Friday, 1 July 2011

Writers and Depression - overcoming darkness with light

When I recently received a compliment that likened me to the poet Emily Dickinson, many stars were shining in my eyes... But I couldn't help dwelling for a bit on Dickinson's reclusive tendencies (she famously did not leave her bedroom even for her brother's funeral, though she did open her door a crack that day - no doubt a monumental gesture for her to make at that point in her solitary world)....

The reasons behind Dickinson's introverted/reclusive personality have been debated umpteen times, all the way from agoraphobia (an anxiety disorder) to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Dickinson's fascination with death and suicide - not to mention her gradual withdrawal from the world outside her bedroom door - however seem to suggest that Dickinson was suffering from extreme depression. Further research confirmed that depression/bipolar disorder could indeed have been behind Dickinson's eccentricies.

The results of the study I've linked to above can't be all that surprising, hmmmm?  If you have friends who suffer from depression, you'd probably notice a startling similarity to what Dickinson went through - creativity coupled with a melancholy soul, resulting in a far-too-sensitive appreciation of the effects the darkest of thoughts can cast on all of us.

I hate the thought that my creativity might come packaged with its very own, hard-wired potential for self-destruction. But the link between creativity and depression has always seemed crazily strong to me, no pun intended:) 

It would be hard to pin down though whether it is the writer's solitary nature that enables depression to gather a stronghold on their personality, or whether inherent depression in fact causes a writer's need to be solitary from the start. How frustrating is that? As a writer with potentially depressive tendencies myself, I'm crossing my fingers in the hope that the link between the imagination and depression will be explored in greater depth in the future, if only to stave off the spectre of macabre melancholy for some moments longer:)

This leads me to the most troubling thing about depression - other than turning reclusive (which I do tend towards hmmmm). Sadly, suicide is a scarily real alternative for those suffering from depression. Writers are certainly not exempt from this dangerous aspect to the dark well of nothingness that depression can cause, as a certain letter from Kiana Davenport to JA Konrath shows. You might want to have a look too at a few other articles/posts on this correlation between writers in particular and depression:  Writers and Depression, Writers 'at greater risk of depression' survey finds, and a personal piece by Nancy Etchemendy.

The important thing to remember though is that - no matter the uncertainty, anxiety and downright confusion that surrounds this issue, anyone (and I mean ANYONE) who feels inclined to give in to depression/suicidal thoughts mustn't ACT on such thoughts without giving professional help a chance. Please do not assume that there is no one to help you. With rates of depression going up all over the world, and new treatments being developed all the time, there is help out there for those who seek it.

I really daren't imagine what it would have been like for someone in Dickinson's times not to have had a way to reach for help when she needed it. Writers in this age should ensure they're aware of the many therapeautic and medical options available to them now in the fight against depression - we shouldn't be sacrificing creativity and individuality and simple happiness because of wonky chemicals in a brain not created by us, not when there's a chance to keep illnesses like depression at bay.

And hey, if it's the thought of never being published that's driving you down a spiral of negativity, don't forget that you now have the option to self-publish! Yes, you can actually unilaterally find an audience and continue that dream of writing for a living right now - all this without sacrificing monetary gain, professional recognition and - most important of all - your life.

On that note, much prayers and good wishes to all writers, big and small, depressive or melancholic or euphoric or anything-in-between. May our dreams of starry nights come alive with the knowledge that we can live very long - and very healthy - lives alongside our creative impulses if we seek help when we need it. Goodnight to all, and God Bless!:)

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