Writing with Depression: A New Series on This Blog
One of the major themes of this blog and the Writing on Wednesday Podcast is the pursuit of a happy, healthier (writing) life. If I’m honest, a sizable personal challenge on that front is depression–not the severe, debilitating kind, thank God, but the kind that creeps up imperceptibly, gradually making a balanced, energizing sense of wellbeing an exhausting and painful struggle.
I have known for years–since I was a teenager, in fact–that I am prone to bouts of mild to moderate depression. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books. Heck, I’ve written a book about a spiritual condition not unlike depression. I’ve gotten better and better at recognizing my “tells,” the subtle signs I am heading into another depressive season. I’ve also learned the forms of treatment that work for me, and how to employ them in a timely fashion. (I count myself deeply fortunate that my depression has always responded well and quickly to treatment.)
What I’m trying to say is that for much of my adult life, I’ve been pretty “depression savvy.” I’ve lived a mostly full, engaged life despite (and sometimes because of) depression–becoming a kind of expert on what my depression looks like (it’s different for everyone) and how to work with it in proactive, meaningful ways.
Yet I’ve been somewhat slower to appreciate how this condition influences and is influenced by my writing life. I assumed that writing is simply another part of my life, equally weighted with all others–my marriage, job, church, friendships, chores, ongoing BBC period drama addiction…
A year or two ago, though, it dawned on me that it’s not.
For one thing, no other part of my life is lived as fundamentally and concretely in my head–in my mind–as writing. For another, depression is not simply (or even chiefly) an emotional disorder–it is a mental and cognitive one. The pace of my thoughts, the way they connect to one another, my ability to think of words and string them together–all of these are quickly affected by even very mild depression that would otherwise fly below the radar of other measures. Finally, few other areas of my life are tied to my sense of identity as writing is. When I’m not able to write, or when writing is somehow tainted by the dim slog my mind, I feel not just frustrated but, in a way, unmoored. That feeling and sense of stress is as much a driver of depression as any other.
I’ve begun paying more attention to the connection between writing and depression, and I’m slowly realizing how sensitive my writing life is to the impediments of depression. Surprisingly, too, I’ve also begun to recognize how treating depression affects my ability to write, both for better and for worse.
Along the way, I’ve often wished this were a bigger conversation. Am I the only one thinking about (and struggling with) these things? How do other writers and creatives integrate their work with the experience of depression? What has helped them?
Depression and its impact on professional creative work is not something we talk enough about as writers. While we may recognize depression in ourselves, and even be proactive in seeking treatment for it, we (or I) may simultaneously neglect to appreciate on a practical level what this condition actually means in the creative realms of our lives.
So I’ve decided that moving forward, this is a topic I’d like to feature more often on this blog. I’ll be sharing more of my personal story about being a writer with depression, what I’ve found helpful and not so helpful, some insights I’ve found in the work and research of others, etc. It’s just my story, but I hope it is useful for others, and I hope it serves as an invitation for them to share their experiences around this topic. We all have something to learn from one another!
My aim throughout is to keep things lighthearted and directed toward self-compassion and self-improvement. I don’t see depression as a blight I need to “fix” about myself–it’s simply a part of my life, a life that I’m committed to living as fully and healthily as possible, both for my own sake and for the sake of those I share my life with.
I’m looking forward to sharing and learning and writing more about this! I’ll be tagging these posts with the “Writing with Depression” tag for easy reference.