Depression And Writing – Is There A Connection Between Them?
Some years ago now, I clearly recall my doctor telling me that there was a definitive link between writing and depression.
The only problem with his link was that he had no idea if writers became depressed through writing.
Or if living with depression miraculously manufactured the circumstances for people to start writing.
So why was I at my doctor at that time talking about mental health?
To cut a long story short, I lost my parents within the space of six short months. Both passed away very suddenly.
I also lost my very best friend, who died after a long-term disease. Another friend was killed at a pedestrian crossing.
And oh, just to 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 don’t like the words
I dislike the phrase clinical depression intensely.
From my experience, when you have this affliction, the symptoms don’t relate at all well with the words.
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, or 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 the side effects of my medication.
Then, when people around you know that you are suffering from this ill-described condition, they always ask the same question, which by itself can get on your nerves.
“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 a lot.
I think I wrote six novels and thrived on 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.
I have never been good at normal, so I guess I should say that I have been back to my abnormal self again for quite a few years now.
I have one small problem.
In that year or so of treatment for the dreaded word, I wrote so damn well. Perhaps it was 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.
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 depression and writing, is there?
Related Reading: Is There A Link Between Depression And Creativity?
6 thoughts on “Depression And Writing – Is There A Connection Between Them?”
I started writing at 14 when I began to struggle with depression and anxiety. I have no idea if it started as a distraction from my problems or was fueled by them. Sometimes I can be too depressed to write, so it’s a tricky one. Having said that, I was also diagnosed with Aspergers around the time my first book came out when I was 18, so writing could equally have been a way of making sense of the world. I write from the animals perspective as I understand it better – animals make more sense to me than people.
Incidentally, when my Nan was younger, she became a great artist when she had a nervous breakdown, but lost the gift when she got better…
The answer has to be emphatically in the affirmative!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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