Healthy Mind

How journal writing helped me get out of depression

Written by Healthy Living
Writer: Brent Williams

I lay in bed after yet another long troubled night’s sleep—utterly exhausted, lacking all motivation. A few feet away sat a school notebook. It felt unreachable, but somehow a small spark in my brain thought it was worth trying. I reached out, picked up my pen, and started to write. I wrote how I had no energy to think, let alone express my thoughts in words.

I wrote how heavy and stuck my body felt that morning. Metaphors and descriptions followed, giving some shape to this amorphous life-draining force.

And somehow it helped. Just enough for me to distinguish between what depression wanted me to do—the urge to head back to bed was so strong—and what I needed to do to help myself that day. I got up, made myself some breakfast, and went out and sat in the sun to eat. A seagull glided effortlessly overhead. I smiled. The day was possible.

What writing did for me
• It got me out of bed in the morning, which was so important for getting me into a good wake/sleep cycle.
• I went places to write, so I felt less trapped and isolated.
• I expressed my emotions, my most private thoughts, and internal conflicts.
• I described my pain and in doing so freed myself from it a little.
• It brought depression, its characteristics, and influences into the open so I could see and work to address them.
• It gave me companionship.
• I felt a sense of purpose and achievement.
• It encouraged me to look after myself and recognize when I was not doing so.
• I identified important needs, such as the need to see a doctor and a therapist.
• It enabled me to see and express my destructive thoughts rather than act on them.
• I got practical feedback on what was working and what was not.
• It gave me a small but valuable sense of control over an illness that made me feel so powerless.

Your brain when you suffer from anxiety and depression
The brain is made up of billions of cells and connecting pathways constantly communicating with each other in a complex, finely tuned way to regulate your body and all of its functions. When going well, it is miraculous. In depression, however, the communication goes seriously awry. Your senses, thoughts, actions, and emotions are all compromised. So much so that for many, overriding the basic human need to survive becomes a very sensible option.

It’s like depression has slowly and by stealth hijacked your brain. The pathways it creates become strong, pulling more and more better functioning parts of your brain down with it. In small but important ways the simple act of expressing yourself with words enlists parts of your brain that begin to reverse this downward spiral.

Why you got depressed, how it manifests, and what is the best way to get out of it is, in part, unique to you. Observing your own particular influences through journal writing develops awareness, and this not only helps your recovery now, it better protects you against future relapses.

Expressing your thoughts and emotions, gaining little insights from your writing, feeling a sense of achievement, establishing good routines; these all change your brain chemistry in small but critical ways for the better. As you build on these, you slowly strengthen your recovery and help yourself out of depression.

Tips for writing while depressed
• Write freely, knowing it is for you only.
• If you feel too stuck to write, just write how “stuck” feels.
• Any effort is good—there is no standard.
• Be honest, but be kind to yourself, too. Don’t beat yourself up; depression is doing a good job of that.
• Write about your little successes.
• Write when you wake up to help you get out of bed.
• Write in different places to get you out of the house.
• Write in the beauty of nature.
• Write around people.
• Remember, you don’t have to be a “writer” to write. I wasn’t.


About the writer
A New Zealand-native, Brent Williams is a human-rights lawyer, filmmaker and author. He built his career in community law, creating services and resources to help vulnerable people, particularly children, young people, and victims of family violence. He founded the Wellington Community Law Centre, implemented the Care of Children Act and the Parenting Through Separation Programme for the Family Court in New Zealand, and also established the Legal Rights Resources Trust to produce books and videos on legal, health, and social issues. As a filmmaker of educational dramas and documentaries, he won many awards for his work, but in his late 40s he became incapable of working. This was when he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. His book, “Out of the Woods,” is an honest account of what Williams experienced and learned in his journey out of depression and anxiety.

About the author

Healthy Living

Healthy Living is unique in a sea of health magazines that only present information on nutrition and exercise. Published by Akers Media Group, Healthy Living goes much farther by focusing on the four pillars of a true wellness — physical, mental, spiritual and financial health.

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