On Writing, Depression & Getting Through the Mess
Over the past two days, I’ve written 8,000 words on my novel-in-progress. Before you think “Oh wow! That’s great!” you should know that those 8,000 words weren’t easy for me to write. In fact, that chunk of words is more than I’ve managed to put out in the past two years combined.
The question of “Why?” has a simple answer: Depression.
One would think that, after dealing with depression and anxiety for nearly 20 years, I’d have devised a plan for writing through the constant rollercoaster of emotions, the sadness, the utter feelings of being a worthless failure, the fleeting thoughts that maybe the world would be better off without me in it. I have’t accomplished this, and it’s not for a lack of trying. I’ve cried over it. I’ve written outlines. I’ve asked to be kept accountable. Still, it’s all led to nothing concrete.
The thing about Depression is that it doesn’t care. It doesn’t care that I have to get out of bed every morning, that I have a life to live, or that I have goals that I want to accomplish. Depression sure as hell doesn’t care that I have to get words down on the page. In fact, Depression knows that writing every day is what I do. It knows that I don’t quite feel whole if I can’t write every day. Depression knows that, but it thrives on the ability to make me feel worthless and sad enough, to make me doubt and hate myself enough that I don’t write.
Depression makes those feelings and thoughts so strong, so prevalent, that I’ll do absolutely nothing. If I can manage something as simple as taking a shower or can force myself to eat, I can probably consider it a successful day. I could. I could consider it that, but I don’t. I don’t because there is no writing involved. There are no new words on the page. There is no progress on the novel that Depression tells me I’ll never finish because I’m not actually a writer. There is nothing, and that’s exactly what Depression wants. It wants me to see and feel how worthless I am every day, and 9 times out of 10, that’s what it accomplishes. This is what makes writing so hard for me, and when a good stretch occurs in which I’m able to get words down, it feels great. It’s the writer’s high, I suppose.
Here’s another thing about Depression, though: It kills the writer’s high.
This murder of my happiness, of the slight feeling of accomplishment, has gotten to be such a regular occurrence that I’ve come to expect it. On those days when I do manage to write anything of consequence, I find myself waiting for something. That something is the inevitable downfall that Depression initiates after a day filled with words. I know it’s coming, and all I can do is wait for it. Try to prepare and then wait. It’s a battle that I rarely win, and I end up feeling even more worthless and even less like a writer. Forgive the cliché, but the struggle is real. It really is.
A third thing about Depression is that it’s a personal fight. On-on-one. Others might be able to help, but they can’t fight the war for me. They can’t win it I have to do that. I have to want to do it, and I do want to, even though it has always been a minute-by-minute battle. The questions that have plagued me over the years are “How can I do this?” and, more specifically, “How can I do this and get out alive?” I am not alone in this way of thinking. I know that.
The answer, I’ve come to realize, is to keep writing.
Depression hates a fight. It especially hates a fight that involves a weapon that brings about happiness. For me, that weapon is writing. It’s getting words down on the page, no matter the number. It’s using those words to shove Depression aside, even if only briefly. I might not be able to win the war, but I can fight the smaller battles in the best way I know how: with words.
Little victories matter, and in a world that’s so full of shit and sludge and chaos, it’s more important than ever to fight for them.