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  • Kourtni Tucker

Mental Health and Writing: A Memoir

Greetings, Melodic Movement readers!


Today’s topic will be on the deeper end of things, but it’s been something I’ve considered a lot lately and truly wanted to discuss.


I am pretty open about the fact that I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, Bipolar 2, and Generalized Anxiety. I wanted to share how my relationship with these diagnoses and my relationship with medication for them has shaped my relationship with writing over the past year and a half.


I was a perfectionist over my work for the longest time. While I think that is a sentiment many can relate to, I didn’t realize just how intertwined my anxiety was with my work or how heavily I’d begun to associate writing with anxiousness. It got to the point where I couldn’t even pick up a pencil or open a Google/Word document without nearly having a panic attack.


Given that writing has always been a part of who I am and something I’ve deeply associated myself with, it was even more scary to realize I’d been starting to actively loathe what once brought me the most solace, joy, and closure out of anything.


The pressure behind creating was enormous for a few reasons. I had always felt I was under extreme scrutiny with every grade school or college assignment I’d turned in due to external pressures, and that progressed into personal writing as well. It overtook every facet of my life, really. I was obsessed with doing everything the “correct” way. No matter how careful I was, how much effort I put in, or how many details I’d ask for…I’d always feel I fell just short. It was excruciating.


This is where ADHD comes in. It is a common misconception that children who have ADHD perform poorly in school. That is not always the case. I dropped out of college with a 4.0 and graduated high school with a 4.0. I do not say that to brag. I say that because it was something beyond my limits, and I want more parents and teachers to be more cautious about what messages they instill in their children. I heavily overworked myself and nearly overcompensated to death.


ADHD and any form of BD together are a tricky mix. Not only do treatments medication-wise for them typically not mesh well, but they can both cause extreme impulsivity…particularly during bouts of hypomania or mania. While it may feel great to suddenly have all these ideas you want to pursue and the energy to actually do so, I’d exercise extreme caution in relying on this method to get writing done. In fact, I’d heavily advise against relying on these spells.


I can say from firsthand experience that boundaries and limitations both go to the wayside when you are hypomanic/manic. You will burn yourself out, and it will make the exhaustion you feel during the following depressive spells that much more intense. Going from staying up for days writing after your day job to barely being able to even move after is not fun or healthy. I promise.


Beyond that, ADHD’s impact on executive functioning can seriously heighten the impacts of depressive spells. Because it is already that much more difficult for your brain to react to dopamine, depression can and will hit you harder. Aside from this, not having the executive functioning to complete tasks most would see as “basic” can worsen your self-image and quality of life as well.


I would go month after month without writing. If anything, that would make me feel worse. Again, it would feel as if I had lost parts of myself. Parts that could never be regained. After so long, writing felt impossible. It would feel as though I’d regressed and simply could not formulate words. It felt as though there was some invisible wall blocking me from typing or penning. And, of course, there was always that voice that would tell me it was worthless after I did find my courage.


Rinse and repeat the cycle. Write indiscriminately when hypomanic. Chastise everything into the ground later. Become trapped in an ADHD and depression paralysis as a result.


It was exhausting. I wish I could tell you that I found some magic workaround alone, but I didn’t. The “workaround” was finding a medication and dosage that worked and letting it do its thing. Something like BD alters the chemicals in your brain. So, in turn, the only real treatment is to…well, alter the chemicals in your brain once more.


Another thing I’ve noticed (for better or worse) about my ADHD since getting diagnosed is how it manifests in my writing. I tend to write very scatterbrained. I will get an idea, bring it up the second it comes to mind, and not elaborate enough before moving on. Or I tend to write in circles. Or I start on a million things and never finish them.


I’ve learned, though, that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just makes me neurodivergent. I’ve heard from many that my writing’s biggest strength is how definitively recognizable and “in my voice” it is. I used to loathe that, but now that I have a more stable view of who I am, I can see that there is nothing wrong with simply existing. Having thoughts, speaking them…there is value in that. Being neurodivergent, my ADHD does play a big role in how I interpret the world around me. In turn, it plays a big role in how I reflect on and present those findings through my writing. Of course I love that!


Since getting proper treatment, I’ve noticed my writing is much more relaxed. That is most likely because I am much more relaxed and at peace. I simply write what is on my heart now, and it has yet to steer me wrong. While I can still be finicky over word choice and articulation at moments, it is nowhere near the level of unhealthy obsessiveness I used to have.


A big part of that comes down to learning more about how I’ve functioned and working with it, I think. Being able to recognize what my own voice sounds like now. It is liberating, in a way. The fact that I can pen a poem in fifteen minutes now that would’ve taken me weeks or months to do two years ago is astounding.


It is nice to be able to focus on my message while writing now, too. Another thing that often isn’t talked about enough is the fact that ADHD isn’t inattentiveness. It is equal attentiveness to everything. I would have so many writing elements to factor in that were pulling at my attention simultaneously. That also made creating overwhelming. After all, how could I continue writing when I had punctuation from three sentences ago, word choice from two paragraphs ago, flow from the previous sentence, and possible grammatical errors from the first paragraph all on my mind at once? The answer: I simply couldn’t.


It’s no secret that the arts and advocacy have always been intrinsically linked. Art is a reflection of our experiences in the world around us. That being said, I think receiving these diagnoses has led me to want to pursue awareness of mental health more in my works. I can actually speak about my lived experiences with these things now in the hopes that it will help others understand and discuss these topics more often.


Perhaps that is why I felt so compelled to share. I appreciate you hearing me out until the end. Until next time!


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