Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Shadow Play: Thoughts About Writers And Depression

I've been in a weird, tired, cranky mood lately, and it's doing some not good things to my writing. For one thing, I haven't touched my WIP in almost two weeks. For another, I'm having a really rough time composing blog posts. I started at least three or four this week, but for some reason I couldn't finish any of them. Even writing about how much I don't feel like writing is proving difficult.

I'm convinced this is a nasty phase that will pass in a few days, but that doesn't make getting through it any easier. I don't care for myself when I feel this way--and I'm sure my DH doesn't, either! Coincidentally (or not), Colleen Lindsay posted a link to writer Colin Rowsell's blog, where he started what might be the most thought-provoking discussion on writers and depression I've ever seen. Many of the stories told there were deeply moving, mainly because I could relate to everything my fellow writers said. Reading their words was like walking through a funhouse of mirrors; the images I saw took different sizes and shapes, but in the end, they were all very much like me.

There. I said it. I am one of the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of writers who has struggled with chronic depression. It is the gloomy cloud that has followed me throughout my teenage and adult life, and it has taken me to some devastating places. Over the years, I have fought hard to overcome this invisible nemesis; some battles I've won and others I've lost. Ultimately, it is my belief in Jesus, support from family and friends, and some occasional professional help that keep me from falling headlong into the darkness.

Surprised? Don't be. Chances are, if you don't suffer from the same thing, you know someone who does. Especially if you're a writer.

Ours is a lonely, isolating craft. We have a unique ability to see the beautiful and the ugly parts of humanity, and like a mirror, we reflect what we see back to our readers. It is both a gift and a curse. The loveliness is exhiliarating to witness and thrilling to capture--I could spend all day writing about the birth of my son, for example--yet the evil is equally disturbing, and that is what drives so many of us to pills, to the bottle, to despair, to suicide. We must have both sides of the coin. It would be impossible to for everyone to write about sunshine and rainbows all the time; the challenge is for us to observe the shadows from a distance without becoming consumed by them.

I don't have all the answers. I wish I did. I only know what I do when depression rears its disgusting head and tries to take away all that I have worked to obtain. I breathe, step away from whatever I'm working on, regroup and try again later. I allow my husband and son to make me laugh. I eat really good chocolate and drink delicious, satisfying tea. I seek support from other writers who have felt the same pain. I pray until the storm passes. And it does. Every time without fail.

Because in the end, it's all just shadow play.


  1. My sister is on a mild dose of zoloft for the very same thing. I do believe at times it might have helped me, but I've managed to work through it without it. It sounds like you have a good grip on understanding the cycle, and hope in that you know it's temporary. One thing that helps me is walks in sunshine, historical movies that I love (b/c I write historicals), and just doing something different, maybe even read a book for fun.

  2. I get awful depressed when Glenn is gone (sometimes when he's not, but it's worse when he is gone), and I have a tendency to isolate myself and just make matters worse. Generally I end up sitting in bed for two days and then I just can't bear myself and sit at the movies. That helps. I watch a lot of movies when Glenn is gone.

  3. Awesome post. I have struggled with depression since high school and I've come to the conclusion that I will always be on my anti-depressant simply because I fall right back into the black pit without it. My mother is the same. So was my grandmother. So I truly think it is hereditary in my family.

    I've posted on writers and depression, too. It's a fascinating, yet sobering, topic to explore. There's actually a book called "Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression." But you're absolutely right - you need both sides of the spectrum in order to create.

    I know what you're going through. I've been there many times. The good news is that this, too, shall pass.

    Hugs and prayers to you. :-)

  4. depression is undiscriminating and unforgiving. I hope you can push the funk away and bring your characters out to play soon. *hugs*

  5. Aerin - Been there. Thank God for modern medicine!

    Jennifer - Sunshine does wonders for me as well (guess it's a good thing I live in the Sunshine State, eh? haha!). Pair it with exercise and you've got a level of healing no medication can touch. There's nothing like it!

    Spy - I've been there, too. Long distance relationships can be so unbearably hard. Glenn comes home in a few days, right? Hang in there, hun! I'll pray for his safe return :-)

    Melissa - Yup, depression runs in my family too--along with alcoholism. I refuse to succumb to either. Drinking isn't a problem for me, but sometimes depression still is. I'm much better at managing it now than I used to be, though--thanks to wonderful souls like you who give me great support! Thanks, my dear!

    Jenn - So true. It doesn't care about race, religion, gender or status, and it can be relentless at times. But it can be overcome. That's what I'm working on. Off to play with my characters now. Thanks for the hugs :-)

  6. Hugs to you...and I'll be sending you good vibes, too...wish I could do more.

  7. I think writers feel emotions deeply, and giving so much to the craft, sometimes we become depleted.

    Prayers for the journey, and write on.

  8. I appreciate your honesty in this post. Sometimes I think it's my own writing that gets me into those unusual dips of depression. My focus on fiction skews reality of the real world until I am looking for something that isn't realistic. And then I have to back up from my imagination and take a look at what's real and here and now and adjust my mindset again to give my own life and the blessings I have the weight they deserve. Keep up those prayers and the right path will return again!

  9. Anita - Don't be sorry, those "good vibes" are enough for me! Thanks for the support. It is much appreciated.

    Angie - I agree. Sadness and emotional exhaustion tend to go hand-in-hand. I guess that's why it's so important for writers to recharge periodically, perhaps more than in other occupations. I'll have to keep that in mind from now on!

    Cindy - I'm glad my honesty struck a chord with you. It was therapeutic for me as well. I'm like you in the sense that writing fiction can alter my view of the real world if I let it. Perhaps I need to readjust my mindset, too. Very wise advice. Thanks!

  10. Thanks for the post on depression, which obviously many artists share. I was born in the swamp and had gotten used to the swamp ways until I read Anais Nin, whose diary and life was inspired by and a reaction to depression. Depression was a sort of "muse" to her--her struggle to escape it was a grand experiment, much of it failed, but spectacular nonetheless. At least her example has given me the courage to fight the good fight through living, writing, and editing.

    Best wishes to you.

  11. Sky Blue,
    You're quite welcome. I think that for a lot of writers, depression is the "muse" that makes us creative. It can be a cruel mistress (or master, depending on how you look at it), but it doesn't have to be that way.

    Thanks for the Anais Nin reference. I'm not familiar with her work, but I think I'll check it out. I'm glad she inspired you. She sounds fascinating!