Once again, it is American Psychological Association’s Mental Health Blog Day. Before, I talked about the use of mental disorders in fiction (something that can both be done very, very well and very, very poorly); today I’ll be talking about mental disorders on the other side of the keyboard (or typewriter, or pen).
In a statistic that probably shouldn’t surprise anyone, those who work in creative fields have some of the highest rates of mental illness in the general population. As this article puts it, “People in creative professions are treated more often for mental illness than the general population, especially writers, according to researchers at Karolinska Institute” (emphasis mine). They go on to state, “Like their previous study, [Karolinska Insitute] found that bipolar disorder is more prevalent in the entire group of people with artistic or scientific professions, such as dancers, researchers, photographers and authors. Authors specifically also were more common among most of the other psychiatric diseases (including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety syndrome and substance abuse) and were almost 50 per cent more likely to commit suicide than the general population.“
As an author myself (obviously) I can fully understand how being a little crazy is helpful when it comes to writing (especially when there are mental links between things like bipolar and hypergraphia–the compulsive need to write). Unfortunately, however, mental illness is not a golden ticket to being a great author. While I am hardly an expert in all mental disorders, between my own personal experiences and what I have heard from other authors, depression can really put a kink into your writing.
With symptoms including:
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so that even small tasks take extra effort
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness — for example, excessive worrying, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that are not your responsibility
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
just to name a few, even the most prolific writers might find themselves not wanting to touch their work in progress. So what should you do if you find yourself in something a little bit more than a slump?
1. Only write what is cathartic. Sometimes you need something light to ignore what you’re feeling. Sometimes you need something dark to get all those awful feelings out. If whatever you’re writing only makes you feel worse, stop. Energy/Motivation is hard to come by when depressed. Save it for something that helps you.
2. Find support systems. Friends, family, writing groups, online forums…it doesn’t matter. If you need someone to talk to, find someone who will listen. While I’m sure there are plenty of groups out there, if you find yourself needing writing support specifically where it comes to keeping yourself going, the NaNoWriMo forums have always been nothing but supportive for those asking for help–personal or professional.
3. Don’t hold yourself to any standards. One of the crappiest parts about depression is that little voice that tells you that nothing about what you’re doing (or even about yourself) is worthwhile. I’m willing to bet every author goes through periods where they think they’re an awful writer. It’s only worse when your mind is working against you to say you should give up. If you want to write, give yourself permission to suck. Don’t think about anything else you’ve written. Don’t read anything back. Just write whatever you feel like writing. It might end up being good, it might not. It doesn’t matter if it lets you write.
4. Figure out if schedules work for you. Sometimes a set routine will be motivation. Sometimes it will just make you feel worse that you can’t bring yourself to write. If it works for you, set one. If it doesn’t, don’t tell yourself you should be writing. You’ll only succeed in making yourself feel worse.
5. Know it will get better. Clinical depression can last for a week or you can struggle with it for years. The good news is, however, I have never met anyone who hasn’t had things get better at some point. Perhaps you’ll simply come out of it, perhaps you need antidepressants or a therapist, however it happens, you won’t feel like crap for the rest of your life. At some point things will begin to feel a little better and–if you haven’t been able to get yourself to write–you will start writing like you used to. It’s just about getting through the worst until you get to that point. Because, as long as you don’t give up, I promise you will.
Note: If you find yourself contemplating suicide or otherwise harming yourself, please reach out to friends, family, your therapist, or the suicide hotline: “No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.” http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
4 thoughts on “Mental Health Blog Day”
Very interesting blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Thank you Jessica for this important blog post today. I like how you integrated credible resources, symptoms and tips for persons who may be experiencing a “slump” as you shared. Awesome post!
Reblogged this on Weaver Grace and commented:
I need to go deeper into my depressions to get out of them, and use Jessica Dall’s suggestion number one, “Only write what is cathartic.” Writing something dark can take a lot of the bite out of a depression. I feel irritated when people tell me to cheer up, even though I know that they might be saying it with all of the best intentions. When I let myself go dark when I write, I feel spooked by the vividness of horrible images — and fascinated and illuminated. I would never deliberately read or write such things. Suggestion number one is refreshing.
When I am in my deepest depression, art is the last ability that I lose. Reading and writing are the very last skills that go, except breathing, swallowing, and blinking (yes, those become skills). I write quickly and keep my focus on the next word, so that I don’t have time to read or judge my work. I know that I might have to write dozens of pages to produce one keeper. That’s OK, because the keeper is exciting and rewarding, and makes the experience worthwhile. So, I want to proclaim suggestion number three from the rooftops! “Don’t hold yourself to any standards.”
Consider the statistics that Jessica cites, while you keep suggestion number three in mind. Consider that mental illness diagnoses are human constructs (standards) to help professionals to communicate. Therefor, perhaps art doesn’t make people crazy, and crazy people aren’t artistic. Perhaps the people who feel less pressure to be conventional, and more drive to be unconventional, are diagnosed as “crazy artists”. This idea makes suggestion number three all the more sensible.
Another sensible suggestion is, “Figure out if schedules work for you.” Too many people who think that they know about mood disorders insist that time management must help. It is only helpful when I feel well. Otherwise, it is enormously frustrating as I can’t accomplish what I aim for.
You see, suggestion number five, “Know it will get better,” is the one that I have the hardest time with every day. No one has persuaded me that “this too shall pass.” For example, when I have been down for a while, and then depression persists, then I am sure that I am deteriorating. I know that how I am feeling will never improve. I know that I will never be able to finish the many projects that I started. Instead of backing out to where I remember the light was, and not being able to find even a glimmer, I accept that I am in that state of mind forever. With practice, I am learning to reorient myself to accept my limitations. Even when I can only imagine what I want to write, that is something. I can’t imagine that I will ever feel better, but I find it easy to imagine that I could feel worse. Then is a good time to return to suggestion number one, and write my heart out!
Jessica Dall offers remarkable insight for people who deal with depression personally or indirectly. I hope that more people will see these suggestions.