On Writing and Depression

I write because I’m depressed.

It’s not the only reason I write. It isn’t even the main reason. It is, however, a big motivator behind the hours I spend banging away on a keyboard.

I almost hesitate to say this. I’ve always hated the way people glamorize the concept of a tortured artist, and there are plenty of people out there over-romanticizing the creative process. It’s all artist’s temperament this and keeping the demons at bay that. It’s an exercise in getting excited about all the wrong things.

But it’s true. For the last year or so, writing has been one of my favorite anti-depressants.

To make a long story short, I put off getting help for depression for a good two and a half years, mostly because my symptoms were relatively mild. I wasn’t suicidal. I never had a day when I couldn’t pull myself out of bed. Heck, I was a straight A student, and I had a group of friends I spent time with regularly. I figured until something truly dramatic happened, I didn’t need help. In fact, the very idea of finding help felt wrong to me. Not unnecessary, but actually wrong. Like going to a counselor would mean I was just looking for an excuse, when what I needed was to man up and get over the inconsequential baggage I had.

My biggest fear wasn’t that I was depressed. It was that I wasn’t.

And so for two and a half years, I didn’t get help.

To make a short story shorter, a friend finally convinced me to take advantage of the free counseling my college offered its students. I hated it. Depression is difficult to talk about, so every session felt like ripping a scab off a wound and poking around inside. I was relieved to learn I really was depressed – that there was a medical, chemical reason behind the way I’d been feeling – but now that I had to dig around in that depression, it felt like I was moving backwards. It felt like I was getting worse.

I hit the turning point after I took a break from counseling. I went home for Christmas that year, and in that break from my weekly scab-ripping, I was finally able to process everything I’d talked about on that couch. All the little things I’d learned about myself and about depression finally fell into place.

I didn’t suddenly “get better” in that moment. I still haven’t “gotten better,” but I’m leaps and bounds ahead of where I was. Part of that has come from learning about myself and what makes me tick.

And that’s where the writing comes in.

I’ve been fortunate enough that I haven’t needed medication to control my depression, but I still need to make conscious decisions about what I do with my time and thought life. About a year ago, I learned one of the best ways to keep the darker days away was to have a nice, productive writing day. If I could make progress on some project or another, it put me in a better frame of mind and made me less likely to succumb to depression. I’ve also learned the value of a good workout and a fish dinner, but writing remains my favorite anti-depressant.

I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this. As I mentioned, depression is difficult for me to talk about. That being said, I want to talk about it. May is Mental Health Month, and one of the big pushes is to raise awareness to mental health issues. I’m usually pretty cynical toward awareness programs, but with mental health, I feel like awareness is something that’s still badly needed. Most of the counterproductive or downright hurtful things I’ve heard said about mental health come from people who mean well but just don’t understand what it’s like.

So this has been my addition to the awareness. If you know someone who struggles with mental health, I’d encourage you to talk to them about it. Ask them for their story. Ask them what it feels like. It might not make perfect sense, because you’re dealing with someone whose brain literally works differently from yours. But the more you know, the more you can help.

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4 thoughts on “On Writing and Depression

  1. It’s true that a lot of people needs to understand it. To be fair I think it’s better nowadays compared to a decade ago where most people think depression is not real, there’s quite a number of people who acknowledge it now.

    • You’re definitely right on that one. I will say that since I run in a lot of conservative Christian circles, I see a lot more “pray it away” and “don’t you realize what Jesus did for you??” type attitudes. But even that crowd is coming around more and more. Thanks for your comment!

  2. As someone who is also a writer and suffers from anxiety and depression I can totally relate to a lot of this. I had trouble admitting my depression to others, and felt I was making it up. I refused to get help because I just needed to “suck it up”. But that’s half due to me refusing to acknowledge it and half the stigma attached that made me afraid. Writing has always been easier for me when I’m down or depressed. And lately I have the inverse problem. I try and write music (something I use to do all the time) and can’t because I’m in a happier stage in my life. It makes me wonder if I’, even able to write on a happy mindset. But remember you are not alone in your fight.

    I run a blog on mental illness called “Dear Hope”, join the community here: wemustbebroken.com

    • Thanks for your comment!

      It’s interesting – I’m actually the reverse of you when it comes to creativity. When I’m depressed, I can’t write. For me, writing tends to be preventative. I know a lot of people can do the “open a vein and bleed on the page” thing, but depression has always shut me down creatively.

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