Writing Through Depression

This is a discussion on writing while depressed I always like to open with the disclaimer that I am NOT a medical professional This is not medical advice. If at any point either now hopefully you won’t have it now, but now or in the future you find yourself in a mental illness crisis, please seek professional help. I also like to disclaim that I will be discussing things that Can be triggering for some people so if you need to get up and leave by all means do that–I won’t be offended. and as always, too, different things work for different people This is just a toolbox of ideas for you to stash away, and maybe something will click with you and maybe not, and That’s okay And I do invite — by all means speak up because I do like interactive stuff So I’m totally fine with people chiming in. As far as so I’m not a medical professional. Why do I do this? Well, I have been over the years diagnosed with major depressive disorder PTSD generalized anxiety disorder and suicidal ideation. I’ve been hospitalized numerous times Since I was a teenager both inpatient and what’s called partial hospitalization program Which I like to think of as… camp for crazy people? (*laughter*) You go to a hospital Monday through Friday usually for like two to three weeks 9 a.m.. To 6 p.m.. And you have very intensive group therapy all day long with a bunch of people. I have attempted suicide in the past obviously not successfully (*laughter*) I have had issues with self-harm, and this is an ongoing thing since childhood. The first time that I ever held a knife to my wrist I was eight years old. This is a compulsion for me. It has nothing to do… well, I don’t say “nothing” but… There are times when yes, I do actually want my life to end. But on a base level Everyday there is just this compulsion in my head of just not wanting to be here anymore and thinking about ways in a room Like how I can kill myself And you know being on a train and thinking I could jump off or being on a bridge just walking over a bridge Normal nothing’s going wrong in my life But, gee, I could jump off this bridge kind of thing so I’m at a constant war with myself of trying to stop those thoughts and On top of all that you know I do go through these Extremely depressed periods where I can’t get out of bed where I’m I wake up crying And again, this is for no reason. There’s different types of depressions, so you know, I have what’s called clinical depression There is also situational depression Which is you know when a loved one passes away or a Relationship ends or you lose a job or something like that and that type of depression it can be severe it can Require professional help, but it typically passes eventually with time Whereas clinical depression in most cases: There is no cure for it. You can kind of Rollercoaster it where you have you know different levels of it throughout your life, but it’s always there, and it’s always going to be there so that’s where I’m coming from of why I do this because I am a writer, and I’ve always been a writer and there is this constant struggle and constant battle of trying to not kill myself, trying to manage the roller coaster of my emotions, trying to Manage all of the day-to-day life things that you have to do of, you know, job… Housework, school, family, what you know whatever the things are there your plate? And then also trying to manage the creative life and producing creatively. If people don’t mind I do want to read something that I wrote during one of my depressive episodes. My purpose for reading this is twofold: one, to give you an idea of what it feels like when I’m in one of those states but also to show that Ok yes, this is a terribly depressing thing, but I wrote it, I did some writing, While I was in that state and it was cathartic to do that, And it kept that muscle flexed which is kind of the point of this whole discussion. It’s that: Find ways to flex the muscle if you injure yourself in a physical way There are still things you can do to try to keep yourself healthy and the same goes for the mental and the creative aspects, you know having a mental illness. It is an illness so There are ways to kind of keep yourself going even if you’re not really going going going. So this doesn’t have a title or anything it was just kind of a stream of consciousness thing that I wrote I don’t even remember What year I wrote it, but the sentiment Works for pretty much every depressive episode. I’ve ever had. I have depression. I’ve had it my whole life. I didn’t want it, I didn’t ask for it, but I have it. I have depression, which means I spend 90% of my time alone because when you have depression people treat you like it’s contagious. I have depression Which means you can’t just show up at my house and ask me to coffee or lunch or dinner I won’t be showered or even dressed my life has no meaning and each day the smallest of tasks is a struggle. I have depression, which means I eat too much or not enough. Some days I eat my feelings away. Other days I remember the eating keeps me alive, and why would I want to do that? I have depression, which means I spend 50% of my time in bed trying to think of a reason to get out of it. I have depression. It makes you uncomfortable. I make you uncomfortable because I talk about it. It’s so nice and easy to like or repost something positive about mental illness on Facebook. It’s not so nice and easy when someone you love stands in front of you screaming that they want