Posted in Of Bloggingly, Of Life's Dramedies, Of Philosophy, Of Psyche, Of Writingly

Of Writing and Depression

There is a long standing Romantic notion of the writer, or any artist for that matter, creating their work out of misery. If the writer is somehow not alienated, “odd” or without having experienced some degree of suffering that is significant to him or her, he or she cannot be sanctioned as an artist. Even if the artist’s work does not betray suffering on the surface level, as in the case of humorists, attempts are still made to know of their significant, tragic, life events such as parental loss etc. There are two significant psychological studies that highlight two perceived elements of writing. 1) Writing being one of the loneliest professions, has also had one of the highest rates of depression and suicide. 2) Mental illness can facilitate creativity in the writer and the writer creates his/her best writing when miserable.

I want to refute both these statements. Writing can be a lonely profession as in it has to be usually practised in isolation. But, there are very few who can afford to be full-time writers. Even those who are creative writers by profession still have choc-a-block schedules with writing assignments for various periodicals, workshops etc. Most choose to have day jobs despite their success. And whether you are a successful or aspiring writer, you still have quite a lot of socializing that is to do with your work. One can be lonely in any profession. You can be lonely as a surgeon even when you constantly have fellow doctors, medical staff and patients around you. A call-centre employee can feel lonely in a room of fellow employees. Whereas writers, even those who can afford to be full time novelists, may still have great relationships with his/her family,friends etc.

In the second statement, it is assumed that one must “suffer” for one’s art. But that suffering may be a one-off, or a number of events. Depression is not an event, but a consequence of one. It is a condition that can persist no matter the degree to which we are appeased by our lives. It might seem strange to think that depressed people may actually be afraid of happy events. They might be scared of attending social gatherings that celebrate them. They might refuse generous and thoughtful gifts just because they do not think themselves capable of feeling all the strong, positive feelings that they might inspire in them.

Which is not to say that such a state of low self-esteem would not inspire creativity. It just means that one doesn’t necessarily create the other, even in creative people. In phases of major depression, “when the weather is bad”, it does not help to do any creative activity with the intention of defining yourself and boosting your ego. For a writer, this is not really a good time to be defining themselves by how well he/she writes at this moment and how successful he/she is at channelling this depression. It just doesn’t work. Even when going through your own published work to feel better, instead of adding to your vanity, you criticize it even more and may even feel embarrassed by its relative immaturity. At such a time, even a misplaced comma could make you feel more miserable.

To write when you are a depressed writer, the best thing to do would be what the ancient thinkers said, write without ego. Well, they didn’t put it like that but you know what I mean. Try to find the joy in it again by simply doing it. Just try to tell a story. One method I like is actually making up stories and telling them to the younger members of my family. Another I quite like doing is answering agony columns online. A story is basically a problem, a question. And these columns and forums are full of real questions just waiting to be answered. You might not only end up helping them, but would have also helped build a story!

The glamourized perception of a lonely, suffering artist is slowly dying out now, after having a rather long, over 200 year run. I am glad for it. It is time we let the art speak for itself than try to find the artist in it.


Writer, Blogger, Kate Bush Fanatic

12 thoughts on “Of Writing and Depression

  1. There could be some truth to the stereotype, for a certain type of person who is deeply connected to their feelings and uses art to express it often becomes the sort of artist of the stereotype. In reality all individuals are artists, and everyone of them suffer some sort of hangup over time.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. I really hate the glamorisation of depression/anxiety. People suffering from depression and anxiety are not sexy tortured creatives with Byronic good looks, a luminescent pallor and an intriguing eccentricity. To depict them as such is to distance ourselves from the reality of mental illness, which is grim as all Hell. I see depressed/anxious people in novels; in TV shows; in films. Where’s the IBS? Where’s the massive weight gain/loss? Where’s the being afraid even to wash? Depression isn’t an intellectual movement or a lifestyle choice. It’s a loathsome state of being.

    I wrote when I was having my nervous breakdown. I write now I’m recovered. While my writing now has a lot of stuff in it about the social stigma of mental illness, I wouldn’t in any way say that going mental has made it better. And if you asked me if I’d rather never have had my ‘episode’, then I would give you a resounding bloody yes.

    1. You have put this in words so wonderfully well. The artist type can actually be traced back to the Romantics and then Baudelaire etc. Most depressed writers would agree that they produce much better work, in greater number, when they feel better. This is something that scientists seem to miss out on and are too busy analyzing the archetype.

  3. I think the stereotype exists for a reason, but you’re right, writers don’t fit into a mold so easily.

  4. Great article. Very empathetic and logical. I love your writing. Your site ROCKS !

    I have a hunch that there is a thing in the brain, thing A (undefined), that makes thing B (creativity) more apt to happen as well as some of the various things (C’s) that we call depression.

    Depression is a wastebasket term nowadays, in view of the work going on in the Amen Clinics. The brain scans they do on patients show various unique categories of neuronal activity that all lead, in different ways, to the hodgepodge of clinical symptoms we call depression.

    The meds that work for one scan pattern of depression may not help at all for another person’s pattern. Hence the scans are not merely interesting, but useful.

    If your depression is caused by decreased activity in the medial temporal region, for instance, you will likely respond well to Lamictal, a med generally used for seizures that most shrinks wouldn’t consider the first or second or third drug to try for “depression.” A depressed patient with this underlying defect in neuronal activity will typically spend many years trying and failing on SSRI’s, SNRI’s and whatnot before (if they’re lucky) being offered a drug like Lamictal.

    You might find that one of Dr. Amen’s books is interesting and useful to you. Amen Clinics are in Seattle and LA.

    Yoga with slow deep “restricted flow” breathing helps me. Vigorous cardio workouts Playing basketball (when I was younger) helped me like magic. Writing fiction helps me. Quitting the profession of pathology has helped me immensely. Neurofeedback helped me, but messed up my short-term memory temporarily when I was doing it, so be careful. SSRI’s helped for a few months, but then my brain became foggy and I still felt depressed, just didn’t seem to care it or about anything… plus I couldn’t write fiction on SSRI’s.

    I feel like it’s too soon for you to decide that nothing can be done to get rid of your depression. My attitude is that someone with your talent should never give up on anything this important.

    M. Talmage Moorehead

  5. I always find that music works better than anything else for me. Writing too, at times, but there is ego involved there. I am always fascinated by this subject and about other psychological conditions as well. I try and watch documentaries and read popular science articles as I am not well-versed with medical terminology. Thank you for your encouraging words!

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