On Depression And Writing – Is There A Connection?

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On Depression And Writing

Is there a connection between depression and writing?

The diagnosis

Some years ago now, I clearly recall my doctor telling me that there was a definitive link between writers and depression.

The only problem with his link was that he had no idea at all if writers became depressed through writing, or if living with depression miraculously manufactured the circumstances to for people to start writing.

So why was I at my doctor at that time talking about mental health?

Well, to cut a long story short, within the space of six short months I had lost my parents, who both passed away very suddenly. I also lost my very best friend who died due to a long-term disease. Another friend was killed on a pedestrian crossing, and oh, just add some spice, my business failed, and I was diagnosed with cancer.

Yes, it was a very busy six months.

During my regular consultations with my doctor at that time, he also discovered from a blood test that I had suffered from an undiagnosed case of glandular fever, or mononucleosis, during the same six month period. It seems I was too busy to notice this.

So, all things considered, I had a good solid list of reasons to be feeling a bit under the weather at that time.

 

I hate the phrase, clinical depression

I dislike the word depression intensely, as, from my experience, when you have this affliction, the symptoms don’t relate at all well with the word.

Constant joint pain, muscle cramps, insomnia, headaches, fatigue, waking up feeling exhausted, difficulty with concentration, digestive problems and loss of appetite were some of the symptoms I suffered.

But during my illness, I rarely felt sad, blue, morose and never once had suicidal feelings. I didn’t feel depressed. I just felt extremely unwell. It was difficult at times to differentiate between what were genuine symptoms and what were side effects from my medication.

Then, when people around you know that you are being treated for this ill-described condition, they always ask the same pathetic question, which by itself can drive one crazy.

“Are you okay?”

The only logical reply becomes an auto-response.

“I’ll be okay.” (That’s what you want me to say, isn’t it?)

 

Back to the bit about writing

The only reason I mention all of this now is that during that tough time, and then over the following year or more of treatment for, well, let’s call it melancholia for want of a better word, I wrote like a crazy. I think I wrote six novels and thrived on the hard work. 

Was writing almost full time helpful? Well, I didn’t have much else to do, did I?

Except to prove that perhaps my doctor’s link was correct. 

That was all a long time ago now, and I can happily report that I am completely, totally and utterly normal and healthy.

Um, okay, normal may be stretching the truth a little, as I have never been good at that, so I guess I should say that I have been back to my abnormal self again for quite a few years now.

 

But …

I am left with one small problem.

In that year or so of being treated for the dreaded word, I wrote so damn well. Probably because I had little to do other than write.

But now, I have a lot of trouble getting even close to writing as well as I did back then. Of all the books I have written, three that I wrote in that year are still my best sellers.

The only solution I can see to my new problem is to make an appointment with my doctor and ask him to put me back on those awful pills, right now. I want to write another great new book!

No, there’s no link at all between writers and depression, is there?

 

You might also like to read my related article, Is There A Link Between Depression And Creativity?

 

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Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

4 thoughts on “On Depression And Writing – Is There A Connection?

  • February 26, 2019 at 8:39 pm
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    My younger son likes to point out that writers suffer mental illness at a higher rate than everyone else. I’m not sure that’s particularly true, but I haven’t necessarily determined whether that stress is the catalyst for writing or whether the story causes stress. They’re too closely interconnected for me to extract one from the other.

    Reply
  • October 17, 2018 at 11:49 am
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    I think creatives are able to channel their energy into their work when we are depressed. I don’t know that one leads to another, merely that one helps us cope with the other. When I’m in a really bad place, the only thing I want to do is write. It is relieving the dam of pain in my soul with the world in my fingertips. I think this is true of all creative endeavors.
    What makes us depressed? I think other than the hurt of life itself, from regular pain and suffering to irregular, there is also an underlying note of being a creative soul in a world that stifles and neglects everything needed to make us flourish.
    Pursuing our passion as a dream is not easy- writing doesn’t always pay off and put food on the table or the roof over our heads, so more often then not, we’re forced to sacrifice all the time we want to put into the art and invest it in jobs we hate or barely tolerate to make ends meet, so that we can write on the side, slowly perpetuating a cycle and sometimes, often, feeling trapped by the cages of necessity and social contracts we’ve forced ourselves into. This would make anyone depressed and anxious, and I think it does. When you have that low-level grinding of your soul in the background, writing becomes your only retreat and solace.
    When something tips you over the edge of your tolerances for pain and heartache, writing is the only constant, safe outlet.
    Creating feels good. Writing a chapter is a small achievement that slowly adds into a novel and this can give you small victories when big battles are being lost elsewhere.
    I think the two are linked insomuch as creative expression is a good stress-relief and we’re often taught to pursue creativity when in a stressful state.
    I also think that creating art outside of that state is worthy, but I think one of the problems we face as a society is that for the last 400 years or so we’ve romanticized the tormented artist and it does generate an unhealthy expectation that to be a true writer or artist, you must be depressed, you must be an alcoholic, etc. But also, and worse, sometimes we unwittingly train the worst habits into ourselves.
    I know I write ‘better’ when I’m stressed. I become funnier and wittier and more vibrant when I am screaming at the walls as the world falls down around my ears. In fact, I know for a few years, I couldn’t write because everything wasn’t as terrible and horrible as I had grown so used to. I had conditioned myself from years and months of escape into the written word, to only write when everything was dripping with awful. Then, a few problems cleared up, or I cleared the rubble of my brain, and suddenly I didn’t know how to write without the torment. I’d established an unhealthy habit that took 2 years to break.
    Anyway, my two-cents.

    Reply
  • November 7, 2017 at 11:53 am
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    I too suffered (suffer) with depression/anxiety, though generally much better controlled now. Part of the ‘therapy’ for me was to take a postgrad, followed by an MA. This was assessed by essays. I had never really written before, but I found the opportunity to focus in on the detail, and (attempt!) to craft a piece of writing was wonderfully freeing. Everything else faded away as the million thoughts per minute were silenced. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a writer, but I can’t say how much I enjoyed writing my dissertation which I am now turning into a book. Ha ha!

    Reply
  • November 7, 2017 at 9:54 am
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    Having suffered similarly my diagnosis is “Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome”
    Tragedy followed by repeated viral infection wreaked my body and mind, leaving me with no job and huge amounts of time. I know I’m depressed as I feel the weight of a million thoughts, every minute of every day.
    I am no writer but the only way to release this pressure has been to attempt to articulate it. My subject matter is not easy to express; a daughters suicide, grief and mental illness,; but as a therapeutic activity writing it down gives SOME relief!
    I have also found an urge to paint, to be in a moment when my thoughts are still. I listen to music that hasn’t interested me for years but now feels meaniful as it did when I was younger or “in love” or very sad.
    Has the depression given me time, space and urge to allow my suppresssed creative soul speak? Will it help me heal? No sure, but all ideas are part of the “million thoughts” noice in my brain….that needs sowhere to go!

    Reply

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