to die. I have depression This means that strangers care about me more than the people in my life. I have depression. It’s a mental illness But it ravages my body to the migraines, the insomnia, the physical pain from the panic attacks The wear and tear of inactivity from hours spent in bed not to mention the self-harm. I wear scars inside and out. I have depression. I have good days and bad days. Mostly, I don’t let you see the bad. Not nearly as often as it happens, but even on the good days the illness is there, waiting underneath everything, whispering that its time will come. I have depression. The smallest and simplest of gestures can help me when I’m struggling. I don’t need you to move mountains. I just need you to brush the dust from my eyes. I have depression, which means everyone hopes I will be someone else’s problem until there’s no one left and I am standing alone crying for help. I have depression, which means people will say I’m I am overreacting. To them this will feel out of the blue, but the signs have been there building up all along. I am so patient, so very patient. I have waited decades for someone to care about me. I hope always that someone will prove me wrong. I have depression and someday It will kill me. (end of reading) And what I mean when I say that is that there is always that danger No matter what no matter how good things could get: I could have a best-selling book, I could, you know, have tons of in the bank account, and get a house and you know have whatever things that people consider markers of success but that danger is always going to be there and unless the scientific community does come up with some kind of miracle cure, It is always going to be there. So I think it’s important for me and for my own safety in my own health To have that reminder in the back of my mind that this could kill me and don’t get lax about your care whether that’s care from someone else you know, meaning a professional, or Just little things to care for myself. So as far as the writing goes And again, you know this is just my own personal take on it. I personally think that the most important and also the hardest lesson to learn in regards to writing while depressed is forgiveness. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not writing today, forgive yourself for not writing for a week, Forgive yourself for not writing for a month or even a year. It’s OK. It will be there when you get through whatever it is you are going through. Your health is the most important thing and if that deadline that either someone else has put on you, or you’ve put on yourself is upsetting you Then that’s not helping you. So it is okay to take that time away, to take time off, To say that I need a break, whether you’re just telling yourself that, or—and I’m not saying it’s easy because I know it’s not easy—but if someone is expecting something from you It’s okay to go to that person, you don’t have to tell them you’re depressed. If that’s not something that you’re out about you can say, “I’m going through something right now,” or “I’m sick” which is not a lie. “I have something” you know “I’m sick right now, and I can’t” you know “something has happened, something has come up in my life.” Ask for an extension. Ask if you can come back to it later. And Sometimes you might have to give up doing some things and miss out on some opportunities But the thing is I promise you, I guarantee you, there will be more opportunities. You will have more chances to do something else. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have been, you know, a ball crying mess thinking. I’ve messed everything up I’m never gonna get published again. I’m never gonna be at something like this again and Here I am. You know and I’ve had four stories published over the last few months? So you can do it again. The right people will be understanding. And if they’re not understanding, they’re not the right people and it’s okay to excise them from your life. So that’s one of my bits of advice that I think is the most important one is the forgiveness, forgiving yourself. Don’t worry about what other people are saying or thinking or feeling because that is noise. Compared to what you need for yourself, and you are the best judge of what you need for yourself. Some people when they’re depressed need to be surrounded by other people and need other people to be taking care of them some people need to be alone. You figure that out for yourself. What is gonna work best for you and don’t let other people… you know there’s a lot of— especially in the day of like Facebook and whatnot—there’s a lot of like: “Oh, you just need to go out in the sunshine.” You know: “Go hiking!” You know: “Exercise, eat right!” You know “if you eat right you will feel that everything will be okay! Right, right?” (Audience member): I’m really mad at that picture of a wetlands that says “this is medicine.” Yeah, I’ve seen that. I was like “This is shit! Yeah, this is a wetland, it’s full of mosquitoes and alligators! It wants to kill you!” (*laughter*) “This is the stuff that will keep you out of there!” After my marriage collapsed and my aunt was diagnosed with cancer at the same time The only thing that kept me from completely collapsing was Celexa. It was a bridge that kept me going until I could handle it on my own. I could have dealt with one or the other, not both. It was a medicine, I was sick, I needed it. I will never scorn anyone who need it. It’s a chemical imbalance.
