Writers & Depression: Battling the Holiday Blues

With the holidays here also arrives an increase in depression for many people. Writers? Depressed?

Sylvia Plath

We’ve all heard about it.  Creative genius and depression seem to go hand in hand with many. I know. I suffered depression for many years. And the holidays come with their own heavy, gray veil to be pushed aside.

We know them. Writers who committed suicide.

Sylvia Plath. Virginia Woolf. Anne Sexton. Hunter S. Thompson. Ernest Hemingway.

Why? In the case of Hemingway 4 other immediate family members also committed suicide. Was it then a hereditary disease? Read a fascinating interview with Hemingway in the Paris Review by George Plimpton to peek inside his mind as a writer.

When asked what kind of training a writer needed Hemingway responded with… “Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.”

Harsh words. We don’t need the hanging though. We lash ourselves enough as writers. Genes aren’t everything though.

Look at the day in the life of a writer….
Alone. With your own thoughts. Inside. Sitting for long periods. Writing drivel one day, genius the next. On a roller coaster of doubts about self worth tied to your work. It is personal, this business of writing. Waiting for validation you are any good. For years. And years. And years.

I’m adopted and recently found out my natural father killed himself. He didn’t die by car accident as I had been told. The “car accident” included plugging up the tail pipe to suffocate by carbon monoxide parked outside a church. This scares me. Is there such a thing as a suicide gene? Did Hemingway have it? Will my son have it?

I don’t know. But I have to believe we can overcome it. I hope.

Health magazine lists writers as one of the top 10 professions to have depression. This may be true, but I also think we are living in a time where we  have the best chance of not being depressed as writers.

Why do I think this?

Because we are in a time now where we are connected to one another more. As authors today we hear that it’s critical to have an author platform. We need to blog, be on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, attend writer conferences. We are now not so alone in our writer world. We are connected. And I have found even online interactions lead to in-person meet-ups, and that’s where we can find the camaraderie that can keep the blues away. Some times. Not always.

Maybe with our connecting more the writer depression rate will go down. Maybe we’ll be replaced on the top 10 jobs to be depressed with plumbers? They work alone in dark places too, right?

I fed into the belief for years that if I let go of my depression I would be letting go of my creativity. In discovering the opposite my writing has flourished. I am the most content in years and the most productive in my writing. I finished my first book and a second and a third and starting a fourth. All sorrow-sober.  That’s in a two year span, while working part time as a freelancer and managing a family.

My mom, was not the creative type nor could she understand my sadness. She was tough Depression-era farm girl stock. She would say “Just get up and go do something!” That was her fix. Simple but it works for me now. When I find sorrow weighing me down for no reason I do just that. I get up and leave it behind me. It usually works. I know I have too much at stake to lose.

If depressions reigns its ugly head I push it away with positive things. I don’t want that dragon to come back. Its fire only destroys now, it doesn’t breathe life as I once thought.

My Depression Ward Off List
Get outside every day.
Exercise every other day at least.
Connect with people. Even if you don’t feel like it. A 5 minute chat with an old friend can do amazing things to the brain.
Do something. Anything. Go to a new store. Drive to a park and walk. Cook!
Write a list of all the good things in your life and re-visit it regularly.
Get off the computer and do something physical with a friend or family member – play a board game, go biking.
Wait. It will pass, hopefully.
Do NOT feed the dragon.  Dragons hurt us.

I know sometimes these actions need to be forced. I know some people need medication to help them through. Having a battle plan helps.

As a writer, do you battle depression or just get the holiday blues? How do you fight it off?

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13 Comments

Filed under Inspirational, Writing Resources

13 responses to “Writers & Depression: Battling the Holiday Blues

  1. Donna, I work from home as an engineering consultant, and do all of my art from here as well. It’s too easy to let the entire day pass by without even noticing. Sometimes I go out to get the mail in the late afternoon, and suddenly notice that that’s the first time I’ve actually felt a warm breeze or the day’s cold temps. Or the sun directly on my skin!

    It all feels so unnatural, until I force myself to stay outside for more than a few minutes. When I force (there’s that word again) myself to take a morning walk, my body screams in protest, preferring the c0mfort of the house, but once I get going, my mind comes alive again.

    At some point during the walk, the sensory overload settles into a great combination of creative stimulation and a recharged relaxation. Then I realize that I could NEVER find that by staying indoors and just trying harder. I could never experience in front of a computer screen, no matter how motivated I am to write or make art in other forms.

    Sad thing is, that lesson is too easily forgotten.

    Thanks for this post!

