Writing Therapy and the Power of Emblematic Exorcism

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When I was diagnosed with Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder I in 2010 I was relieved. I’d been very ill for almost fifteen years. Finally having an answer seemed like a gift from the gods. Yet my relief was short-lived. I rapidly discovered how scare information concerning the management of my condition was. Mental illness is a very personal affair. Clinical accounts were just that, clinical, while personal accounts were again, just that, personal, to those who wrote them. Both forms of information were of limited use to me.

At some stage I stopped researching and I began to write.

It’s the best thing I could possibly have done.

I picked up a pen in a last-ditch attempt to comprehend what was happening to me. I sought a path to recovery, or at the very least a way to ease my symptoms.

It worked remarkably well—far better than I’d expected.

Writing was a means of pouring out my feelings, fears, and frustrations, and leaving them on the page where they could no longer hurt me. I soon discovered it wasn’t just me who found writing so cathartic – writing therapy has been clinically proven to relieve the symptoms of many psychological conditions, in much the same way as art or music therapy. I delved deeper.

I needed something that could bring me back from the brink, calm me down when I was in the throes of a panic attack, or soothe me to sleep when I was manic and had been awake without eating for nine days straight.

Writing was (and is!) the answer I had been so desperately seeking.

As it became habitual to write what I felt every day I developed a written record of how I felt in all my mood states. This was invaluable, as it gave me what I had previous lacked—insight into my manic states, which I seldom recall.

Over time I began to use the power of writing to not only record how I felt, but actually change how I was feeling.

I channelled my feelings, through creative writing, into particular characters and stories. This not only gave me a creative outlet I desperately needed (especially during my high moods) but also gave me something to focus on other than my illness. It gave me a sense of purpose to sit down each day and write a page, a chapter, or on some occasions many, many chapters. I took my issues and gave them to my characters. I then took those characters and found a way for them to do what I found so impossible: solve the problem.

I’ve come to call this process Emblematic Exorcism.

My debut novel, Chasing Azrael, was published in 2014. Writing it was the first time I used Emblematic Exorcism. At the time I wrote it I was suicidal, severely depressed, and struggling to come to terms with my diagnosis. I didn’t understand it or what it meant for me and the rest of my life, which made it even harder to want my life to continue.

I was a cold, distant, terrified ball of anxiety, prone to bouts of rage and uncontrollable fury.

Chasing Azrael by Hazel Butler Writing is my therapy
This bled out onto the pages as I wrote. The characters in Chasing Azrael became personifications of every aspect of my struggles. They twisted up and turned themselves into something resembling a story and I, over time and many edits, transformed them into a book. Perhaps the most important facet of this process was the protagonist, Andee, who is—in literary parlance—a dynamic character. That is to say, there is something fundamentally different about her character by the end of the novel.

Her characters develops (for the better).

Through writing Andee’s story I was able to take the issues I was having and resolve them.

In saving her, I saved myself.

I’ve not attempted suicide in four years—that’s the longest suicide-attempt-free run I’ve had since I was thirteen (I just turned thirty).

It may sound like an odd thing, but it’s surprisingly powerful, so much so that I’ve worked on the process of Emblematic Exorcism a lot more since. I’ve written many stories, and most of them involve something personal to me in some way. Currently I am working on the second book in my Deathly Insanity series, Death Becomes Me, which is even more of an Emblematic Exorcism than Chasing Azrael.

Chasing Azrael was written—in the first instance—without me really thinking about it, the first draft taking less than three months to complete. Death Becomes Me has been a very different experience, perhaps because I’m consciously forcing my characters to deal with some issues from my past that are particularly traumatic.

I’ve cried my way through many chapters.

But I’ve felt better for it afterwards.

Quill and Ink Emblematic ExorcismWhen it comes to treatment and therapy there are no short cuts. There are no quick fixes. There are no easy ways to treat bipolar disorder (or any other mental illness for that matter). Writing therapy offers a powerful alternative treatment. It not only provides the necessary cathartic and psychological release, it can also be extremely fun and very productive!

Pick up a pen.

You’ll never want to put it down again.

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