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Writing with Depression — A Work in Progress | #amwriting #depression #anxiety #healing

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Photographer: Nick Youngson (Source)

I experienced my first major depressive episode when I was 21, which led to my dropping out of college (I eventually went back and finished my Bachelor’s and got a Master’s in writing!). At that point, the one thing that helped pull me out of it was writing–and I was prolific, churning out at least 200,000 words of a “manuscript” (loosely based—and highly fictionalized—on me and my college friends, mostly episodic with no actual plot other than who fell in love with and married whom) in just a couple of years.

I started writing when I was a teen, and it was always part of my life, something I was compelled to do. Family members told me they always knew I’d turn out to be a published author because I was always writing or at least had something with me to write on in case inspiration struck.

In the past, I’ve brainstormed one of my (now published) series on the paper table cover at a dinner/concert at a church (Everywhere is a good place to brainstorm a story!), written on programmes at events, and even gone through a pile of paper napkins at the Bluebird Cafe while hosting some out of town guests (“Stealing” Writing Time).

Over the past 25+ years since that first depressive episode, I’ve struggled with cyclical depression, but never anything as bad as that first bout. And never anything that killed my desire to write.

Until the early 2010s.

You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling…
I was a “full-time writer” (i.e., I was barely scraping by with freelance editing work in order to write the three trade-length books per year that I was contracted for). And suddenly, my writing had become something I never wanted it to be…a job. It was work. It was no longer enjoyable. It was no longer an escape. Rather than relieving my anxiety (yes, I have mild generalized anxiety as well), it created massive levels of anxiety. Rather than provide a way to boost my mood, it made my depression worse.

It’s now five years since my last book came out (nearly six since I finished writing it). For at least four of those years, I didn’t write anything. I didn’t want to write. The compulsion was gone because the joy was gone.

If you have depression (or love someone who does), you know that one of the major signs is loss of interest in hobbies or activities formerly loved. So for me, no longer having a passion for writing spiraled me down into another major depressive episode—this time, enough that I was having what I told my doctor were “annihilative” thoughts. I didn’t want to do self-harm, but I thought the world and I would be better off if I just didn’t exist anymore. (It didn’t help that this coincided with the worst financial situation I’d ever been in, given that I’d been laid off my full-time job four years before and didn’t see any financial relief in sight–thus the writing=work situation.)

Even though I got a great full-time job soon thereafter (as well as “better living through pharmaceuticals”), the desire to write didn’t come back. And if I thought I might be able to jump-start it by sitting down to write, as soon as I did, I’d have a major anxiety episode.

So I set writing aside. Maybe I was only meant to be a writer for that period of my life. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer my entire life.

Maybe I Have a Little More Story in Me
Two years ago, something started happening in my brain. First, little seeds. Then little seedlings. Eventually, vague ideas of a character or setting or situation or story. When 2017 started, I set a goal for myself that I’d make myself start writing again—that I would plan out and write a story (short story, novella, or whatever it became) by the end of the year. I had an idea—I even had a great title—but the characters and story never formed. And instead of sticking with it, I ended up buying a house and moving to another city 50 miles away instead.

This year, I decided to go back to an activity that was part of what helped me overcome my first major depressive episode. Instead of focusing on “writing a story,” I’ve been focusing on “being creative.” I’ve spent the past several months working on creating a fictional city (Welcome to Gossettville!). I’ve been “populating” it along the way—doing some character casting, which has always been one of my favorite creative activities—and have roughly sketched out a couple of character and/or story ideas, as they related to building this fictional city.

And though I occasionally have random creative thoughts about it that I feel compelled to write down, I’m still at a point at which I have to schedule time to make myself sit down to work on it—or else I won’t. But when I do, I can actually find myself getting lost in the creative process and spending a lot longer working on it that I’d originally planned.

So while the passion for writing hasn’t returned, at least it’s starting to make a few cracks in that hard black shell of depression. Enough that it makes me want to keep at it in order to see if if I can ever break through.

