Monday, February 9, 2015

Writers and Depression

By Niki Turner

I listened to an interesting podcast yesterday. Author Tosca Lee was interviewed on 1K True Fans  about creativity, writing, and dealing with depression. She described the feeling of being on the brink of a bout with depression as "circling the toilet bowl." An apt description, in my opinion.

Ernest Hemingway

I've done my fair share of battling the gloom monster over the years, both before and since I started writing "on purpose." It would seem, given anecdotal evidence, that depression is to writers and creatives what black lung is to coal miners—it's almost a job-related risk. And it's not just the struggling, starving writer living in a Paris garret (that was my childhood dream), it's the successful and the prospering writers, too. 

The theories for why writers succumb to depression are myriad.

Emily Dickinson
Writers need to be depressed so they can relate to their characters
I don't think this holds water. Seriously, I've written stories with homicidal characters, but I'm not homicidal. In fact, writing is often a cathartic way to purge unpleasant thoughts and emotions on screen/on paper, hence the reason journaling is often prescribed by therapists as a tool for healing. In addition, depression often shuts down one's ability to be creative, to exercise one's artistic bent, making it a double-whammy for the creative personality: You need to create to be happy, but you can't create because you're depressed. A vicious cycle! 

Writers don't get enough social interaction (i.e. writer's are lonely, so they're depressed.)
Most writers (almost ALL writers) are either true introverts or outgoing introverts who crave solitude and are exhausted by social events and small talk.  

Edgar Allen Poe
Writers don't exercise or get enough time outside.
I'm convinced this is the argument every health care provider (and mother) falls back on when they don't know why someone is depressed. "Not enough sunshine." "Not enough exercise." For some writers, this could be the case, and maybe that's why it's the fallback response, but I know plenty of depressed writers who exercise regularly and enjoy the outdoors, and STILL battle depression.

Writers get rejected all the time, so they get depressed.
This has some merit. Except that most writers are WELL AWARE that their rejections will far outweigh the kudos they receive. Thanks to communication with other creative types, we are, for the most part, inoculated against the rejection and the criticism that comes with exposing our souls to the general public. And when those attacks get really weird or personal, we generally (hopefully) have a network of writerly friends to fall back on for comfort and encouragement. AND... many of the most successful writers of our time have suffered from depression despite their success.

Writers think too much.
Writers do tend to be terribly introspective and analytic beings. Everything is potential story fodder, making even the most mundane of human activities the subject of scrutiny and evaluation. (I found myself making up a life history for the woman with the particularly lovely silver hair in the pew ahead of me at church this morning.) In addition, the processes of writing, editing, and revising are exercises in self-criticism. There aren't many professions that require you to create, examine, correct, create, examine, improve, correct, etc., all day, every day, all the time. A farmer plants, waters, and harvests. Some years are good, some are bad. So be it. A surgeon opens a body, removes or repairs an organ, closes the wound, and moves on. A writer writes, edits, writes, edits, writes, corrects, writes, rewrites... with no closure. The writer waits for reviews.

All of the possible causes can be debated and questioned and examined to the nth degree. What we need to know is what to DO if and when depression comes knocking. 

In the aforementioned podcast, Tosca Lee mentioned both therapy and pharmaceutical assistance. I've accessed both, at different times. In our current culture, it's often easier to get a prescription for a pill than it is to make an appointment to have a heart to heart with a counselor or therapist. Both can be beneficial. 

For anyone facing depression, don't ignore the problem! Like the "Fib" in Veggie Tales, ignoring depression just makes it grow to unmanageable sizes. Unfortunately, in many cases, our Christian culture frowns upon seeking help for depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Set all that shame and guilt aside... Depression can be deadly if left untreated. 

As writers, we have a lengthy history of sad stories of those who either didn't get help, or didn't get help in time. Let's NOT follow in their footsteps! If you can't see your way out of the darkness for more than a few days or weeks, it's time to seek help. Call your regular doctor, or find a counselor or therapist to talk to. Sometimes just talking to someone is enough to break the cycle. This is one time NOT to stay silent!

Love and blessings to all my friends who battle depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, and any other hidden ailment.


  1. Good topic. But I would ask, are we depressed because we're writers(creatives), or are we writers because we're depressed? Or maybe neither. Maybe they are just two sides of the same personality type. I think of all the reasons you mentioned, the fact that we think so hard and so deeply is at the crux of both why we write and why we get depressed.

  2. There is definitely some kind of correlation between creativity and depression. For me it's a vicious cycle... when I write, depression lifts. But when I'm depressed, I can't write. In fact, not feeling inspired or able to write is one of my warning signs that something is going on and I need to do some self care.

  3. I'm glad you mentioned that some people prefer to work in solitude. I'm an introvert and, truly, social interaction seriously drains me. I like spending time with people . . . to a point, and usually would rather be with one person or two than a crowd. But when I really need to accomplish something, I need solitude. Writing, for me, is NOT a lonely business.

    That said, I do think creative types of all kinds tend to feel and consider more deeply than many others. It's what lets them do what they do, but it can be costly, too.

    Great topic. :)

  4. I think people who prefer to work in groups are weird. That's why I like being able to work at home! Do I get lonely? Nope!
    I agree, the introspection required to create does put us at greater risk.

  5. Important topic, Niki, and I appreciate you tackling it. I don't have a theory as to why creative types tend toward depression, moodiness, or loneliness sometimes, as it must vary by individual. It's nice to know I'm not alone! Thank you!

  6. Hello,Writing is likewise a single interest.The writer’s life is loaded with unsurprising triggers of depression.In the event that you are detaching yourself and don't get outside much,you are likely not exercising or getting natural light.The absence of social interaction can set the stage for depression.Thanks.
    ~Kathy Brooks.


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