With a Little Help from my Friends (It’s Getting Better)

I was really surprised by the response to my last post. I really appreciated all of the responses and felt less alone in my momentary darkened slump, however, I did feel that I must have hit a nerve about the lives of writers and how we all seem prone to fits of depression. Then I read several more posts from other writers about the same topic and I thought, “what is this, some sort of dark epidemic?”

No, not really.

My fantabulous father, ever the magnanimous therapist, even in retirement, put his mind to the problem and sent me some words of wisdom that not only made a world of sense, but calmed me right down. I thought I would share them. They came from a post from Elizabeth Moon, a science fiction/fantasy writer, see full post here.

One enduring myth is that creative genius and depression go together, and thus a writer who tampers with endogenous depression is going to damage her creativity. “I don’t want to be drugged into a numb state where I can’t feel anything,” says the suffering writer.

The facts are otherwise. Yes, writers do suffer from depression at a higher rate than the rest of the population. No, it doesn’t do their writing any good. Writers suffer from depression for all the usual reasons (innate biochemical susceptibility, early life experiences, etc.) but they also live lives full of contributing factors. Isolation, introspection, lack of physical exercise, irregular hours, less than perfect diet, and lack of exposure to sunlight–all may cause a depression, or worsen one. So also do financial and professional uncertainty–the lack of control of events which writers experience in every aspect of their work. To these, some writers add alcohol or drug addiction (yup, these do contribute to depression); others are taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs which enhance any tendency to depression.

In fact, if you wanted to make a cheery person with no predisposition to depression depressed, you could stick him in front of a typewriter or computer for hours a day–feed him a typical writer’s diet–forbid him to exercise, isolate him from friends, and convince him that his personal worth depended on his “numbers.” Make him live the writer’s life, in other words, and watch him sag.

Sound familiar?

She goes on the recommend a book on cognitive therapy by David Burn called Feeling Good, which my dad said he used all the time and he highly endorses as well – can’t beat that. Since so many of you shared your feelings with me, I thought i should share this with you. Let’s all make an effort to get away from the isolation this week, maybe get out into the sunlight a bit.

For my part, I’ll  be out in the sun plenty today, slathered in SPF 1000, with a whole team of people walking for my son to raise money and

Our Team Last Year Ready to Race

awareness for autism in the 6th annual Ready, Set, Run Event – GO COMPANIONS OF TREVOR! Let me know how you plan on combating your writer’s depression.

13 thoughts on “With a Little Help from my Friends (It’s Getting Better)

  1. Um. Wow. That’s a little scary. I never saw it like that before.
    But I guess the high you ride when the writing is going good has to even out somehow, right?
    Still. Brr.

    1. really makes you think doesn’t it? made me think i need to get outside more and not isolate too much – get out of my own head occasionally.

  2. I think one thing that will help me is working outside. Sometimes it’s hard to see the computer in the bright light, but it’s better than being holed up all the time, which isn’t a choice in the winter.

    1. agreed. even just a 20 minute walk to clear my head will be good. wintertime is always challenging. maybe bundling up and taking a very, very brief walk might help. at least it would wake me up.

  3. I am going outside today! I’m going walking and doing some yard work before the critique group I have this afternoon.

    I’ve been sick all week, so I haven’t been able to go to the gym as much as I normally do. Hopefully that will change next week. Cleaning the bathroom and doing laundry also count as exercise, right?

    1. i totally think cleaning is exercise – at least my body is exhausted afterwards. have fun with the critique group! as for me, i’ve already been outside so much that my allergies are revolting, but it does feel good.

  4. Today’s outing was planned weeks in advance, but, it occurred at the best possible time as well. I usually know when a depressive fit is coming and this one was giving the same warning signs as previous others when the invite to the local writer’s group critique session came in and the company picnic. Both things on the same day. heh I made tentative plans for the critique session and definitely made my way to the picnic. Amazing what good food, company, and fresh air can do for a person. Sadly, I missed the critique group, but looking back, I think it was the best decision.

    It’s sad when you have to make yourself be social. I’d rather be inside where no one, except family, can bother me. That’s why i work in a retail pharmacy, to get the social interaction I crave but just cannot bring myself to do on a normal basis.

    1. i know. sometimes we have to do what is good for us, despite what we want to do. fight the inner demons that tempt us to hang on to the status quo. i’m glad you got out and mingled and feel better as a result. i do too.

  5. It’s probably true, as Moon argues, that the writing life is more likely to foster depression than vice versa. Part of me doesn’t want it to be true, though, because it robs writing of some of its morbid glamour. We all like to think that depression can be made worth something, and that something is supposed to be worthwhile art, as the conventional wisdom says.

    1. yes, we’d rather wallow in our moroseness(?) and call it part of our writer’s affliction i guess – suffering for our art. we can still create without making ourselves suffer unduly, i think. it’s worth a shot, anyway.

  6. Awesome post. Although if you take away the mystique of the doomed, depressed artist laboring in agony toward his/her masterpiece, how will we know each other? lol. I think I’m going to locate the book you refer to…

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