Writing as Therapy for Demons

Writing a diary can relieve anxiety but the demons on the page may create new problems

I woke up at half past five feeling sick to the pit of my stomach. I felt like I had violated and trampled over the feelings of an innocent. But of course she is not always innocent and loving and I guess that is the problem. I remember her that way and I know that essentially she is a lovely person but …

Yes I can say that here in the early morning when anxieties crowd in on me. I did love and I still do. I think time operates on two different planes, just like consciousness. There is only the moment, ‘now’, there I just scratched myself mindfully before continuing to write, and there is ‘no time’. And in ‘no time’ my feelings have not changed.

Exorcising your demons

Writing  is a great relief because it lets me give expression to the feelings and thoughts that would otherwise continue to run around inside the head; getting more confused and nauseous, the faster they fly. In this way they are decanted on to the page where they can be contained and shaped. But this has its own drawbacks as I have learnt.

Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons, ca. 1470–75. Engraving by Martin Schongauer (German, ca. 1445–1491)

Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons, ca. 1470–75. Engraving by Martin Schongauer (German, ca. 1445–1491)

First off, these pages may be found and read. And the demons troubling me then appear to be the essential me, frightening and confusing the reader. The second worry is that the demons, instead of being dealt with, are simply popped into a coffin in the cellar of the mind during the daylight hours, only to emerge as vampires in the darkness of the night.

When I first embarked on this path, I wrote that I felt ‘like a dead man walking’. And sometimes I still feel this way. I do feel – and maybe this is fact or illusion based on my Christian upbringing – that I have sinned. No amount of justification really seems to make any difference to the way that I feel at present.

When I was a young boy at boarding school, the headmaster Mr McNeill would have naughty boys come to his study. We would attempt to evade responsibility and chastisement by saying things like ‘I only just …’. He would have none of it. There was the fact of the transgression and yes, the story behind it; but the story was not really important. He used to say, ‘If Paris was the size of a pea, you could fit into a jam jar!’

Even now as I write and frame my current feelings with past experience, I get a sense of acceptance and peace. The fact is that this piece of paper and pencil can comfort me. And that is a great relief for a man in torment.

Cut off all useless thoughts

Torment? Well yes. So many things that were merely myth and legend have now become reality. I relate to Prometheus whose guts each day are eaten by an eagle or a vulture (as if it matters) and then repaired during the night in preparation for the next day’s torment. I have felt that terrible gnawing in the stomach. And the vampires! In the night they do come out and suck on one’s very life essence, leaving one pale and listless the following day.

Tityus chained to a rock having his innards pulled out by an eagle that stands above him, after Cort after Titian. 1570

Unhappiness can engender a terrible gnawing in the stomach and you can relate to Prometheus chained to a rock, having his innards pulled out.

At these moments I wish I could turn back, that I was a bigger man and that I could have ‘stepped up to the plate’. Really engaged with my problems and if not quite put things right, at least not made them worse. But I didn’t and perhaps on another level there was something wrong which could only be changed this way. 

Perhaps I can throw of the blame. What is happening is karma; as action follow thought, so thought follows action. ‘Cut off all useless thoughts and the way stand clear and undisguised’ is a line from a Zen text by Hsin Hsin Ming called Affirming Faith in Mind. I’m hoping he’s right.

I wrote this for two reasons; the first because the act of writing brings my mind under control. It is like getting the dog on a leash. The dog still pulls and strains but it doesn’t run off and get lost or attack other dogs. The second reason is habit. For a year I followed ‘The Artists Way’, wherein you rise every morning and write without fail three sheets of A4. It doesn’t have to be anything in particularly and often what I wrote was gibberish. But it was practice and I think very strongly that it taught me to write.

And perhaps it also changed me, gave voice to parts of my being that were concealed or as yet unrealised. And when my partner came to read my mind on the those A4 sheets, she didn’t like what she saw.