How to Use Your Passions to Improve Mental Health
Growing up, I was always the quiet kid at the back of the classroom writing stories and song lyrics in the margins of my notebooks. Without anyone telling me to do so, I discovered that writing was my escape. No matter what was going on around me, I could create a world of my own through language and take refuge there for as long as I needed to. As I got older, my musings grew into short stories and even my first crack at a novel as a teenager.
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that symptoms of depression and anxiety began to appear in my life. I remember breaking down in tears to my English teacher, revealing to him how completely overwhelmed I was with the testing, applications, and heavy schoolwork load required to prepare for college. When I started college at a liberal arts school in middle America the following year, my mental health went from bad to worse. I was lonely, homesick, and sinking deeper and deeper into depression.
I went through a long stretch of time, maybe a year or so, when I couldn’t write. I kept buying notebooks because, duh, notebooks! But they would stay trophies on my shelf, empty vessels longing to be filled. I prayed that I could write, but nothing would come to me. Truly, depression had stolen my passion away. It does that.
I missed writing, but whenever I put pen to paper, only a few lifeless words would come to me. They were short entries that might as well have read “still depressed.” I had no more fire in me. Not just for writing, but for everything. I didn’t care about my friends. The “I love you’s” from my family did as much to warm me as a thin shawl on a cold winter’s night. Everything, it seemed, was falling by the wayside in my life.
But I love writing! Like, I really love it. And when you really love your passion, it will never abandon you.
Some of you think that you have no passion – no drive that keeps you up at night, no far-out dreams that cloud your thoughts during the day. So I want to set the record straight. Everyone has something that they are uniquely qualified to do within them.
Everyone has something that gives them joy and makes them feel fulfilled. However, not everyone will know immediately what this passion is. Sometimes you have to find it, which is why it’s so important to explore all of your interests fully. Other times, your passion has to find you and you attract it by continuing to be true to yourself and letting your values guide you.
But most often, people have known about their passion on some level since they were young. So many of us tell ourselves “I can’t. I’m not good enough. I’ll never be successful,” before we even consider giving our passions a try.
But anyway, I kept writing, determined not to let mental illness steal my passion. I was in therapy as well at the time, and my therapist suggested that I try journaling. She said that putting some form to my thoughts and addressing the entries to myself would motivate me and help me find some solace.
I took up the challenge gladly, but when it came to writing, I remembered my problem. I managed to power through without ripping out any pages. I kept writing through self-judgment. It almost hurts for me to write when I’m uninspired. As a depressed literary snob, I didn’t want to put any more angsty writing out into the world, but I fought past this feeling. If some crappy sentences were going to help me become myself again, the world would just have to take the hit.
I made myself write honest entries. The funny thing that I’ve learned about healing over the years is that it’s not meant to feel good all of the time. It’s not meant to be easy, and you have to believe in self-care and practice it consistently before you see any results. It will feel like it’s not working, but you can’t let doubt steal your peace.
Just because they call it “peace” does not mean that it comes peacefully. Peace is worked for and earned, and you might be working for the rest of your life if you struggle with chronic mental illness, but there’s something so incredibly brave about continuing to keep your head above water, about loving yourself enough to fight for yourself. It’s a daily battle.
But before we can claim our peace, we must first have goals to call our own, dreams, ambitions. Fulfilling these ambitions has to feel genuine, you’ll always know when a certain part of your life doesn’t fit your spirit. It’s an itchy feeling that makes you shift in your seat and check to see if the tags are still on. Identify your passion, and then love it for what it is – a part of you.
My decision to make a commitment to writing at that difficult time was the beginning of my own self-care, even if I didn’t know what self-care was at the time. I remember that this was around the time that I first began to practice meditation, listen to relaxation music, and try yoga.There’s nothing more devastating than watching a part of yourself languish. Love all of you, including your passions.
Remember that art degree you were scared to get? Not having it doesn’t mean you still can’t be an artist. When was the last time you reached for your supplies? Always thought you were just bossy until someone said you’d be a great organizer? Get on that! Your gift is calling you.
People need you to do what you do, and more importantly, YOU need you to do this. Give your soul what it thirsts for. Use your passion to uplift yourself. Let it place you on its shoulders so you can see the world beyond mental illness. Let it take you where you need to go.
My therapist challenging me to journal about my experiences was a real turning point in my mental health journey. Ever since then, I began to recognize that turning my back on writing was like turning my back on myself and my outlet for healing. My unwillingness to write was like a subconscious decision not to face the ugly parts of myself that I knew needed to be released for the sake of my own growth.
Now, writing has become an integral part of my self-care routine. I don’t just write stories or poetry in my notebooks, I write down my goals and aspirations. I write down affirmations to lift myself up. I write down the thoughts that won’t stop rattling around in my brain in an attempt to give them a home. I can truly say that by embracing my passion, I have become a student of my own mind, learning what I need to flourish mentally. There is power in embracing your passion, and I’m so glad that I was able to recapture mine.
Rowana is a writer, editor, and mental health advocate. She started Spoken Black Girl in the spring of 2015 as a personal blog about her own struggles with anxiety and depression hoping to find other women of color who could relate. Two years later, realizing that women of color lacked a centralized place to share their mental and emotional journeys, Rowana decided to turn the blog into what is now Spoken Black Girl Magazine.