Depression and Writing: Don’t End Your Story

People often ask me why I write. I give them plenty of answers like, it’s what I was born to do (cheesy, I know), it’s as vital to me as the air I breathe (also cheesy), I love to create new worlds, I have stories to tell, etc. etc. Writing is also my outlet when I’m stressed or depressed. When I slip into the text and the world falls away, I feel a warmth in my chest that dissipates every awful thing I’m feeling. I’m lost in the story, and everything feels right with the world. In a way, my writing saves me from my negative emotions.

But what about those times when it can’t? What about the times when writer’s block is so strong is drives me into a downward spiral of depression?

I’ve written about anxiety, depression, and writing before, but what happened a week ago is very different.

On February 2nd, my depression almost won. I won’t go into great detail, but I checked myself into a psychiatric ward with the guidance and support of a friend so that I could take care of my mental health.

So I wouldn’t end my story.

You see, I love writing, but I do the same thing many writers do. I attach my self worth to my craft. If I can’t write, I feel like something’s wrong with me and I stress myself out more than necessary. It’s habit. It’s worse when I have a block on a big project I want to complete such as Purple Door District 2. For months I’ve struggled and felt disconnected with my craft. That’s bad enough, but when writing is supposed to be an emotional outlet, and I lose that, I sometimes feel like I lose my purpose too.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of things compounded over the months to make me so depressed, but not being able to write was a huge part of it. Writers tend to forget about their mental health when they’re so busy creating. We get swept up in what we should be getting done or how we’re not doing enough that we forget the warning signs our brain sends us when we’ve pushed ourselves too far.

-Lack of interest in the things we love

-Unable to deal with daily stresses

-Losing sleep over worry

-Beating ourselves down for not writing because we see ourselves as failures

Sound familiar? I was feeling all of this, and yet I didn’t realize just how depressed I was until it was almost too late. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m not shy when it comes to talking about my mental health. Several writers on twitter have been told that they shouldn’t discuss their emotions or mental health because it’s “unprofessional” or “no one wants to hear their drama.”

Bullshit.

Talking about how you feel makes you more real. It makes you more human and relatable. If Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blog posts are your outlets and the only places you feel safe talking about your emotions, then do it. The United States has such a stigma about mental health, like it’s a hush hush topic that no one should talk about.

Again, I call bullshit. If we talked about it, then maybe more people would know when to reach out for help. Maybe more creative minds would realize they’re not alone in their struggles and there are people who care what happens to them.

You are not your craft. Your worth is not measured by your word or page count, or your amazon reviews, or the number of books under your belt.

One of the things that struck me the hardest about going into the psychiatric ward was when the therapist said, “You’re a writer? Oh yeah, I’ve probably seen most of the writers in the city here.” What does that tell you about us creative folk? We push and push and beat ourselves down when we should be lifting ourselves and others up for our/their accomplishments.

So in case no one has said this to you today, you matter. You are amazing. You are loved. And you have a purpose. No matter how lonely you feel, there’s a community out there that understands what you’re going through. If you’re too nervous to call someone for help, then try #writingcommunity on Twitter, or any number of writing hashtags on instagram. Believe me, you’ll find that there are more people like you than you even realize.

And during those really bad moments, when you feel like the world is coming down and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, please consider calling the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Your story isn’t over yet, and the world wants to hear it. You’re not alone.

Writing With Anxiety

Let me paint a picture for you. It’s the middle of the night, and you’ve just completed a chapter in your book. When you crawled into bed, you were excited with your progress. But as the clock ticks on, you start to dread what’s on paper. What if it doesn’t work? What if it’s not good enough? What if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t cut it as an author? What if I’ll never get published? What if—

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say that anxiety sucks. It’s horrible for everyone, but as a writer, it’s something that niggles at the back of my mind everyday. Even as I write this blog post I feel its cold claws digging into my shoulders. Will this help anyone? Am I making sense? Will anyone read it? What’s the point?

The point is is that I’m sharing a story with you and revealing a part of myself that a lot of others might keep hidden. Our country is notorious for turning its back on those with depression, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses. You’re called weak if you cry or share your feelings, or you’re told to toughen up.

Well, I’m here to tell you that your feelings are valid. It’s okay if you think you’re not the best writer. It’s fine if you think you’ll never publish anything. You’re allowed to feel all these things… for a moment. What you do with that energy is what’s most important. Will you let it stop you? Or will you use it to push forward and be the best that you can be for yourself?

Even the greatest writers feel like they were 1. the worst at one point or 2. they still feel that way. We are our own worst critics. Your book may not be perfect, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end. Take the time to polish it. Work with someone you trust to go over the manuscript and make it better. Or, put the writing away for a day or two, take a breath, then return to it with a fresh mind and heart. Feel… and then move forward.

Here are a couple of things I do when my anxiety consumes me as I’m working on my novel.

  1. Breathe. Really, just close your eyes and breathe in and out.
  2. Step away. If you start hating your work, then it’s time to back away from the computer or notebook and take a breather.
  3. Work out or do something else active. Get that serotonin moving again and let your brain rest. You might be overworking it.
  4. Do something else creative. It’s perfectly fine to have another hobby to focus on when your writing gets to be too much. Researchers actually encourage it especially during moments like these.
  5. Support. Reach out to a support group. Post on twitter, facebook, instagram, wattpad,… wherever you feel safe. Believe me, someone else will be going through the same thing.
  6. Be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. You can always edit later. And if editing is the problem, then write for a little bit. Just try not to beat yourself down for it. You’ve got this.
  7. Use your coping skills. Whether it’s taking your medication regularly, or doing yoga/meditation, take time to treat yourself mentally, so you can get back to the thing you love.

Anxiety is an awful thing to deal with, but it’s not impossible to work through it and keep writing. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, other people do.

I do.