If you live with depression, or have experienced a depressive episode, how has it affected your writing—or other creative endeavors? Have you had breakthroughs that have allowed your passion to overcome the depression?

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, September 5, 2018 4:19 pm

    I don’t have depression, but I have been diagnosed multiple times (didn’t believe doctors at first…) with other mental illnesses. Luckily I haven’t let it get in my way, and writing has definitely helped me work through a lot of issues.

    Thank you for posting an article like this – depression is so inadequately examined and its effects nowhere near appreciated enough by the populace at large. I’m also very glad you’re back! I have been missing your posts. 🙂

    Like

    • Thursday, September 6, 2018 4:45 pm

      Thank you so much for your support and for reaching out. One thing that I didn’t touch upon in this post is the importance of support from family, friends, and community when one is in a depressive cycle/episode. It’s hard for someone like be, living alone and working at home, to get that supportive feedback because I so rarely reach out for it and let people know I need it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol permalink
    Wednesday, September 5, 2018 4:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing your struggle. I pray you’re on the upswing.

    Like

  3. Wednesday, September 5, 2018 7:36 pm

    What a lovely brave blog! I suffer from depression and PTSD including all the wonderful little interlopers like anxiety that often come with PTSD. In 2009 I lost my stories, my imagination, I didn’t even dream (except for bad ones), but I kept my folders of musings and a book and a half that I’d written. Skip ahead, five years of therapy, one more year of a failing etsy business, (because low and behold I started sewing again–something creative!) and then I finally, tearfully, with much anxiety, opened up those saved folders full of writing.

    I wrote during those five bad years, but only truth came out of me. It was a healing time. Now that I’m seriously pursuing writing again and have almost finished my 4 book series, I battle the publishing dilemma. How, when, and what do I want. Depression plays a huge part in this decision and it’s one I need to make soon.

    Thank you for sharing. So many creative people suffer from depression. In fact, PTSD is more prevalent in creative minded people. It’s the way we process information. It’s also the reason we see our stories and we need to write them.

    I’m thrilled that I’m writing again. I have many days when I’m stocked up with anxiety, but I keep moving forward. It sounds as if you’re moving in a good direction. You have success to build upon. You’re asking the right questions and you’re going in with your eyes wide open.

    Hoping to see some books from you soon!

    😀 Shannon Gallagher

    Like

    • Thursday, September 6, 2018 4:48 pm

      One of the goals I set for myself this year that I haven’t (yet) followed up on is revisiting old writing—that manuscript I wrote in my early 20s that helped with the first major depression, and then all the snippets and starts and scenes of ideas that I’ve written, either on my computer or in notebooks, over the past 30-odd years.

      And I love what you said about “writing truth” when you’re going through something. I vividly recall several times when going into the editorial process for manuscripts—meaning I hadn’t seen them for a few months since turning them in—when I would re-read it and thing, “Good grief, what was I going through at that point that made me put my character through THAT?” It’s so amazing how our brains process things!

      Like

  4. camillering permalink
    Wednesday, September 5, 2018 7:59 pm

    I have loved your books Kaye – and can now more fully appreciate the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that can steal the joy from writing.
    For me, I started writing as a way to (inadvertently) deal with the depression that occurred after my husband and I stopped pastoring our church. Being in a place where I could control my world helped (not that I have control issues or anything!), and I loved the creativity it unleashed.
    Earlier this year, juggling the pressure of 3 books a year, I was encouraged by my husband to spend a few days detoxing from my phone, internet and (especially) social media. That did me a world of good.
    Looking forward to seeing your new books soon!

    Like

    • Thursday, September 6, 2018 4:53 pm

      YES. Control is what it’s all about. And I wonder if maybe part of my loss of passion for writing is the fact that my life is the most stable that it’s ever been. There’s not much in my life that I’m not in control of, as there was when I was at my most prolific.

      I’m going to have to follow your example and do the technology-fast. Because I have a full-time job as an editor (remote, which means sitting in my own home at my own desk), I’m on the computer all day long. And because I live alone, email and FB are the extent of my interaction with other people most days. I think if I took a break from social media (and TV—Netflix, Amazon Prime, binge watching) for a while, it would not only be a detox, but it would go a long way in pushing me outside the house to start building a new face-to-face community here in my new city.

