Creativity In The Face Of Depression
TODAY’S BREW: Autumn Roast. Don’t tell me it’s not Autumn, you think I don’t know that?
A couple of days ago a friend sent out a public tweet asking what writers do to stay creative in the face of depression, full time jobs and being full time parents. A lot of people answered her, and fast, because it seems as though there has to be an element of downtrodden to every writer, and yet we don’t know quite how to battle it.
Except you do. Every day, and with great vigor.
I tweeted this: I KNOW A LOT OF WRITERS ARE DEPRESSED, ISOLATED, EXHAUSTED AND SOMETIMES JUST AFRAID. WE NEED EACH OTHER.
The fact that writers reach out to each other, and still pick up the pen when they can barely get off the couch for a cup of coffee is a monumental achievement of creativity, especially when they’ve already endured a seemingly endless work day, or unemployment, and trying to maintain a normal family life with the worries of day to day life on the side. Trying to stick to a writing schedule when you’re at the mercy of everyone else’s schedule first is depressing in itself. The sheer desire to write after all that is an amazing achievement.
When I worked a full time job, and let me tell you, it was extra super full time, and had children that I felt guilty not spending every waking second with, writing was the thing that I waited for in the deep heart of the night. It wasn’t hard for me to write then because I was already going on so many cylinders that adding another one wasn’t a problem. I did it. And I loved doing it. I didn’t recognize the depression I was in because I didn’t give myself time to. (This isn’t a “how to overcome” method, just what happened to me.)
*PREPARE FOR GROSS PERSONAL STORY*
In the meantime, I was sleeping for a few hours a night, crying on my way to work and throwing up when I got there from the exhaustion and missing my children. even grosser, I suffereddebilitating chronic ulcerative colitis that had me bleeding all day long. Medication wasn’t helping, and in fact at one point actually nearly killed me, hospitalizing me with a side effect of pancreatitis. (I realize I talk about drinking pretty often and that this is a primary cause of pancreatitis. The fact is that I drink not that much. Socially, maybe twice a month back then.) The point is, you don’t always see depression for what it is, and when you look back on it, you don’t really understand it anyway.
When I couldn’t take it anymore, when I was so sick that I couldn’t focus, and my boss and management staff had an intervention with me because they knew I couldn’t do it any longer, I left my job to my financial horror. It was a matter of survival at that point, and I really felt I couldn’t survive much longer away from my kids all day. That was when I decided to make a go of it doing a bit of an odd job on the side and really throwing myself into my writing, the thing I wanted to do since I was a child. The thing I went to school for. The thing that kept my mind alive when no other part of me really was.
Yes, this was a freeing feeling, but it sent me into a depression that was really hard to come out of. I still fall into it frequently. I still have consecutive days where I go through the motions, and the guilt wracks me that I just don’t want to go to the park with the kids, and I just don’t feel like getting off the couch, and I can’t seem to do much of anything but nap. The worst of it, I think, is the sudden feeling over and over in a day that you can’t not cry. Standing in Target with the kids running circles and the music and the normal people, I sometimes struggle not to cry. Doing the dishes, thinking of all the small things that seem like mountains, I cry. I cry spontaneously, and wonder how anyone sees me as a role model for anything at all. I’ll be having a great day, laughing, enjoying every minute, and I will cry. I can’t explain it, but can only think it’s because I missed having that feeling for so long when I wouldn’t let myself live these feelings, when I pushed and pushed and refused to think that I could possibly be depressed. Why, I was an optimist! Still am! I’m eternally thankful, and say so all the time! I love and am loved, and hug strangers for chrissakes!
But I’ve realized that suffering depression is a depth of emotion. That whole you can’t have light without darkness thing. It doesn’t make depression easier, but it does help me understand that I can be a happy person in the midst of depression, without being a manic depressive.
And I take great pleasure these days in feeling all of my emotions. They fuel me. Depression and anxiety, (and on my best of days I have crippling anxiety) are some of the most primal emotions I think you can have. So I own them. I don’t push them away the way I once did. Sure, I don’t love or even like them, but I don’t ignore them. The best way for me to do this, is to write.
One of my most painful depressions was last year in December. It consumed me. After weeks of not writing anything, and not wanting to get out of bed, I finally said, “Fuck this, I’m just going to sit down and write something. Just type whatever comes to mind, just do it.” And I did. I blanked my mind out, which wasn’t hard to do because nothing I was thinking was of any value anyway, and I wrote this line:
Everything reeked of sex to me.
Then I wrote another line, and another, and I had no idea where it was going, but I kept writing until I’d written a book. THE ANIMAL, which has yet to see the light of day, is one of the closest things to my heart.
