What Depression can do FOR a Writer
Most of the time whenever there is talk about depression and the effect it has on writers it almost always comes down to one simple idea. He/she has writers block. This seeming malady can come from a number of different directions and has little to do with the inability to write but more likely some life conundrum the writer is suffering through. If you are truly a writer, you know that the simple treatment for depression/writers block…is to write.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? It sounds so simple that people negate the treatment. Many might never know the devastation of discovering your fingers will not type, or, your brain refuses to create. Where once words served as the weapons used to beat back the enemies of all who use words as a medium to create art, writers block can be a harbinger of some imagined or real form of death. This is where you must do exactly as directed. Write!
The DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association requires the following criteria be met before a diagnosis of a major depression:
1. At least 5 of the following symptoms.
2. These symptoms must be present during the same 2 week period.
3. These symptoms must represent a change from a previous level of functioning.
- Depressed mood, nearly every day during most of the day.
- Marked diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities.
- Significant weight loss (when not dieting), weight gain, or a change in appetite.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (excess sleep).
- Psychomotor agitation or psychomotor retardation.
- Fatigue or loss of energy.
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt.
- Impaired ability to concentrate or indecisiveness
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal
The set criteria can be in many shapes and realities. Where it says that five of the criteria have to be met before a diagnosis of major depression can be assigned the evidence of any of these symptoms can bring a writer, as well as anyone, to a point of uselessness. The absence of words in a writers head brings the creative process to a screeching halt. It is in this area where the treatment of the malady can be a writer’s best defense.
I have suffered from depression all my life at intermittently, and treat it mostly as detailed in the DSM IV through medication and therapy. Having knowledge of when to recognize the symptoms is a great aid but writing is the treatment that is not spoken of very often. When feeling down, I tend to right material that is of a nature consistent with my emotions. This has worked well for me. My normal everyday writing has an informative and positive slant to it. I write fiction that tries to display humor, wonder, beauty, and accomplishment.
Recently I became disillusioned with the time spent to market my work and realized that it takes as much time to sell a piece then to write it in the first place. I keep a file of rejection letters (also acceptances) and after a story that I am personally proud of got rejected for about the fifteenth time, I became mildly despondent and began to wonder about my ability, talent, writing style, and general self-worth. The experience shut me down for a day or two and the path out came from the help of a wonderful blog for writers, Funds for Writers, edited by a lovely lady and great writer, Hope Clark (http://www.fundsforwriters.com/). In it she had a piece about writing contests as a means to writing success. I had happened upon another truly fine blog, http://readlearnwrite.com/ which was hosting a story contest about a trip to the bookstore. I set about writing a Faustian tale about the book section at my local Wal-Mart. I won the contest.
The result was more than the $50.00 prize (which felt great when I was able to pay my water bill that month). It was a regaining of my worth. This sounds hokey, but a little bit of recognition can go a long way. (Hot showers also help) In the aftermath I have been able to steadily write stories, come up with ideas, and discover an appropriate amount of time to spend in marketing.
Bouts with depression elicit a need to write as opposed to blocking the process. At least, for me now that I have unearthed the true cause of any difficulty with writing. The source of most impenetrability in creative development usually traces back to some physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual dilemma I find myself in. Once there, the word count diminishes, and the epiphanous events that promote creativity dwindle in the face of growing apathy. Treatment is needed and directed. Write! But, perhaps, try writing something that is out of your comfort zone or, genre.
I have begun to write outside the Pollyanna like “it’s all going to be all right” mode and use the darker side of my abilities. This began with a couple of horror stories for Halloween that I originally posted on one of my blogs (http://about.me/tlloydreilly) and have successfully placed in horror anthologies or online magazines. The pay is pennies per word, but the stats on all of my sites have increased, thereby making the marketing side of the business a little easier.
I took on a contract to write some articles on subjects that I have no experience or expertise at and placed those articles. I have an advanced education and I am fortunate in having some decent research abilities. This type of writing is boring, and I try to avoid it. Unless, that is, I am feeling blue. Then I take whatever comes my way and get back up on the metaphorical horse. Next thing you know my word count rises, and I am seeing story ideas coming from all over the place. I list these in a file I named WORKING and I choose the next piece I write from there as opposed to dashing to the computer every time I read an interesting or outraging news story. I resist forcing myself to write about things I discover watching “The Big Bang Theory” even though every bit of science and fact giving on that show is precisely correct. I get to, in this treatment of melancholy, allow myself time to incubate ideas to a place of maturity.
I will close with what I began with - If you are truly a writer, you know that the simple treatment for depression/writers block…is to write.
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