    All the best,
    Todd

    • Todd, thanks for stopping by and appreciate your comments. I agree too, that many of my ideas come when I am outside walking or biking. If I didnt do that I would be missing out on many things to create in my stories to make them better, to have them evolve into something more meaningful. And yes, while I defy leaving my computer to do this I must force myself to. And you are right, the lesson is easily forgotten until we do it again – its like finding a nice surprise all over again. A new gift.

      • Sorry to monopolize this blog post, but I thought of something else…

        I just read about an actor who is quitting a good role because of the emotional toll it’s taking on him. Too many dark parts. I understand how actors can need breaks because of living inside the head of a character in order to prepare for a role.

        It may be even more intense for writers, especially for dark subjects. From the resarch in prep for the writing, the creating of the work, to the editing of it, the process is intense and exhausting even for a light subject, let alone the subject of depression, or a character who struggles with it.

        Heck, it even happens in so-called “comic books”. Lee Bermejo, the creator of The Joker (a brutally dark graphic novel) said he needed a break from the dystopian writing and artwork before starting his next project, because to create the work, he was required to live inside the head of a psychopath.

        Writers live inside the mind of the subject, even for non-fiction work. The research often borders on obsession. And the entire creative process is done in almost absolute isolation. Society locks people away to punish and treat them. Writers call it going to work!

      • Todd, more good points! We are similar to actors preparing for a role in our writing. Sadly, this ends in tragedy for them too – look at Heath Ledger. He so lived inside his character’s mind, he was The Joker and said how deeply he was affected by it. He couldnt sleep, hence the mix of pills he took to deal with it leading to his untimely death. Our characters can live quite real beside us, more so than the real people in our lives. It can affect our relationships – and I think that is a topic for another post!

  2. Great analysis Donna. I find that I like to force that grayness into my characters and the stories instead. It becomes fuel for the work and disconnected from myself. Author platforms are integral nowadays and certainly more for the author to connect with others than just the marketing angle. Sometimes loved ones really don’t get it but those you know in the ‘writer-sphere’ completely get it. Especially if you’re in the same genre or style. It’s that support that keeps everyone afloat.

    • I agree, PW, that having a writer community around us helps…as yes, our non-writer folk (wuggles?:) just don’t understand what we go through. You bring up a good point too, supporting each other in the same genre. A horror writer might have different issues to deal with in their writing, and craft, than a romance writer. And these issues can strain us in different ways. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Excellent post, Donna. I’ve dealt with depression for years and only really admitted it a couple of years ago when I had a car accident and then hit rock bottom. Medication helps, but there are still so many thoughts running through my head, so many worries about life, writing, etc. As you said, it helps tremendously just to be connected to other writers who understand what I’m feeling.

    And I love your list to ward of depression. I think the holidays make it worse because it’s another year gone by and “what have I accomplished” thing. Hopefully all of us will have more positives than negatives in that column this year.

    • Stacy, you make a good point – and now I am wondering if writers worry more than other people and if so, why? Is it because our brains are always running full tilt ahead with ideas we cant catch up to. I’m so sorry to hear of your car accident, but I understand how having a traumatic event like that triggers self-awareness as I have had similar experiences.

      And a note on social media connections, I’m glad I met you in cyber-world 😉

  4. It seems like so many people today suffer from depression. I think job-related stress and unrealistic life expectations have a lot to do with it. Most folks nowadays are stuck behind a computer and everyone needs to force themselves more often to engage with the living. It’s tough. Writing is such a pensive occupation that it’s easy to get sucked into the gloom. You know you’re right about connecting with other authors. I hadn’t realized how vital it is until recently. Great post.

    • Mina, yes – the being stuck behind a computer may contribute to depression for many. I launched my own resume writing svc. years ago and worked at home in my “cubby” all day conducting business via phone and email….I got so down I had to go out and get a freelance job part time just to go to an office and be around people again. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks for this post Donna. I have depression and suicide in my family too, and I say bravo when people come out and talk about it frankly. Helps people understand it and recognise it for what it is – an illness, like cancer. As for whether it’s hereditary – who knows? But the more people who know how to get help without shame (after all, what cancer patient is ashamed to get chemo?) the better, I say.

    And I love your list to ward off depression. Except for cooking. Cooking makes me depressed. Then again, you read my blog, so you know what a great cook I am :S

    I have one to add to your list. Laugh. Laughter is the kryptonite of depression. If you’re feeling blue, rent a funny movie. Meet up with a funny friend. Read (or write) a funny blog. Laughter keeps me going when nothing else does. 🙂 Happy holidays

    • Sally, yes – laughter! that is a big one to add to the list….and laughter with loved ones is the best as it reminds us of our connection to each other. Sometimes we must force it but if we seek it out…its bounds to happen! You can replace cooking with this one!

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