      Like

  5. Wednesday, September 5, 2018 11:05 pm

    I started writing in 1983 after finishing my first adult sized book and realizing that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Well, life is far more complicated than that. My mother was profoundly mentally ill so I was pushed into the care of my grandmother who was also profoundly mentally ill. I was in a terribly unstable world and kept “safe” but never really safe enough and mostly just ignored. Writing for me was a way to create a world I’d rather be in, a way to make more real the fantasy world I’d lived in for most of my life. I still have most of those works and read over them now and then. I dropped writing for a long time and then took it back up when I moved back home to be a caregiver for my mother full time. Basically, I was to cook and clean. I wrote to have somewhere to put what I was feeling and learned over time how to shape characters and all of that jazz. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t depressed. I do remember when the suicidal thoughts started. That was 7th grade. I don’t remember a time when my life wasn’t chaos – except for now. My life is so much improved but then I am 35 years older. For myself I find that depression makes me write more but when I was caring for my mother while she had dementia and was completely worn out and beyond exhaustion, I couldn’t write much then. Because writing is work. It’s hard work sometimes to live both your life and the lives of all your characters and I would wear myself out trying to get it all on paper. I have a load of books I’ve written that I add to on occasion and I do a lot of editing in preparation for when I feel I’m ready to pursue publication. For myself, the darkest times of life was when I was most prolific. And the writing always helped me to take my emotions which I couldn’t always express in any other way and make them useful to me. When I get down now, I can turn to an old “friend”, something I’ve written before, and read through it and live vicariously. I’m amazed sometimes that I wrote that and on occasion I’ll remember when and what prompted me to include this or that. But mostly, there’s no clues to when or why I wrote or came up with something unless I made notes that I then dated. I guess for me, depression was always my prompting. The low places of life was when I wrote the most. When life gets better and I’m able to rent movies, buy books, and go to the craft store, then I write a lot less because I’ve got other things to do! But then writing for me was less about sharing it with others and more about shaping the horrible depression into something that would be useful. I won’t know til I’m published whether or not my writing touches anything for anyone else the way it does for me.

    Like

    • Thursday, September 6, 2018 4:58 pm

      Windy, thanks so much for sharing this! It always amazes me to know what other people go through that I don’t know if I’d be able to deal with.

      You wrote: “… writing for me was less about sharing it with others and more about shaping the horrible depression into something that would be useful.”

      It’s funny you should mention this. Part of what threw me into that first major depression was that I had been majoring in Creative Writing, but the only thing I learned from the very caustic environment and feedback of the two actual CW courses I too was that I never wanted anyone else to read my writing ever again. So it was very much me writing for me and, subconsciously, using it to bolster my mental status.

      You’ve given me a great reminder of something I’ve been telling myself for the last few years. I’ll always be a writer. But I need to remember to write for me, first, and then let whether or not I ever get published again take care of itself later.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sunday, September 9, 2018 12:49 am

        Yes, I took a course too on writing (Children’s stories) and I remember a story I wrote where a little girl from a broken home is abandoned at a theater by her father and she calls her mom who can’t leave work and is told to catch the bus. On the bus, she sees a friend and her mom who are friends there to greet her, an unexpected blessing. My teacher was over the moon at this horrifying act of childhood trauma inducing writing and I had to stop the class because sadly my awareness is there are lots of children who don’t get storybook endings and the constant picking apart of the grammar and punctuation and all of that was just idiocy. Some of the most popular books ever written had glaring errors (cue the sparkly vampires) on every page and yet people ate it up because it told them things they wanted to hear. Writing is about communicating and so long as we edit the message for appearance and not content, writing will not touch our soul. I need my writing to touch my soul and sometimes my writing is not meant for others. I learned that lesson too. I still have that story of the little girl. I loved it.

