Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Depression and the Writer

I received an email (seemingly out of the blue) telling me that I needed to write a blog entry on a topic concerning writers, and I couldn't recall when I signed up to do one. Sigh! Never mind, I trust that I did indeed agree to write a piece, but that my recent state of mind made me forget when I did agree to it. Since this is a problem shared by many creative folks (dare I put myself in that category?), I thought I'd share my experience with you all in hopes that I could help others facing a similar challenge. There are three points I'd like to touch upon briefly.

The first thing we have to come to agreement upon is this: Writers aren't always happy people.

Oh, sure we see writers portrayed as rich, highly successful, beautiful, and vivacious people in movies and on TV all the time. Consider the handsome and talented Nathan Fillion's portrayal of a best-selling crime novelist on TV's "Castle". He lives in a penthouse and gets to hang around crime scenes with a gorgeous detective solving mysteries. Fun, fun, fun! No wonder everyone wants to pen the next New York Times best-seller! But you'll have to forgive folks for believing that this is the actual lifestyle of writers. After all, why would anyone choose a career path that would lead to poverty, financial ruin, depression, and rejection? Really, why would anyone do such a ridiculous thing?

The second thing we'll have to agree to is this: Writers don't choose their profession--it chooses them.

Sure, there are some who decide after a successful career in politics, medicine, sports, or celebrity-ness that they'll sit down and pen their memoirs or a seminal book on the subject that made them a household name. While they may be thought of as "authors" I don't consider them "writers". Writers write out of compulsiveness, out of a need to get their ideas and words across to others. Writers often forget things such as "readers" and "editors" and "paychecks", and instead, write the book of their hearts and hope that others might agree it's the book of their hearts, too. Unfortunately, most of the time it is not.

The third thing is obvious: Writers are inherently crazy people.

Writers are artists who create images and worlds with words instead of paint. If Vincent Van Gogh had been a writer instead of a painter, his writings probably would have been ignored during his lifetime, he would have suffered depression, and his family would have thought him totally lacking in commonsense all the same. Poor Vincent never lived to see his creative genius praised in art textbooks, his paintings hanging in the Louvre, or being auctioned off for millions--hundreds of millions--of dollars. In spite of the rejection, he continued to create art all the same.

Yeah, that's the definition of crazy all right.

Which comes to the gist of this piece: Writers are special and unique people. They suffer for their art because they can't help themselves. They must write. They were born to do it. When you tell them things like, "Stop it and go out and get a real job!" you are essentially killing their souls. Because writers have to write like others have to breathe. It is life itself.

Whether you are wired or born to be a writer, you seem more prone to suffer from the ups and downs of life compared to non-writers. This sensitivity is a two-edged sword. It allows the writer to experience the world around her and describe it to others in a way that brings it to life in the reader's mind without having to be there. But the sensitive person is a vulnerable soul. Hard times and harsh words hurt ten times as much and sometimes take ten times longer to heal.

All this doesn't mean writers are doomed to always be depressed or coming out of a blue funk. But it does mean that their journey in healing the soul will take a different path than other personalities. One size does not fit all. Patience and understanding is needed. But how can we help the writers in our lives who may be going through a bad time?

The best thing about writers is that they can verbalize when they are feeling down and when they are feeling better. Listen to them. If they tell you they are feeling a certain way, then it is probably the most accurate assessment of the feeling state of a human being you'll ever obtain. Writers are detail people and observers. We'll share the details and observations of our hearts. Don't ever tell writers that they're out of touch with themselves or reality--because writers experience and record reality at a level beyond what most folks could ever dream of doing. Accept that what the writer says is reality is her reality. Because it is.

And all is not lost because of this important truth: Words can heal. Why else would many counselors recommend keeping and writing journals during a course of therapy if words didn't heal? So allow the depressed writer in your life to vent on paper, to write or not write, to try creating art in another medium, to express themselves in new or different ways as an alternative to writing. Because the creative process in any form is a positive process and a healing process. Eventually the writer's breathing will become calm and not ragged, and she'll feel more grounded in the reality the rest of the world sees as "normal", although the writer deep down senses there is no such thing as normality.

Wherever you are in your journey as a writer, keep this happy thought in mind: You are not alone. Many writers have come before you and will come after you, and all will experience similar feelings at one point in their writing journeys. Give them emotional support when you are able and accept theirs in return with graciousness when it is offered. Because only by sharing each others' burdens can we help use our words to create a better reality for all.

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