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Write Your Way Out of Depression

The benefits of bibliotherapy.

Years ago, after the sudden death of my husband, I fell into a deep depression. During therapy in the months that followed, mine proved to be a classic case. Of course, depression is not necessarily a sign that someone has suffered a devastating loss. Many people (and I am one of them) feel a little depressed around the holidays, for instance.

Facing that first Christmas without my husband, I had found it almost impossible to get out of bed in the morning--Atlas with the weight of the world on his shoulders. I ached all over, as if I had been hit by a truck.

My psychologist's remedy was something he called bibliotherapy (by which he meant therapeutic writing, not reading, as the term implies). Whatever you want to call it, he had me scribbling in a notebook--more than a dozen of them, over the course of a year--and it proved to be not only my salvation but the beginning of my career as a writer.

I was skeptical at first, even cynical. He handed me a spiral notebook like the ones we used to carry in high school. Between its glossy, midnight blue covers are a hundred blank pages.

"What's this?" I asked.

"Your own personal diary, if you want to call it that."

Thanks a lot; just what I always wanted.

But after a time I did begin to write--although some of it was incredibly painful. The doctor said I should jot down whatever thoughts came into my head that I might want to recall and discuss with him during our next session:

"Some people even wake up in the middle of the night and write about a dream they were having. I don't mean that you have to do that, of course ...."

I did, though.

Most of us are scribblers, from simple grocery lists to complex letters to the editor. With a little practice it can be just as easy to keep a journal, writing down whatever thoughts (or dreams) you figure are worth remembering. I still do it, though now I publish what I write! And for me, that has been the ultimate benefit. After that year in therapy, the psychologist urged me to publish what I had written. It was still much too painful back then, but all these years later I have taken his advice. My memoir is now in the hands of a publisher.

Keeping those notebooks also led me to write my first book. And before I even thought of writing a book they were responsible for my becoming a playwright; just one of the many benefits of bibliotherapy.

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