Saturday, March 13, 2010
Staying Mentally Fit: Writers and Depression
Writers seem to live in states of anticipation and dejection, interspersed with small moments of happiness. It’s the whole submit, rejection or acceptance cycle the publishing world casts on us and we accept, along with the title of “writer” and the reality of such a solitary pursuit.
It’s normal to be down for a day or two after a rejection or a hard-drive crash, but what about the writers who don’t seem to bounce back? Who lose their creative edge? Who just want to sleep? There are many aspects of mental health, but I want to focus on depression because it is so common and seems to affect so many of us. Depression is considered a “stress related disease” and varies from mild cases of “the blues” to full-blown, clinical depression. I was amazed at the number of writers who responded to my questions about their experiences. Both Christian and non-Christian writers responded, reminding me that Christians are as subject to bouts of sadness as anyone else. Just because we have hope, we don’t necessarily have happiness.
“Sadness is a big part of life and an integral part of joy. The Scriptures deal much more with the concept of joy than of happiness. Joy encompasses everything on our journey - the good and the bad. Joy is being one with Christ, experiencing his sufferings and participating in his glory and goodness.” --JL Young
Depression affects writers and their creativity in a variety of ways. I was surprised by the number of writers who revealed that negative feelings actually had a positive impact on their writing. E.A. Blackwell reports: “Maybe this is strange, but I actually find that being depressed or upset usually fuels my writing. There is, however, a line between ‘depressed and writing well’ and ‘depressed and wanting to throw oneself off a bridge.’ The latter is obviously counterproductive.” Other writers explain that some of their best scenes come from feelings of angst or despair, and the writing becomes therapeutic.
But for every writer who uses their discomfort to aid their work, there are two who feel apathetic, uninterested in working during these times. They find themselves unable to write, or if they do the work lacks emotion. Every project feels like a “mammoth task” looming on the horizon, and their prayer life suffers as well.
If you are experiencing blue feelings or ‘bouts of funk,’ as one writer described, home relaxation and pampering techniques might work. Try a new form of exercise, spend time outdoors, watch your diet, get a massage, get more sleep, visit a new church, pray in a new place, read something new, take up golf or martial arts, try aromatherapy –anything to add interest to your regular routine.
Writer Kevin Hill recommends the following:
“Learn to be thankful to God. At first force yourself to thank God out loud for at least 10 things everyday. Read the uplifting psalms out loud (Faith comes from hearing and hearing the word of God!) and when you need to "Encourage your soul." There may be time when there is no one else to encourage you. Force your self to pray and focus totally on Jesus Christ, not your problems.
Go and find someone more depressed than you and pray for them, encourage them and help them. This is hard to do but well worth it. God often sorts you out as you minister to another person. Get rid of the fairy tale notion that being a Christian is all wonderful and a bed of roses. There will be pains and troubles but don’t lose heart because Jesus has overcome the world!”
What if These Things Don’t Work?
So how does one know when it’s time to worry and seek help? If you lose interest in socializing and isolate yourself, if your sleeping patterns change or you wake early for no reason, you lose your ability to concentrate or focus, you experience feelings of hopelessness or feel a need to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, it’s time to seek help. Some writers put off treatment over fears that they will lose their creativity, especially if medication is recommended. Unfortunately they often become more depressed and don’t write anyway.
So please, if you believe you are facing more than ‘the blues,’ seek help and seek God—don’t suffer in silence.
Nikki Hootman summed it up well: ”How do I get over it? I don't. It's reality. What I do is learn to trust in God. I don't know everything, and I'm not big enough that I will ever understand the whys of the world. But as God asked Job, was he there when the world began? Was I? No. I turn to the bible and I take comfort in the fact that others have asked the same hard questions. . . Then when I get frustrated and depressed I can think, ‘Maybe I can't save the world, but I've done what I can. And I know the person who CAN save the world-- and already has.’”
Can't make decisions
Waking in the early morning
Wanting to cry
Lack of energy
Loss of appetite
Drinking too much
Eating too much
Loss of interest in sex
Not caring about your appearance
Feeling you can't be bothered
Suffering from poor self esteem
Lack of self confidence
Feeling isolated or lonely
Lacking purpose in your life
Links of Interest:
Writers and Depression:
Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression (Hardcover)
by Nell Casey (Editor)
IVillageDepression & Bipolar Center
Creativity and Depression
Famous Writers with Bipolar Disorders
writers and Depression
Understanding depression and its many causes