If nothing else, this blog is a work of authenticity. I share what I’m working with when it comes to writing, what practices work best from me, and what I learn from it. I’m not an expert by any means, just a writer who’s trying to figure things out and connecting with other writers who do the same.
That is why it’s hard for me to write this. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve struggled with something that greatly affected my writing, which caused me to take an unexpected hiatus from this blog. I could barely understand what was going on with me much less write about how it affected my art.
And I could go on posting here as if the last six months didn’t happen, as if I had amnesia. I could slice around it and remove it entirely like cutting an ex’s face from a photograph. But it permeated my creativity so much that it’s impossible to talk about my work without mentioning it, so here it goes.
I’ve been going through a robust bout of depression. Mostly anxiety but also depression, the worst I’ve ever had. My inner world felt a little bit like that horror movie, 30 Days of Night, about a group of vampires that terrorize a small Alaskan town during thirty days of winter darkness. A terrible darkness was smothering what little life I had in me.
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced depression, but candied self-help declarations are no help at all when your idea of “success” is having only enough energy to put together an outfit for the day. Or prepare breakfast. Or leave the house on time for work. I had no space for those declarations, and I certainly could not create them.
I intentionally took a few months off to wait the thing out, thinking maybe in the spring things would perk up a bit. Maybe all I needed to do was wait for the ice to melt and the weather to warm up and maybe the fog in my head would clear up.
I started treatment, and while the fog in my head mostly cleared, some of it still lingered. Piecing myself back together was a lot of work, worth the effort but in a Rome-wasn’t-built-in-a-day sort of way. Those pieces don’t fit the way the used to. I had to learn how to live and create differently. Depression had already taken so much from me, and unless I wanted it to take more, I had to get back to writing.
I set a date, and I started to write again. Here, in no particular order are lessons I learned from that experience.
1. When you come back to writing after something like this, sometimes you don’t know what’s going to work. You just need to sit at your desk, open your notebook, and see what happens.
2. No matter how many times you perform #1, it sucks. It always sucks.
3. But most times you surprise yourself.
4. There is no fucking glory in an artist suffering from mental illness. Or alcoholism. Or addiction. Remember how I said it took so much from me? What it took from me was vitality and motivation. The mental illness did not make me a better writer or give me an “edge” or “inspire” me. It took away so much creative time that I’ll never get it back. I grieve over that loss. I journaled about my experience with the illness throughout this time, but that is not because the illness “inspired” me. I wrote about it, because I’m a writer and that’s my job. If I’d been having any other experience – like programming self driving cars or competing in an Iditarod or breeding turtles – I’d be writing about that, too, because it’s my job.
5. Writing about the illness, however, did give me power. A writer from a Facebook community in a comment thread on this very topic shared, “If the Black Dog is going to hound you, make sure he works for the space in your head.”
6. There is no shame in treatment of the illness, through either therapy or medicine or both. Anything that improves your quality of life can also improve your creativity.
7. A voracious appetite for reading can be therapeutic.
8. Things such as writing, meditation, and exercising until you can barely move your arms and legs may seem like they’re “cheaper than therapy” but they are not the same things as therapy. They are wonderful coping mechanisms, but sometimes they don’t treat or cure the illness.
9. Sometimes you can do everything a person can do to help themselves and still need professional treatment.
10. It really, really helps to talk about this with other people, I mean really helps. It’s hard to believe at times like these, but there are people who love and care about you and want to see you succeed. They are your biggest cheerleaders. Talking about these things gives them the opportunity to cheer for you.
11. You will talk to people who simply don’t know any better. Sometimes they say asinine things like “Just cheer up” or “Get outside” or, Christ I don’t know, “Drink kombucha.” Hey, you know what’s better than kombucha? SSRI inhibitors. Or they start phrases with, “Have you tried…” or “Why don’t you…” that leave you feeling as if you are lying at the bottom of the Marianas Trench with the weight of the entire Pacific Ocean right fucking on top of you.
12. You will talk to people who know just the thing you need. And you won’t even know you needed it! They give you a hug. They buy you chocolate. They reassure you that you’re not weak. They ask you how you’re doing, and not in a boy-howdy-what-fine-weather-we’re-having sort of way. They really want to know how you’re doing. It’s those people who will remind you that you will get through this, and it does get better.
13. You will talk to people who care but who won’t know what to say in response. It will feel awkward. They’re doing the best they can with what they have, just like you.
I can’t wrap this in a tidy bow for you. I may be doing better, but I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that unless I want to give this illness more than it had already taken, then I have to get back at it.
These days I wander between two ends of a spectrum. On one end there’s dwelling in pain and suffering and grasping for sympathy. I hate pity parties, don’t have time for them. All that energy spent creating victimhood would be better spent on creating art.
On the other end is an avoidance of the pain and a desire to close up the wound as quickly as possible. In that realm there’s a desire to grant the illness “purpose” and “meaning” or to focus on how the illness has made me “strong”. It feels dangerously close to saying, “This illness was good, because it taught me all these life lessons.” That doesn’t feel authentic to me, and anyway it doesn’t deserve the recognition.
Somewhere in between those two realms, however, exists the truth of what role this plays in my life, not good or bad but just as it is. If I accept conditions as they are, neither clinging to nor resisting them, then I can get at it.
Many people with experience of depression like to say that “depression lies”. And it does. It cons you into isolating yourself and shutting down essential functions. It feeds on you so it can thrive.
But if I only see lies when I look at depression, then I won’t get at this truth. I tried for a long time not to listen to depression, and it didn’t do me a bit of good. This didn’t stop it from coming, only delayed it. So I decided to see what would happen if I stopped fighting it and instead turned toward it.
In between those two realms that feel foreign to me, I’ll find a home.
**Note: I spent a lot of time chewing on this piece before sitting down to scratch it out. I’m glad I took the time, because I accomplished what I needed to accomplish – telling you what was up with me, remaining authentic, and giving this piece the time it deserved. I’ve never been very good at sitting down and busting out a blog post in thirty minutes and throwing it up on this site. Nothing wrong with that. There are some excellent bloggers out there, who can pull it off and make it happen. But after three years of writing this blog, I’ve learned that I’m better suited for the longer, thoughtful pieces. I enjoy writing them, and I can better serve you in this way. To support me in this endeavor, please consider becoming a Patreon for Word Savant. Click here to learn more about the levels of patronage and all the cool swag that comes with them.
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Photo from Unsplash, by Daniele Levis Pelusi