Exactly. It’s medical. Just like an orthopedic condition. Yep, just like when I had my gallbladder out, it’s the same thing. Absolutely absolutely, a hundred percent same thing. And we can never discount what leaving ourselves untreated does to others. The reason I’m on serious meds and will never go off them again right now is because after my grandmother passed, my dad went, I got to a point where I was screaming at Robin.
Mm-hmm. I had no idea that rage was an anxiety attack. And all I knew was I was I was fucking up, and I couldn’t make it stop. And someone gave me a pill and said “this will make you stop fucking up.” I’ve been eating that shit like Pez, hell yes! Hell yes! You know it’s okay. All right, so “does this conflict with your spiritual worldview?” Incorporate it into alchemy and move on! So, well, speaking of the the illness part, and we talked about this last night, but —and I apologize for being a little more on the illness side of things right now — but it does relate — I am what doctors call “medication resistant.” And that doesn’t mean I’m resistant to taking it. I’ve taken all kinds of medication. My body just doesn’t… it does NOTHING. None of it has worked. So I mean, I’m a rare case in that regard The thing that I have come to learn to tell myself And it really actually has helped once I was able to mentally absorb it and I’m borrowing this from AAA But it works is: “This too, shall pass.” Mmm And so now when I’m going through a major episode where I’m just crying and crying and crying and crying… I say to myself, “it will pass.” It might take a month, it might take two or three months, But it will pass and so far knock on wood. I’ve been right every time. It has passed. So you know sometimes that’s enough to get you through. And you just have to accept that you know yes, I feel like shit right now, but it’s not gonna last forever. Eventually the brain chemicals will do their somersaults and it’ll go back to the way it was where I can be a little more even-keeled and not crying all the time and whatnot. But— getting back to the writing, there are tips and tricks that can get you through. So one thing that I did, And I recommend you do this when you are in a more positive state of mind, is I wrote a letter to myself. You can do this on a computer if you want or you can handwrite it and put it in an envelope. But I wrote a letter to myself. I think it was like five years ago or so where I forgave myself for how… Like, I literally said “I forgive you for how you’re feeling right now. I forgive you for hating yourself right now.” “I love you in this moment. I love you.” “You don’t love you, but I love you.” And so I just wrote this, you know, nice, not overly sappy, but this encouraging piece. You know: Here, this is physical proof that you are in a good place, and you can be in that good place again. And I’ve kept that letter on my computer and every now and then when I need it, I open it up and I read it to myself and it really does help. Now, your letter doesn’t have to say that, you know, tailor it to whatever would work for you. You know if you another thing you could do maybe—because this is something that helps some people— Instead of a letter, make a list of the things that you have accomplished in your life so far, and go back And if you’re feeling down, feeling like you’re a failure, or feeling like you might you know fail at something coming up in the future, Look at that list of things that you have done and remind yourself: hey “I did that and that was really cool. I can do cool things.” You know and have successes So a future or a list. Another thing that you can do is kind of like the thing that I read: do journaling. You know so I mean, I’m assuming here. You know I write fiction is Generally what I write, but you know sometimes if you’re in a really dark place, if you’re in a really bad place, the imagination sort of you know There’s like a shadow over the imagination and it can be hard to come up with characters or universes, Or you know plot lines or whatever. So do some journaling. Write some diary entries. I did a thing for one exercise I did for a while. I did a series called “I remember” And I would literally just write like five hundred or a thousand words of you know I remember this thing from my childhood or remember this you know whatever and just sort of Recall different things you know. Or you can do journaling about how you’re feeling I mean anything. Just pick whatever subject might appeal to you and just do a little, and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Doesn’t have to be… I think when you take away the pressure of showing things to people— you know having it something just for yourself — It takes that pressure off. And you stop worrying about “does this make sense?” or how perfect is it? Or is the sentence structure and blah blah blah? Again the point is flexing the muscle, just keep the muscle flexed. A lot of us here are into the fanfiction thing. Another thing that I do if I’m really really really in a bad way and just like can’t imagine doing anything productive at all is I will go on tumblr and I will ask people give me a one word prompt so I can might write some smutty fanfiction drabbles. Because it makes me happy to write smutty fanfiction drabbles. Even if I’m in a terrible mood it can make me happy to do that and it’s a distraction and it doesn’t have to be perfect because it’s just fanfiction and it has the added bonus, too, of giving other people pleasure. And giving them a little bit of pleasure can give you a little bit, and it creates the cycle. Audience member: I was just about to say it makes me happy when you write smutty fanfiction drabbles. I’m