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Writers and Depression

Wednesday, September 06, 2006
This is one of the most insightful bits of writing I've ever read about writers and depression.

This paragraph makes particular sense, as does the advice which Schuett offers in her post -- tips on how to (attempt to) sidestep the dark pit of depression in the first place; and how to dig yourself out if you feel one leg slipping into a sinkhole -- that tell-tale sign that things are going from bad to worse -- and fast.

"The field itself can create problems you wouldn't be as likely to find in other occupations. We've all experienced the sublime high of a wonderful possibility -- maybe we'll get a book published, or sell an article to a big publication. After the high comes the inevitable low, when we discover that wonderful possibility had some strings attached, it wasn't quite the success we expected, or even worse, was a damaging mistake." - Trudy W. Schuett

While Schuett argues that writers aren't necessarily more prone to depression than anyone else, a study conducted at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop concluded that 70% of writers experienced depression significant enough to meet the DSM3 or DSM4 criteria. The researcher who conducted the study attributed part of this susceptibility to depression to an increased sensitivity and openness to life: "There is a profile of a person who is creative. First, a creative person is open to experience, exploratory, risk taking and tolerant of ambiguity. And those kinds of traits make you see and feel more, but they also make you more easily hurt and more prone to experience suffering. If you do that enough, it can make you feel depressed."

There are definite ups and downs to the writing life. The writers interviewed in the study reported that while they could not write when they were at their most depressed, after they come out of a depression, they typically experienced renewed creative energy. It's the getting out of the depression that's the tough part, of course -- particularly remembering that you have been through the dark days before. (Someone's got to add "depression amnesia" to the depression lexicon: the inability to remember that you found your way out of the dark hole when you were depressed in the past -- and the resulting loss of any hope that you'll do so this time around.)

I can't imagine concluding this post without including this inspiring and empowering advice from writer Holly Lisle, who points out that writers should never give up the good fight without considering, one last time, the power of the pen. "You're a writer. You have options. Write about the bastard who left, and the bimbo, and sacrifice both of them in your next book. Let the bastard pay for the Mastercard while showing the world what a shit he or she was. Change your pen name and give yourself a fresh writing start. Get a crap-ass part-time job to get you through the low spots. Do something to change things, not to end them." Holly concludes by writing: "Live to write another day. For yourself. For the rest of your tribe. For all the good you can do."

Holly's postscript brings tears to my eyes:

"This article is written with thanks and deepest gratitude to all the writers who faced the abyss and found the strength to walk away."

| posted by Ann D @ 10:19 PM