They say “write what you know,” and for one Toronto woman that means putting her mental health struggles down on paper.
Puja Malani is one of the dozens of Toronto residents who participate in a weekly workshop called InkWell, a program run in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Toronto since September 2016.
Malani told CTV News Toronto that her mental health problems began in university, but it wasn’t until 2017 that a friend encouraged her to try InkWell.
She had been suffering from depression and severe anxiety.
“I couldn’t even get out of bed for almost two years,” she said.
She said she tried numerous treatments including medications, cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnotherapy, but nothing helped her quite as much as writing.
“The InkWell program brought purpose back to my life, helped me heal a lot of issues that I didn’t even know were still there through the writing,” Malani said.
The participants receive instruction in writing techniques and are given exercises to develop their skills, but the writing is largely free form. They can write whatever they want, at whatever speed they can manage, all in a stigma-free environment.
Every June the program organizers publish an anthology containing the participants works. The 2020 anthology will be published by Dundurn Press in the fall.
Since the program began, InkWell has found work for 13 writers with mental health and addictions issues.
Instructor Leanne Toshiko Simpson, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 17, understands the healing power of writing.
“When I was in the hospital, I was in a very dark place and I didn’t have a lot of ways to deal with all the things I was going through. So I started writing.”
She emphasizes that InkWell is a peer-led group. It is free of charge and TTC fare and snacks are also provided to ensure that it is accessible to all.
“Writing [is] a really great tool to share with people that they could take home and do on their own and it was financially accessible,” Simpson said.
Recently, Simpson has begun taking her group of writers to the ROM in a new partnership with the museum. Each month they go to a different wing for inspiration and conversation.
The group has also run workshops in partnership with the Toronto Public Library, literary festivals, community organizations and the Toronto International Film Festival.
InkWell is funded by the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council.