When Writing Leaves You Emotionally Drained

How to face your keyboard again.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

This week, I’m struggling to find the courage to sit down and write. I don’t feel capable of delving deep into the emotions required to put words onto paper, especially as my words usually talk about sexism, rape, and violence.

In some professions where you deal with pain and suffering, you learn to dissociate from your work. Doctors dehumanize their patients, learn to see bodies as machines because otherwise they would not survive the pressure and make it through each day.

Emotions are the raw material of writing

To some extent, as a reporter, you do this too. You create a distance between yourself and the people whose stories you are telling. It is easier if you can put a microphone or a camera between yourself and them. But you can’t entirely disconnect. Good reporting, literary writing needs emotions. It needs you to delve deep into your empathy and humanness. We think of words as the raw material of writing, but in reality the raw material of much writing — at least writing that isn’t purely factual in nature — is emotion. The writer’s emotions. This has to be one of the reasons that so many writers are alcoholics. Instead of drowning in their emotions, they drown their emotions in whiskey.

When do you care too much?

When you are writing about a cause you believe in, like I do with feminism, there is an added factor of emotional exhaustion. You are engaged in a constant fight for a better world that is slow in coming. And when it comes to causes like racism, feminism or the fight for LGBTQIA rights, politics are personal. You are fighting for your own rights and your own life.

It was a small thing that triggered me this week. Nothing worth getting worked up about, a minor irritation in the scale of shit women go through on a daily basis. I’ve been living in the mountains for the past few months, in a tiny Bulgarian ski resort. This weekend was the closing party, and to celebrate everyone skied down from the very top of the mountain in their swimwear, down to the last bar at the bottom of the slopes. We were all dancing there, when one of the organisers, making a video of the event, came in the middle and filmed us, and came round and did a big zoom on my cleavage, half exposed in my little bikini top.

It took me a few moments to register what was happening, and he was gone before I could ask him to stop. He probably thought he was being cheeky and fun, but in reality he was just being creepy, and it came as an unpleasant reminder that as a woman, you can’t let your guard down without being ambushed.

Maybe it was because it was in the midst of so much joy that it affected me so much. Or maybe I just need a break from writing about these things. It does take a toll on you.

I’m fed up of reading terrible stories all over the internet, of hearing them from other women, of living them first hand. Of feeling how deeply horrible they are, and yet also how mundane and omnipresent. It feels like a slow-motion heartbreak. One of my exes told me I should stop writing about sexual assault, that I was putting myself through pain to do it. But if I stop I feel powerless.

I guess this is one of those times when it isn’t a matter of knowing when to give up, but when to take a break.

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