So, if this is an advice blog on how to stay creative in the face of depression? I guess this is where I’m going with it.
- DON’T PLAN, JUST WRITE. You’re at your most feeling-est right now. If you plan, you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot and think your plan is a failure anyway. Depression is a time for spitting out words, a word association sort of thing, even if they don’t make sense together. You might stumble upon one image or phrase that sparks an idea that snaps you out of your depression because you’re so amped about it.
- ADMIT YOU’RE DEPRESSED. Say it out loud, to whoever you want to, but especially to those you love and if you’re me, to the people on Twitter. So, one in the same often. Denying it, like you’ve done something wrong, is cancerous. And you’ll be shocked when dozens of people say “oh my God, I thought I was alone.” Suddenly, you feel a lot better.
- BE PART OF A WRITING COMMUNITY. I hear they have these things on Facebook, but Twitter is the only place for me. To be able to drop a line any time I want and just say, “hey, anybody upset for no reason and want to write?” and get several responses? This is invaluable to me. (Try @FriNightWrites, or search these hashtags: #amwriting, #writeclub, #amediting). WE NEED EACH OTHER, WRITERS. You are not a lonely little tadpole in a big pond. You are one of many. Get out of your own head, it’s toxic in there right now.
- TAKE A WRITING BREAK. Yes, this is contradictory to what I said before, but this isn’t a play by play list! It’s ideas for fuck’s sake! You can’t get up the gumption to write? Fine. Don’t. Maybe you’re burnt out. Or maybe you’re just waiting for someone to say it’s okay not to be awesome right now. Or maybe you’re waiting for the chance to say, “What the hell do you mean, take a break? I have to write!” AND OH, LOOK. NOW YOU WANT TO WRITE. Or maybe you need a couple of days or weeks off to remind yourself that not writing sucks for you. BECAUSE YOU’RE A WRITER.
- OWN THIS FEELING AND APPLY IT WHERE NEEDED. This is what I mean. I was having a baaaad couple of days, and I felt abandoned. Totally abandoned. I pulled out the sequel to RUNNING HOME and wrote “This is the feeling of abandonment Eliza has.” She was with Nicholas, but felt alone. She felt reckless, isolated, alone. So if I felt that way, then score! It counts as research.
- STOP LOOKING WHERE THERE IS NOTHING. Stop looking for this fucking muse. I hate the muse. Your inspiration has left the building. Go to another building. You usually gain inspiration from a long walk but right now all you want to do is drive pointlessly? Drive somewhere you’ve never been. Look for inspiration in new places, because you cannot be endlessly inspired by the same goddamn thing over and over.
- TOO DEPRESSED TO DO ANY OF THESE THINGS? Then right where you’re sitting, I want you to pick up a pen and one of the candy bar wrappers you’re sitting in and describe the scene around you. “The orange blanket was so gnatty it looked like a beaten muppet. The dog curled up in it and made it smell worse. The notebook lied open, asking for attention it wasn’t going to get. The crumpled up tissues were everywhere and it humiliated me.” It doesn’t have to be gold, but it gets the ball rolling. I promise you, if all else fails you, this works EVERY SINGLE TIME. Writing is excercise for your brain, no matter what kind of writing it is.
- STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE. GET OFF YOUR ASS AND GET SOME EXCERCISE. Walking the mall may sound like climbing Mount Everest right now, so instead, do 2 jumping jacks. Do a couple of lunges as you walk to the kitchen. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth as you do this stuff. Trust me. Make a triangle with your hands, place them around your belly button and breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth, as you stand up on your tiptoes. This calms you and moves your body at once. Little things like this help, I swear to Christ.
- READ. You know reading is inspirational. So do it. Read the book that gives you comfort when you need it. Then remember how it made you feel and write one of your own.
- REMEMBER THAT WHEN WE’RE EXHAUSTED, WE ARE MOST OURSELVES. Don’t let “I’m too tired” be your excuse. This is the time when you’ll say anything, kick and claw at anyone who looks at you sideways. So write, even if it’s only a line or two that don’t make sense. Embrace the exhaustion.
I do hope this helped someone, anyone. Know this, too. And Kristen, sorry if I doth say too much. But Kristen and I talk probably 5 times a week about how depressed/tired/unmotivated/crappy we feel. Every time we get together we spend like an hour doing this. Then we get productive. Laugh about it. If you need us to do this with, reach out. You know where we are. Tweet to us, drop us a line on Facebook, or leave a comment on the blog which we check way too often. We’re here for you.
Now go write a book.