Writing with Depression

If you have read any of my other blog posts, you know that I talk a lot about the consistency of writing, whether you write every day, or three times a week, or once a week, as long as you’re consistent with your writing practice. Consistency keeps you mentally focused on the story you are writing. But there are times with writing consistently isn’t possible.

I’m not talking about when the kids or work get demanding, or when other life stresses get in the way. I’m talking about those dark moments of depression where you can’t think  no matter how much time you give yourself, when getting out of bed takes all the energy you have, if you can get out of bed at all. At times like these, writing is the last thing we can do and yet we want to and so we get down on ourselves for not writing, adding to our already dark thoughts that we’re no good, that no one cares.

According to Psychiatrist and Neuroscientist Nancy C. Andreasen, M.D., Ph.D, and her book, The Creative Brain, those of us with creative inclinations experience higher rates of depression. A lot of my writer friends live with it, as I do. 

Everyone’s experience with depression is different and so is the means of dealing with it. I can, and will, only speak from my own experience. I know what has worked for me and what hasn’t. As with everything I teach and coach, take what I say here as a jumping off point. If it resonates with you, run with it. If it sparks an idea for you that takes you in a different direction, go with it. 

First and foremost, if you are experiencing depression, you are not alone, you are loved, you are of value. Ask for help, from family, friends, colleagues, your doctor.

Living with depression isn’t easy. I find it frustrating when I see other creatives getting so much done and I know it is because they don’t have depression. And just so we’re clear, I know, because I know them personally, and we’ve talked about it. It’s frustrating to me because I wish I could be just as productive. It’s frustrating because on those days when I feel good, I push myself to do more than I should, which makes the bad times even darker and me more useless than before. 

Over the years I have learned that I need to be gentle with myself. I can’t do as much as people who don’t have it. I have also learned not to push myself on the good days so that i don’t crash as hard.

How I do it, isn’t going to work for everyone. Again this is my experience. Take what is most helpful to you. I am not perfect in the management of my depression, but I am getting better at it every day.

I had depression for years before I knew what it was. I finally asked for help from my doctor. I am on anti-depressants. It took some time to figure out the right dosage, and after years of being on the same medication, they stopped working. I made the switch to something so much better. But during that time, I’d had so many days when I couldn’t do anything, so on the good days, I pushed myself to do everything possible, and crashing. I asked my doctor about it, and she was the one who told me about feeling like I needed to make up for those bad days which caused me to expend too much energy, energy I didn’t actually have to expend, which caused the crashes. This has been so beautifully illustrated in Spoon Theory. If you haven’t already, please read The Spoon Theory written by Christine Miserandino. While it’s about living with chronic pain, it relates strongly to living with depression. And essentially, it illustrates that we have only so much energy to give every day. Those of us with depression or other chronic illnesses, have less energy to give, so we need to be more mindful of how we use it. 

I need to be mindful of how much energy I use on the good days, so that I’m not using borrowed energy. That means I don’t push myself as hard to do everything possible, on those good days. To do that, I need to acknowledge that I just can’t do as much as everyone else, that I haven’t lost time that needs to be made up for. 

Believe it or not, writing consistently, helps conserve my energy. For me, it means I don’t feel as behind in my writing. But I also know that on those really bad days, it is OK if I only write a few words, if I can write at all. 

On those days that I can’t write, I accept it. Because getting up that day to look after Ebby (my precious dog)  is more important than anything. 

I acknowledge where the darkness is coming from. Knowing that those dark days are because of my depression help me to remember this isn’t forever. 

Sometimes I have to wait them out, but there are also things I can do to help lift the darkness.

My anti-depressants do a lot to reduce the number of dark days I have, and even when I have them, they are not nearly so bad.

I’m not going to say go for a walk. I know that is the general advice, and it is probably good advice. But when I’m having those dark days, if I could go for a walk, I would, but I can’t, so don’t tell me to go for one. What that advice really is about, though, is looking after your basic health and well-being. 

Getting up and looking after Ebby is a big one for me. She needs me and it helps to get me thinking about something other than myself. But also just getting up is a good thing. Having a shower and brushing my teeth also help. I know sometimes even that can be too difficult for some people, so anything close to those activities are good steps to take.

I try to do one thing each day, that will help move me forward, out of the dark days. Just one action to give me the feeling of having accomplished something. Maybe it’s getting up, maybe it’s showering, maybe it’s reading a chapter, maybe it’s writing a sentence. Just one thing is all I require of myself. On those good days, of course, I expect that one thing to be writing a scene or a chapter or editing a number of pages, but I don’t expect to have written and read, and cleaned the house and started a short story, and… Just one thing each day. 

If you have depression, if you are experiencing that darkness, be kind to yourself. Don’t push yourself. You will write when you are ready. If it helps you feel better, start with a few words or sentences. If it doesn’t, that’s OK. Do just one thing that will make you feel better, because you are loved and you have so much to offer the world.

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