glad to hear that! Another thing that can help is Structure. And this is something from a clinical perspective That is taught over and over again at the times I’ve been hospitalized in the partial hospitalization program. So to give you an example in the partial hospitalization program Like I said It’s Monday through Friday So come Friday the therapists are really worried about you Because you have Saturday and Sunday all by yourself, unsupervised, without the structure you know. They’re concerned about people who have addictive behaviors that they will fall back into maybe using drugs and alcohol Or if you have self-harm behaviors that you’ll go back into the self-harm over the weekend. And so what they have us do on Fridays is they actually print out a sheet with a clock face. And every hour is Broken up on the clock face. They give us the blank sheet and we— for two days— They give us two days worth—Saturday and Sunday — and we are supposed to write out in each hour Things that we are supposed to do in each hour. Obviously sleep is included in there But you know: go for a walk, eat breakfast, take a shower. I’m gonna get up at this time, I’m gonna go to bed at that time, and so on and so forth and that structure helps you get through the weekend without Falling back on to bad behaviors. Now— Obviously, I’m not in the hospital anymore, and I’m not I haven’t done the partial hospitalization since… I think 2013 was the last time I did it. But I adapted that structure — not to that degree because you know once you reach a certain point you don’t need it every hour like that But I adapted a weekly structure that I’ve applied to myself, and it sounds very mundane But when you have severe depression you get distracted very easily And you fall into the negative patterns very easy, so it’s good to have kind of a guideline to keep you going. So for myself: My Monday through you know Sunday through whatever—Monday through whatever—however you want to look at it—day-by-day guide is: Monday I take care of my animals because I have a zoo pretty much at home And it’s a project! And I do my trash, and I do my recycling>Tuesday, I do my laundry. Wednesday, I do my housework and my compost. Thursday is an exercise day and my Krav Maga class. Friday, I do Circlet work. Saturdays, I work on fanfiction and or writing interchangeable whichever. Sundays I do food prep now. Do I manage to do all of these things every day? Not always necessarily Because some days you’re hanging out with people Or some days you have an appointment or you have errands you have to run or whatever But it’s a good guide to keep me focused and you can do the same thing with your writing. Create some kind of structure that works for you, for your writing. For me having Saturdays set aside as a good structure for me But for you it could be You know I do have a goal of an hour every day or ten minutes every day? I mean whatever it is. It’s gotta work for you without putting too much pressure on yourself. It could be — and if you’re in a severe depression — It could be something as simple as I write one sentence a day or just one paragraph a day something like that. You know it doesn’t have to be anything really overwhelming. and if you really really really can’t get yourself to write something … …It’s gonna sound counterintuitive… but *consume* media and This does apply to writing. Because if you’re consuming, especially if you’re consuming fictional media, if you’re watching a movie, or you’re watching a TV show Guess what, that’s writing? and If you pay attention to it… I’m not saying you have to sit there and like take notes or whatever, but pay attention to how they structure the storyline How do they write the characters, how do the characters interact with each other, it can almost kind of be like Background homework for your mind to chew on and then come back to you later on when you’re in a better state. So you know don’t feel guilty or admonishing yourself if You end up spending your depressed day binge-watching a television show. That’s okay, because it’s still writing and you’re still getting something. Or if you read, if you spend the day reading, Whatever you’re doing. If you’re consuming something that has to do with writing (offscreen commenter: you’re filling the hopper of story) Exactly, exactly. Offscreen commenter: The other thing to say about the structuring one of the one the tips that I learned back when especially when you have the sort of depression and anxiety mixed together about about “not doing” things? You know and you beat yourself up for not doing the laundry and then you beat yourself up for not doing the housework, and you beat yourself up for not doing this and What it basically says is: If you’ve got seven things to do in seven days you are not allowed to beat yourself up every day for not doing SEVEN things. Right. If Monday’s laundry day, and you don’t do it, you only beat yourself up on Monday about laundry. On Tuesday… That’s not laundry day, so now you forget about it. Right. And you think only concentrate on the thing thats due that day — and that that for general sort of upkeep of life that you will drive yourself nuts if every day you’re like, “Oh my god– I need to do these eight million things!” and it’s like, “no, every day is not for every thing.” You have your specific days, because you get yourself into a negative spiral, where you’re like oh and then I didn’t do the thing, and then tomorrow I didn’t do the thing, and then Wednesday didn’t do the thing and I didn’t do the other thing. And then you are even less likely to do the thing because then You feel negative about it. Well, that’s where the forgiveness comes in, right?
