Pen down your thoughts to move For[e]word in life

Freelance writer Nicole K., 33, was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder at 23 and almost took her life at 28. She is now well enough to run customised writing workshops through her social enterprise, For[e]word, to teach others th
Freelance writer Nicole K., 33, was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder at 23 and almost took her life at 28. She is now well enough to run customised writing workshops through her social enterprise, For[e]word, to teach others the proper techniques of journaling and is in talks with IMH to run her workshops for their patients.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Freelance writer Nicole K., 33, runs customised writing workshops through her social enterprise, For[e]word, to teach others the proper techniques of journaling.
Freelance writer Nicole K., 33, runs customised writing workshops through her social enterprise, For[e]word, to teach others the proper techniques of journaling.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Freelance writer Nicole K., 33, runs customised writing workshops through her social enterprise, For[e]word, to teach others the proper techniques of journaling.
Freelance writer Nicole K., 33, runs customised writing workshops through her social enterprise, For[e]word, to teach others the proper techniques of journaling.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Instead of talking over your problems, why not write about them?

Writing about her emotional upheavals stopped freelance writer Nicole K. from taking her own life when she was 28.

At her lowest point then, she doubted her ability to hold on to a job, feared meeting people, worried about her sick grandmother and slept poorly. She also struggled with major depression and generalised anxiety disorder, which she was diagnosed with at 23.

Ms K., who declined to reveal her full name, had written her suicide note in a journal on her phone that day, calling it "emotionally intense".

"I said my final goodbyes there and made an informal will to let people know what to do with my belongings after I was gone," she recalled.

By the time she had finished writing, she felt calm enough to re-read her journal and could identify common themes in her writing - feelings of resentment, guilt and self- blame."I realised that it was depression talking in the journal, not me. Externalising my painful emotions had brought a level of clarity, peace and objectivity to me."

A GUIDED PROCESS

Journaling allows pent-up frustrations to be released, but many people do not realise that journaling may worsen your mood if it is an unguided process. It would be like venturing down the rabbit-hole into the unknown, where it can be quite dangerous.

'' MS NICOLE K., a freelance writer, on the need to use proper techniques to combat negative emotions arising when journaling.

These days, Ms K. still undergoes treatment with a psychiatrist and a psychologist at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) and is doing well enough to be a mental health advocate.

She started an online publication known as The Tapestry Project SG in 2014, which features articles written by contributors, who may be fellow mental health patients or their caregivers. She took this a step further by launching a social enterprise known as For[e]word last December.

Through For[e]word - a wordplay on forward, which alludes to moving forward in life - she conducts customised writing workshops to promote mental health starting this month.

It is a sign of how far she has come from her 10-year struggle with mental illnesses.

The workshops teach participants reflective writing techniques, journaling, building self- awareness and identifying mental filters, among others.

Ms K. said: "Journaling allows pent-up frustrations to be released, but many people do not realise that journaling may worsen your mood if it is an unguided process.

"It would be like venturing down the rabbit-hole into the unknown, where it can be quite dangerous.

"I've experienced this first-hand, when all I did was relive negative events through my words."

It is why she wants to teach others techniques to deal with any emotional distress that arises from journaling, she said.

Ms K., who has a graduate diploma in psychology from Monash University, said that her workshop syllabus is derived from therapies that have been used in clincial settings - narrative therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and expressive therapy.

But she stressed that her workshops are not run as therapy sessions. Her psychologist at KTPH, Ms Mabel Yum, agreed that journaling per se is not an evidence-based approach to helping mentally ill patients - but CBT is.

CBT encourages people to challenge and change automatic negative thoughts and behaviour.

Both KTPH and the Institute of Mental Health said their mental health experts do not use journaling for therapy.

Ms Yum said: "Though we do not teach journaling, we would encourage patients to continue with it if they enjoy it and find it cathartic.

"Journaling may energise them to redirect their attention and focus, understand their thinking process and alleviate emotional stress.

"Hence, it allows patients to communicate more effectively with themselves and others through words, or even discover and develop solutions."

Ms K. is now in talks with IMH to run her workshops for its patients.

The reported health benefits from overseas studies of journaling include reduced blood pressure, improved lung function in those with asthma, reduced depressive symptoms and reduced pain in women with chronic pelvic pain.

To find out more about the workshops, visit forewordworks.com or email foreword.works@gmail.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Pen down your thoughts to move For[e]word in life'. Print Edition | Subscribe