        Like

  6. Mary A. Manson permalink
    Thursday, September 6, 2018 2:23 pm

    Just read your blog for the first time and I loved it! I suffer from clinical depression (from 19/20 years of age) exacerbated by several autoimmune diseases. Please keep writing as I will keep following and look forward to your next post.

    Like

    • Thursday, September 6, 2018 5:08 pm

      Mary, it’s so interesting that you mentioned also having autoimmune problems. Around the same time that I had that first major episode, I had my first major psoriasis breakout. And while it’s not considered a true autoimmune disorder, it does share some of the same traits. And, coinciding when this most recent bout of major depression, I had another major psoriasis outbreak (plantar-palmar this time, covering the soles of my feet and palms of my hands with excruciatingly painful skin lesions). And as you know, when you’re in the middle of a full-blown outbreak of any kind of condition, being creative goes out the window when it’s all you can do to get through the day!

      They put me on Embrel injections (immunosuppressor) first—and all that happened with that was that I was sick all the time. I demanded to be put on Otezla… and after three years of dealing with it, it was nearly gone within a month and hasn’t come back in the two and a half years since. But one of the side effects of Otezla (which I took for a full year) is increased symptoms of depression.

      I hope you’re at a good point in your health, both physical and mental!

      Like

  7. Sherrinda permalink
    Thursday, September 6, 2018 3:26 pm

    Love this post, friend. I, too, battle depression/anxiety. I’ve been on a low dose medicine for 10 years. It’s weird how you can still feel down when on medicine. I’m struggling with my second novel, sometimes not wanting to write. I question myself, my drive, my sanity all the time. I love to write, but when it becomes something I have to do, I don’t want to do it anymore. I pray we get to a place where it’s fun again. (((hugs)))

    Like

    • Thursday, September 6, 2018 5:11 pm

      I just asked my doctor to increase my dosage, because I’ve been noticing myself being more and more apathetic about everything, sleeping more, having more headaches, as well as having a higher incidence of “anxiety waves”—they’re brief, not tied to anything I can identify, and they’re gone within a minute or two. She increased it by 10mg.

      I’m hoping that as soon as the weather starts cooling off, that will help, too, because I also have (self-diagnosed) seasonal affective disorder, in which the summer weather/heat affects me the way others are affected by winter.

      You wrote: “…when it becomes something I have to do, I don’t want to do it anymore.”

      This is me, exactly, with just about everything in my life!

      Like

  8. taylorsl83 permalink
    Thursday, September 6, 2018 3:59 pm

    Thank you for sharing this! Alas, I just wrote a long post, sharing about my own depression and writing etc but when I hit post everything went wrong and it deleted itself. Oh well, here’s the short (I hope lol) version!
    I experienced my first two major bouts with depression when I was 17 and 18, an exact year apart both lasting for roughly 3 weeks. Since then it’s been mainly mild, manifesting mainly as if my moods get sneak attacked by a tank and I fall into a deep black hole of despair and struggle to claw my way out of it back into the mental sunshine…sometimes the only thing that gets me out is waking up the next morning with a fresh start. This sounds horrible and it is but only happens a few times a month at most.
    Until last summer when I had my 3rd major depressive episode (lasted at least 6 weeks) and also experienced “annihilative” thoughts (‘everyone’s better off without me”, “no one would miss me”, etc.). My interest in reading really tanked last year, whereas before I would lose myself in books and ever since it’s been a struggle to enjoy reading much less wanting to write! Once I start a book I tend to devour it and realize how much I still love reading but having to actually select and start a book is like climbing Everest every single time.
    Since last summer I’ve been trying to practice self-care which is extremely helpful but would be more so if I did it on an almost daily basis. My youngest started kindergarten this year and I plan to take until the New Year at the earliest before going back to some form of day job so I’m hoping to incorporating self-care/me-time on a 5/7 basis.
    I love to write but sometimes I go for years without writing! It’s been two years since I last wrote anything but I was recently inspired with an idea that I initially thought was going to be yet another plot revamp for the character’s I’ve been trying to write a story for for the last 14 years (the characters and I have been very stubborn! lol) but as I still love the plot revamp I did for them last year I’ve decided to finally set them aside for now and attempt an entirely new story and characters. I plan on revisiting your NaNoWriMo Prep blog posts to help me get ready and once I feel I’m ready I’ll start writing (I plan to do NaNo but hoping to start writing sooner). I recently saw an anonymous quote that really spoke to me: “If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” 🙂

    Like

    • Thursday, September 6, 2018 5:21 pm

      You wrote: “…’annihilative’ thoughts (‘everyone’s better off without me,’ ‘no one would miss me,’ etc.).”