Commenter: So you have yourself let it go yeah. And and you’re only allowed to feel guilty about it for one day and not the whole week and just and then By not feeling as bad about Not Doing Everything, All the Time… Then you’re more likely to actually accomplish more, because you feel less guilty, and then you feel less bad about yourself and you feel less depressed, and less anxious, and it’s like: “oh I was doing that to myself! no one was doing that to me, but me?” Yeah! Oh: (Audience member): Um just recently I started marking things on my to-do list as the “Dayenu” For those who don’t know the term, Dayenu means “It would have been enough” and it’s It’s an expression of thankfulness. It would have been enough if God had only taken us out of Egypt It would have been enough if God had only parted the Red Sea And so I would take my to-do list and Put a mark next to one thing and I said if if I don’t do anything else today But that? That is enough for today.
Yep. Yep Yep, yeah.
And it’s remarkable how little mental tricks like that even with our sophisticated brains, who understand that these are little mental tricks, right? How nice it is to look at it and say yup, but I did do that yeah, and I promised myself that would be enough if I did that today. Yeah, acknowledge the things that you’ve done Reward yourself for the things you’ve done. You know yes Also never forget you’re smarter than your brain. You can outsmart your own brain. And it is for some of us necessary! So, in defense of hiking… (*group laughter*) And all exercise. I think at least for me The purpose is move beyond a place of thought? So if I am exhausted enough Then I will stop thinking about the things bothering me. Or I’ll have thought about them for the eight hours of hike and by the end, I’ve figured something out Or I’ll be so exhausted that I literally can’t think about anything other than my body. And so that is why to do exercise yeah, not necessarily “being in nature” though that’s a huge part of it too, but I think it’s really the other stuff that comes into it. And the other thing I want to mention is negative people. Moving back to the Northeast has been a very trying experience. I have some family members who are just extremely extremely negative who I can’t really avoid. Who are just, like, very anti-writing anti-degree or education and *anything* I do really. So, Avoiding them is not easy.
You might not be able to avoid them. We should get together because my in-laws think this is all a big scam and y’all are here to take my money. To give an example of something like that: I mean, my mother and I are completely at odds. You know, especially bringing it back to the Depression: Sshe thinks that all of this stuff is like… you just “get over” stuff. And you don’t talk about stuff like that, and you know what not. She thinks me being in the hospital and being on medication and whatnot is just absolutely ridiculous. So when I talk to my mother, we just don’t talk about this stuff. If I’m feeling depressed I don’t tell her about it. But we have people in our lives who genuinely think all we need to do is kiss a frog. May I recommend? Since they’re going to be aggressive about what’s working for you… And you do have the excuse that you’ve got a mental thing going on…. accuse them of being Scientologists! (*laughter*) They give you shit about your meds! I do have at least two people in my life that anytime I bring it up they’re like “that’s poisoning. You shouldn’t be doing that. You should get in touch with your inner body!” I just say “You’re a Scientologist! Only Scientologists think that way! And you’re in on it!” And it’s just …yeah. Their positions are just as ridiculous as this, so… …please use your diagnosis in your in your favor and to be stupid back at them. Yeah, I’m from Florida. We got a lot of Scientologists. So my last bit of advice which actually someone mentioned earlier, I forget what it was for, but having an accountability partner in regards to the writing. And this can be someone online I remember Back for a while that the really popular thing was doing Google Chat Writer Group type things, where a bunch of us, would say: We’re all gonna get on in this time and we’re gonna write for an hour And you know then touch base with each other after an hour to talk about what we wrote or you know that kind of thing. You know the key is to make sure that you don’t feel guilty if you don’t do too much, Or if you can’t do it that day Or what not but if it is something that is fun for you. If interacting with people in that way is a way That’s not going to add to your anxiety or depression Then that can be a good way to get some writing done too in a fun kind of environment. You know that’s slightly less Stressful. I think that’s about all I had. Any questions? Audience member:Just thank you for reading that piece. (*Applause*)

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