Writing and Depression
The alarm beeps and I slap my hand over it to stop the noise. I feel as though a rock is sitting squarely on top of my chest. Although I know I have work to do, and lots of it, I cannot think of a single reason to get out of bed.
"You suck at this," I tell myself. "Whatever made you think you could be a writer? You might as well just stay in that bed…loser."
Ah, the charming screech of depression. As a person living with bipolar disorder, I've been dealing with depression in one form or another for most of my life. Depression, I've realized, has one goal: to take your hope away and leave you swimming in a dark sea of failure.
If my depressed voice had its way, I would spend the rest of my life huddled in a corner of my bed feeling too empty to do anything but stare at the wall.
But I can't let my depressed voice have its way. I have projects to write and editing to do and besides, I don't want to spend the rest of my life looking at a wall.
So most days I stumble out of bed, shower, dress, eat some protein, turn on my computer and start writing.
What allows me to fight off depression long enough to complete these tasks? Lots of tricks that I've learned over the years.
Medication is my front-line defense against depression symptoms. Without it, I simply cannot function. Meds work for me, but I'd be the first to acknowledge that they aren't right for everyone. If you're dealing with depression, talk to a mental health professional about all your options.
A routine is something you do so frequently that it becomes automatic. Brushing your teeth before bed, making coffee in the morning, cleaning the cat's litter box, and fastening your seatbelt when you get into your car are all examples of routines.
As for me, I sit down at my desk at or before 7:30 a.m., work for two hours on my most pressing project, deal with email at 9:30 a.m., and work on another project until noon. During the afternoon, I work on advertising and marketing. I've been doing this for so long that it's just second nature. I don't think about whether or not I want to write anymore. I just sit down and do it.
If you've read anything about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you know all about the concept of replacing a negative thought with a positive or neutral one. That doesn't work for me. My depression voice becomes more vicious if I try to argue with it. Instead, I agree with whatever the voice says but make it clear that I am not going to change my behavior. For instance:
Depression: Why bother to get out of bed? You're not going to get anything done.
Me: It may be true that I won't get anything done…and I am still getting out of bed to write.
Depression: You're not good enough to work on that project. You might as well just quit.
Me: I may not be good enough to write this article…and I am going to keep working on it until I am finished.
After a few exchanges like these, the depressed voice usually stomps off in a huff, making it possible for me to get my work done.
As a writer, do you ever deal with depression? If so, how do you handle it?
P.S. One of the best resources I've ever encountered for managing work and depression is Julie Fast's book, Getting It Done When You're Depressed. Fast has looked depression in the eye and come out a victor, time and time again.