Depression is something every writer I've known faces. When you sit at your desk staring at the blank page you think of a million things, hardly any of which belong to the story your're trying to write. Did I pay the gas bill? Will they shut me off today? Was my daughter's recital this Friday or next? Did I forget to feed the dogs? Soon, these thoughts turn into: What am I doing at this desk? I'll never make it as a writer. God! Two rejections in one week! This must be hell because nothing can be as bad as this.
Why do we write? Why do we sit down for hours all alone, just thinking and imagining? Most writers just want to be heard. We are observant, intelligent, and gifted people who want our voices, our words on the page. To be read, remembered, recognized, but mostly we love the written word. We love to read.
As a kid, I read anything and everything. From Tolkien to H.P. Lovecraft, and back again. I devoured books like the air I breathed.
We had contests at our local library to encourage kids to read. For every book, I got a star on a board. I would watch the stars build feeling on top of the world. I remember one week I'd read 10 books; the average was three. I told the librarian I'd read four. Terribly embarrassed, I wanted more than anything for the other kids to like me. Readers were geeks and wallflowers. Who wants to be labelled that?
My life as a child had its ups and downs, but the insecurities never really left. These same insecurities still rub at me while I'm at my writing desk. Those dark thoughts and worries, those skeletons in the closet telling me I'll never be good enough. Those thoughts whispering in my ear how things just never go right while I'm around.
When those dark thoughts come, I don't see the light. I don't remember my two beautiful and intelligent children. I don't see the good I've accomplished, the people I've helped or the friends I have. I don't remember the fun I had at the park or Christmas visits with family. These things are locked up with my muse in the deepest darkest recesses of my mind. Nothing is good, nothing is worth trying, nothing is worth doing. Everything is the dark.
I'm not alone, am I? I've yet to meet a writer who didn't think like this. Writers, artists and generally gifted people have a much higher rate of suicide, depression and alcoholism. I believe this has a lot to do with time.
Those long hours in front of the keyboard with nothing but your own thoughts. Worries you’ll never see your muse again. Constant self-doubt haunting you. These thought flow into your mind because your muse decides to go on vacation. Perhaps, you were never good to begin with. Everyone who thought you’d fall on your face was right.
You try not to write, but that doesn't work. Writing is what you love, but for some reason, it just doesn’t love you in return. The paragraph you just wrote sounds like a stat sheet, and the stress headache in the back of your skull won't let you concentrate. You look at the paragraph you just wrote and think your six-year-old niece could think of something better to say. You worry more, and your tension mounts. Self-doubt turns into something much uglier, and depression begins.
I can't say I know the secret of keeping this sick black tide at bay, but I do know a few things that help. Being a writer, I write, of course. I write every angry, self-loathing thought that comes to mind. I bitch, cry, and scream into my journal letting out every thought and etch my pain out on paper in such terrible chicken scratch no one but me will be able to read. Then I try to remember all the good things. When that fails, I call a writing friend.
If there's anyone on the planet who can understand, it's a fellow writer. I have several writing friends, and I let myself talk to them. They've been where I am and, hopefully, no two of us are depressed at the same time. A group of depressed writers would make Reverend Jim's picnic look like a boring, uninventive gathering. I'm sure a whole group of us could figure out a variety of interesting and unusual things to use. Punch just seems so mundane to me.
Once I've talked, cried or screamed myself back to some semblance of sanity, I re-read what I've written. You'd be amazed how much that helps. Once you've talked things out and written them down, you own them. They are yours to do with what you like. That black tide is washed to paper and echoed in your voice. You feel a bit better. You can start to remember the good things again. You can laugh and smile, and sometimes, you don't even realize you were depressed until the weight is lifted.
I sometime scratch my head when its all over and think, "Wow, I didn't realize I was so bad off." I worry at times that one day I might not notice the black tide until it's too far gone. That the tide of depression will grab me and drag me under so far and fast I won't have time to reach out for a friendly ear or grab my journal to scream my thoughts. I've vowed to myself to talk to my friends at least once a week and try my damnedest to keep a good perspective, but it's not always easy.
I'm writing this just to remind everyone they aren't alone. Writing is a brutal profession. Rejection, deadlines, self-doubt, countless hours alone and family problems can slowly push you over the edge into depression. Please, talk to someone-- a writing buddy, a friend or relative, clergy member, counselor, anyone. Too many writers have ended their careers too soon. What would Hemingway have written in his later years, or Virginia Woolf, or more recently, Hunter S. Thompson?
Please don't keep your sadness locked inside. We can't afford to lose another brilliant mind. Take care of yourself and your fellow writers. Remember what you love, and be safe.
Dedicated to: The memory of writers and artists who died too young and whose passion will never be forgotten but forever stunted by their deaths.