It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, which seems like a good time for real talk about writers and depression.
Back in 2017, I was at the BlogHer blogging conference, taking a turn through the main pavilion where all the vendors were pitching their latest and greatest in an attempt to get us bloggers to promote their goods to our readers. I was in the wrong place. Because, honestly, I’m not looking to sell tuna or face lotion to my readers. Even if the money was good (which it’s not) I just don’t write that kind of blog.
But then I came across a booth dedicated to mental health. They weren’t selling anything. They were simply there to spread the word that depression is real, and we need to be able to talk about it. To which I said…
Hell Yes, We Do
The fact that depression is real shouldn’t come as a shock to my fellow writers out there. In fact, when I approached the booth and told the woman there that my blog is for writers, she gave an emphatic nod and held her arm wide as if to welcome me into the booth. I told her how I have struggled with depression off and on for years. She told me how very common it is, especially for creatively minded people. We’re just special, I guess.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation since then. While I am not currently struggling with depression, I’ve had some tough times in the past, and I’ve come to recognize a few of the warning signs. And since I try to be well rounded here in my discussions of what it is to be a writer, I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve learned about depression as it affects me personally, in the hopes that it might help someone else out there as much as any post about grammar or voice.
(Please keep in mind I am not an expert. If you’re feeling down, don’t wait. Talk to a professional, like, right now. If you don’t have or can’t afford a therapist, try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Do what ever you need to do to be safe.)
For me, the biggest sign that depression is looming is a nagging desire to watch science fiction movies. That’s a little weird. I accept that, and I’ve come to understand it over the years. It’s escapism, a desire to fall into a world different from the one I’m actually living in.
This desire for escape, in turn, seems to fall into a larger category of craving that ticks up a notch when I’m off balance. When depression is knocking at the back of my brain I tend to want things. I decide I need a new pair of shoes. I want a martini or three. I want to go out to dinner. Recently, I find myself compelled to find some magic face lotion that will stop the formation of wrinkles.
But consuming shit only makes me feel more off balanced because it doesn’t solve anything, and I end up feeling bad for having spent money on things that aren’t books.
How I Deal
Now that I’m 40, and so much wiser for it, I’m better at recognizing my covetousness as a warning sign. When I catch myself thinking how it might be nice to open a bottle of wine and dig out my Firefly DVDs, there are a few things that help me feel more centered and less anxious.
- Exercise. Cliché, I know. But even just a walk around the block helps sometimes. Jogging, swimming, yoga, even (for consenting adults) sex. It doesn’t matter what, just do something that gets your blood pumping.
- Meditate. Just sit quietly and count your breath for five minutes. Set a timer. Count the exhales up to 10, then start again at 1. If you lose count, that means you’re doing it right. Just start again at 1.
- Find someone to interact with IN PERSON. Humans need other people. Looking into someone’s eyes is very stabilizing. It’s a proven fact. If you can’t find someone, go to your local bookstore and ask the sales clerk what you should read. Just find a person to connect with for a few minutes.
- Use skillful distraction. A therapist of mine introduced me to this idea. He said that if you’re feeling all worked up and you don’t know how to deal, go ahead and watch an episode of StarTrek (I highly recommend Next Generation, Episode 25: “The Inner Light”). It can be a kindness to allow yourself that. Just don’t let one episode become ten. Watch one, then make a healthy choice like going for a walk or meeting a friend for coffee.
- Drink something not booze. Alcohol always seems like a good idea, but biochemically speaking it increases our levels of anxiety and messes up our sleep. Devise some sort of mocktail that can step in. Personally I like bubbly water with lemon. If I’m really feeling anxious, I use it to wash down a couple capsules of Kava Kava (which is very soothing, but apparently hard on the liver, so I don’t make a habit of it).
I also have a therapist. We talk on the regular, and I find it really helpful, even when she does that therapist thing where she doesn’t actually offer advice, but just asks “how does that make you feel?” which I always find really annoying in the moment, but then, after the fact, I find myself feeling much calmer for having talked out whatever it was that had a choke-hold on my heart.
I would love to hear from the other creative types out there – have you struggled with depression? How did you crawl your way out? How do deal when it comes knocking? Do you have any tricks you would add to the list?