Escape through the vent – writing to release

‘Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality’

Mental health and wellbeing are such important factors in everyday life for everyone, but it seems that it’s all too easy to let other areas of life take priority. While being able to talk about and share our thoughts, feelings and emotions can be taboo or create feelings of embarrassment or shame, everyone the world over needs to be able to give a voice to their worries and concerns.

Writing, for some, is a way of doing this. Having a creative outlet to channel thoughts and ideas they haven’t felt comfortable sharing with the world can help writers release some of the inner worries and troubles they feel. Writing for wellbeing is a core value of the Margate Bookie, which we make every effort to promote and support.

Mental health care for all: let's make it a reality - The World Health Organisation's slogan for World Mental Health Day 2021
World Mental Health Day slogan from the World Health Organisation – ‘Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality’.

World Mental Health Day on Sunday 10 October is an opportunity to put even more of a focus on everyone’s mental health and wellbeing, including our own. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, who you are or what you do, mental health support is something we all need the world over.

We’ve been chatting with Alex Vellis about how writing helps as a coping mechanism and a way of managing his mental health issues, as well as how to use writing as a way to de-stress.

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Do you think that writing really does help people’s wellbeing?

Not only does writing help release thoughts and feelings but it helps us realise what can be tackled and what’s out of our control. When I’m feeling low, I write down all the things that are bothering me. I look at the things I can’t do anything about and then I’m only left with the things in my control. I can then address them or look at addressing them. With the other stuff, I try to figure out how they can work for me. I might use them as notes for characters, I might write a line for a poem, I might save them for when I can talk to my therapist. The key is to make your writing, your thoughts, and your feelings work for you. Worry is such a dreadful waste of imagination, so let’s make those worries earn their rent.

Which forms of writing are best for your mental health?

I find automatic writing really helps. Choosing a focus tricks us into believing that we can only write around that subject. It limits how we think we can feel about an issue and it invalidates anything that might pop up beyond our focus as it isn’t ‘on theme’. Whereas, if we give ourselves the freedom to just write, we allow our brains to go in the directions they want to go in. Writing doesn’t have to be a form-based art; it doesn’t have to be an art at all. Applying this pressure that it needs to be amazing first try, or that it needs to fit to form immediately, is censoring our own creativity.

How often should people write to help them deal with stresses and issues?

I know a lot of people that write every day. There are many others that write once a week, and even just write when they need to. For me, there is no right or wrong way to do it. I treat writing like a therapy session; I write once or twice a week, plus when I need an ‘emergency’ session. Sometimes the world seems so big and we seem so small. It makes sense to sit and be with your thoughts, and sometimes those thoughts seem like chaos, so, let’s try and make a little bit of sense out of it.

I‘ve found that by having a little more regularity with my writing times (taking notes on how you feel is totally fine at any time) gives me something to look forward to and helps eliminate that ‘gigantic world’ feeling.

Is there anywhere people can go to help them write about their experiences?

That really depends on what the experience is. There are writing groups up and down the country, and if you can’t find one, make one. Realistically though, talking to friends, family members, or just finding what matters to you can really help. Just jotting down notes, passing comments, saving voice notes, messaging yourself, and things like this, as and when it comes is the best place and time to write about experiences.

A few years ago, I started writing myself a Christmas card. I would talk as if I were a friend, saying how proud I am of everything I’ve achieved, how brilliant it is that I’ve overcome so many obstacles, and how excited I am to tackle the next year together. Writing like this makes me address how I feel as an outside observer, and it makes me really have to focus on the good, the bad, and the yet to come. It also helps me recognise what my achievements are despite the difficulties I’ve faced. It lets me know that no matter what the next year throws at me, I can achieve anything, and there’s a little part of me that carries that hope around like a torch in the darkness.

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Alex Vellis at the Margate Bookie
Alex Vellis

Alex Vellis is a poet, producer, and creative practitioner from Canterbury, Kent. His work explores mundanity and hope. Recently he’s been working with the Margate Bookie Young Producers helping them develop a series of online and accessible shows. Read Rick Dove’s Sad Poets Doorstep Club review here for some of the great stuff they’ve been doing.

Useful links

WHO World Mental Health Day 2021 information

Mental Health Foundation website

Mind, the mental health charity website

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