Writing With Depression: What You Don't See
There are some jobs where your success depends entirely on your current mental and emotional state– writing is one of them.
As writers, we pour our heart and soul into every piece. Our craft requires us to weave intentions, desires, fears, hopes, dreams, and anxieties from nothing into characters our readers can relate to. We create tragic backstories and narrate trauma in detail; knowingly put fictional people into dangerous situations, with no intention of setting them free; create a love story so profound, you forget it doesn't exist.
But with every story we tell, there is an internal battle to keep our own emotions at bay. We can't allow our feelings to invade the plot at risk of writing a diary instead of a novel or reincarnating ourselves into every character. So how do we write when we're overrun with emotion? Sometimes...we just can't.
Professional writers don't always tell you that there are moments in your life when you cannot physically write at all, and not because you don't want to. Certain life events and struggles can consume all of your creative energy. These are the times when not even an extra cup of coffee or a good night's sleep can pull you back.
For me, depression kills my writing mojo. It invades my mind suppressing all motivation I had to write, no matter how inspired I felt before it hit. Sometimes it comes without any warning, staying for as long as it feels it needs to. This last time around, depression hit hard and fierce.
Depressing Writing Vs. Writing When Depressed
I've experienced periods of depression on and off throughout my life. Some episodes were tied to hormones knocked out of whack by pregnancy and babies and everything in between. Others were ignited by matters of the heart or trouble with friendships. I won't go into what exactly sunk me into this most recent period, but I will tell you it was the most immobilizing experience I've had to date.
My creative writing pieces (aside from my children's books) tend to be on the darker side. This is the part of my personality I hide from acquaintances and people I only engage with on a surface level (I'm a Sun Scorpio...if that explains anything). Some say this type of writing borders on the line of depressing nonsense, a waste of time, or an attempt to cause conflict where there is none. I think a story without trauma and pain is boring, particularly unrealistic in a world like today. So, I write what I like to read: a tale without the guarantee of a happy ending.
I know what you're thinking: No wonder you have depression...you write about depressing topics. That's not exactly how it works.
Writing about depressing events and characters at their wit's ends does not spark depression in my own life- it's what I love. True, it may cause me to delve deeper into the darker sectors of my life or to look at the world with the occasional pessimistic eye. But overall, I'm most happy when I'm writing, regardless of the topic—tragic, gory, or psychologically whacked. This goes to say that writing about depressing events and experiencing depression are not always linked when it comes to creatives.
Feeling depressed for a writer (as opposed to writing about depressed characters) feels like an impenetrable fog in the mind. In the past, I've been able to somewhat make use of my depressive periods: free writing poetry, character building for current stories, bonding with writer friends, adding a whole new level of strength to my relationships for support. But this time around was different, for my body had been taken over by the fog as well.
There was no inspiration or ideas banging on the walls of my mind, dying to get out. There was no urge to pick up a pen, look at a screen, or even glance at a book. I spilled a bit upon friends in texts, but I didn't want to see anyone. My body felt numb and detached, and the guilt of feeling like a shadow of a person, failing to keep up with my kids, my home, the expectations and obligations of everyday life...it was too much.
Now, remember that I am both a creative writer and a freelance writer professionally. Every penny I contribute is a result of my words. So when there are no words to write, the act of working in the smallest capacity is maddening. Because so many of us writers are empaths, we feel useless when we are unable to do our passion, our job. Pointless. What the heck am I here for anyway?
It may sound dramatic, but think of it like this:
Let's say you own a store that sells goods, and you suddenly run out– of everything. You call your suppliers, but nobody answers. You drive to your suppliers, but the doors are locked. You search for products wherever you can, but every place you turn to you come up empty. You think "I'll make my own," but you can't find any materials.
Your customers are waiting at your door, pounding and screaming for goods that you can't provide. And aside from the clothes off your back and the shoes at your feet, there is nothing you can give them unless you break the store apart, piece by piece: the counters, the register, the beams in the ceiling, the posts in the wall, the tile, the molding, the door, the knobs the hinges...every last bolt and screw.
But it's not what your customers came for. It's not what they asked for. They'll take what you give because it's offered, leaving you hallowed from their critiques. Unkind words that insult your life's work as a store owner, business over, a person– and these critiques are not even of items you would have ever put your brand upon given the choice.
For writers who are unable to write, this is it. Our creative stores are empty. Our agents and publishers, our audience and fans, our family who financially depend on us, and our bosses we write for expect words. We are expecting words. But nothing we produce in these periods will ever be worthy enough to put our names on. So we just don't, and consequences follow.
Coming To The Surface
Eventually, with a little forced help from friends and family, I started to come back. I recognized some of my triggers and found peace among the dark thoughts. I found a new desire to become more spiritual, a journey I'm still unsure about but excited by. I've connected more with my writing tribe and found new friends who ebb and flow on the same frequency. It's been an unforgettable experience.
I'm thrilled to have my mind back and to allow the words within me to flow more freely and confidently than before. Writing blog posts about these personal topics for the world to see can be a bit daunting, making you second guess everything you say in fear that it will come back and bite you when the time is right. But being honest with myself, my goals, and my intentions is all a part of the process. Positive things are manifesting if I can keep myself on track.
Despite what I've just pulled myself out of, my writing will probably be no happier than it was before. Thanks for hanging in there with me. You mean the world.