This is the first of a short series I’d like to roll out periodically over the next few weeks called “Writing and _________.” In this series, I plan to discuss issues that come with writing or stereotypes that come to mind when people think about writers.
I’d like to start talking about writing and depression. Mental health awareness is such a huge issue right now in the United States. I’m so glad that it is and I hope that I can help keep the conversation going by talking about my own experiences. Before we dive in, just a brief reminder: I am not a health care provider or licensed expert. I simply write from my own experiences.
Writing serves a different purpose for every person; and no, you don’t have to be depressed to be a writer. Here’s my story.
I started writing as a second-grade student, I imagine, simply because I loved to read and I had an active imagination. It seemed to happen organically. I can remember writing those stories, but I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t writing stories.
As a pre-teen, teenager and college student, writing became an escape. As a middle schooler, I got teased relentlessly. In college, I was lonely, in a bad relationship and depressed. Whatever writing was for me as a little kid, it morphed in those turbulent years and became a way to diverge from the sad life I felt like I was living.
After graduate school, somewhere in the middle of the recession, I realized that something wasn’t quite right with me. I’d finished my education, but couldn’t find a job. I was stuck in the same relationship and every time I tried to get away, the guy would keep coming back, never leaving me alone. I worked 60 hours a week at a restaurant mostly to have an excuse for not having to see him. I was angry a lot and, when I wasn’t angry, I had a quick temper or, I was simply sad. Finally, I went to my mom and told her that something was wrong with me and I asked to go talk to someone without really knowing what I was asking for. I just knew that I needed help.
When I started talking to a therapist, she helped me understand my life, the relationships I carried and how to address the feelings that overwhelmed me as a woman in my mid-twenties. She also put me on an antidepressant. That woman completely changed my life, my perspective about myself and so much more.
Things got better. But, for some reason that antidepressant messed with my creativity. I lost my ability to write and I wasn’t sure if I’d find my way back to it. I’m no expert, so I can’t say if it was just how the medicine affected me or because I had relied so heavily on my dark feelings to fuel my creativity, that when I sat down to write afterwards, I no longer had any creative fuel to give.
I got away from that guy who wouldn’t let go. And, I got a job and started my life. I weaned myself off of the medication (PSA: Don’t EVER do this. It is the wrong way to go about it. Please consult a professional. Also, medication may be a permanent solution for some and that’s okay. It just wasn’t what was right for me.) and eventually, I got to the point where I felt balanced and I didn’t need the medicine anymore. Along the way, I had to relearn to write because I no longer had that ocean of sadness to pull from.
It took a long time. But, I found a path back to writing that didn’t rely on the need to escape and didn’t revolve around sadness. I reconnected with my creative self in a new way and I found fellow creative people with whom I could share the special parts of being a creative person.
One of the most prevalent myths about writers is that we have some sort of vice or some darkness or depression, something that sets us apart from everyone else and it is this thing that makes us good writers. I do believe that there is something special about writers, and artists in general, that sets us apart from others. But I don’t think that depression or some form of mental illness is the fuel that a creative requires to create something beautiful.
Writing and other creative pursuits don’t have to go hand-in-hand with depression. While writing, painting, drawing, etc. can each be a great way of finding relief, release or of working through things, you don’t have to be depressed or facing other issues to be an artist and you don’t have to stay in that state to hold onto the threads of your art. It may take some time to find a new path back to your art and creativity. But, getting help and being healthy are worth it.
I hope sharing a little of my own story is helpful to someone in some small way. If you have had experiences of your own with mental health issues and/or creativity and would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Or, if you have questions and would like to know more about anything I’ve experienced, please don’t hesitate to ask. You can either post a comment or send me a message through my contact form.