary. Getting out is good for your circulation, metabolism, muscle tone, and overall wellbeing. Make sure to work it into your routine.
4. Know your mental health situation, and do not let taboos impede you: Okay, now for my mini-rant… I’ll share something personal about myself here. I’ve had multiple relatives spend time in mental institutions. My family has the bi-polar gene, and perhaps other hereditary issues. It’s hard to know for sure because mental health treatment has come a long way in just a few short decades, and some of my family’s mental health cases predate that. Now, when I tell people I’ve got a history of mental illness in my family, most laugh.
Because they’re idiots. Sorry to be blunt, but I’m just saying it like it is. Did I just call the majority of the human race idiots? Yes I did, because in this respect, they are. There is nothing funny or amusing or mock-worthy about mental health issues. These are very real illnesses that all to often have fatal consequences, and society is woefully out of touch with this fact. People this week have expressed shock that someone as famous and well loved as Robin Williams would take his own life. This happens all the time – as in literally all the time. Over a hundred Americans commit suicide every single day.
Due to the stigma, people of all career paths often neglect their own mental health. They refuse to get help or even acknowledge that there is a problem. Don’t put your life on the line for something as stupid as social acceptance. It’s better to go to a psychiatrist or psychologist and be told you don’t have a mental health issue (as I was told when I was trying to figure out a health issue that turned out to be insomnia), than to not seek help when you really do have a mental health issue. Depression is an often fatal condition. Treat its symptoms as seriously as you’d treat symptoms of a stroke or heart attack and get treatment.
5. Be there for each other: One of the most beneficial aspects of a writing community is the fact that it is a community. Sometimes people can’t see problems that are right under their noses. Look out for one another. Cultivate social ties to avoid extreme isolation, and ensure that you never go more than two days without talking to someone else. Schedule time for a social life. It’s as much a part of a healthy lifestyle as exercise and eating well.
Theres a lot to being a successful writer that doesn’t directly tie into writing. You’ve got to keep yourself in good condition so that you can write. A little work invested into your own health will pay big career dividends in the long run. If you don’t have your next routine check up in your calendar, go schedule it today.