      I think this is something that isn’t really recognized when people (even professionals) talk about depression. When I first went in to talk to my doctor about getting on to an antidepressant five or six years ago, it took me a while to convince her that I wasn’t suicidal. I just thought everything would be better if I didn’t exist anymore. I see all these ads on TV for different treatments and think, That’s not my depression. They seem to focus more on “feeling sad” or “suicidal thoughts or actions.” For me, depression is a complete loss of emotions, interest, motivation, all the way up (down) to the desire to just not exist.

      Do you mind sharing some of what you do for self-care?

      I don’t think I’m going to try to do NaNo this year—again, for me, “being creative” is more helpful to me at this point than “writing.” And I also have committed to a bunch of hand-crafted gifts for Christmas this year, so that’s going to take up a lot of my free time for the next few months. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • taylorsl83 permalink
        Saturday, September 8, 2018 1:01 am

        I agree that it’s not something that is really recognized – I totally didn’t feel suicidal or self-harming, just that I was completely unimportant to everything and everyone around me and therefore utterly unnecessary.
        And yes, I also feel like those ads often aren’t showing MY depression. I do experience sadness but like depths of despair sadness and it builds and spirals out of control and I will have crying jags (but I’m very private and intensely dislike crying in front of even my husband) but I lose all interest in things I normally do and have zero motivation. I tend to want to be an ostrich and bury my head in the sand so that I can’t see that the carpets need vacuuming or I’m not doing any of the decluttering I had planned etc. I became almost lethargic and could basically sleep around the clock if it weren’t for having a young child that makes that impossible.

        My self-care at this point is pretty basic. I take me time (not daily as I’d like but as much as possible) by curling up with a book and a cup of tea, I take a relaxing bath (this one is a bit of struggle for me as I have a tendency to want to get in and out as fast as possible but I find the longer I stay in the more refreshed I feel afterward), I get enough sleep and if I have a bad night I will often get my husband or my teenage daughter to watch my youngest while I go and take an 60-90 minute nap. I also find I gradually do better and better if I do my daily devotional (which I’m very erratic with honestly) and this gives me the best result when I do it in the morning. And I’ve recently restarted a lifestyle diet that puts my health first as it’s very healthy and results in weight loss (which also meets an emotional need of mine to stop hating my body).
        Just that kind of stuff really. I’m hoping to add in a daily walk/exercise (nothing super exerting) but winter IS coming here so this one may get difficult. I also want to start playing piano again, it’s been so long I’m terribly rusty. I also want to write (or at least work on character/idea/world building) daily, even if it’s only a paragraph I’ll call it a win. I am also in the process of setting up a bullet journal and one of the things I plan to do in it is track my daily moods and I’m adding in a ‘trigger’ tracker so I can see where I tend to ‘lose it’ etc.

        I’m attempting NaNo this year only because next year I may be working a full-time job in addition to my kids being in school whereas this year I will be utterly free, for at least 6 hours of everyday, to write. But I’m not sure I’m “in it to win it” though I would like to hit that 50,000 word count goal for the first time ever but I’m hoping to start writing in October to take some pressure off of that too. 🙂

        Like

  9. Sunday, September 9, 2018 2:53 pm

    HI Kaye, Yes, I struggle with depression all the time. Seems to be my normal these days. Thanks for your brave and important post. I did a post recently on my blog too. You can check it out here: http://lanaayers.com/blog/index.php/2018/08/31/flailing-in-the-abyss/
    Your approach of not putting pressure on yourself and embracing creativity sounds very healthy. May you live your passions and find new joys.

    Like

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