A Game Plan for Depressive Writers

I’ve read many articles that talk about the relation of creative people to depression and rather than revisiting all the same examples and studies, here’s a link to an excellent article that explains it all: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/dec/13/writers-depression-top-10-risk

I don’t hide the fact that I suffer from depression. Before I agreed to marry my husband I warned him that I can be quite moody at times. For me depression starts as a feeling of laziness. The floor needs swept, but I just can’t muster the energy to do it, or I have to psych myself up to it. I get easily agitated by things like clothes touching me, people smiling the wrong way, rude drivers, you name it. I start clearing my calendar of everything that’s not absolutely necessary and if I’m lucky, I won’t completely lose the ability to write, or smile.

Seldom am I the kind of depressive who can’t get out of bed. I’ve learned long ago to swing my feet onto the floor whether I feel like it or not. When I worked outside the home, the depression would usually be gone after a particularly busy shift. That’s if I actually could make it to work and not call out. During depressive episodes, I always wanted to call out, not just from work, but from life.

The truth is I’ve been going through depression for about two months now and realized it about a month ago. Food doesn’t taste as good, I have no desire to socialize or laugh for that matter. I find myself wanting to sleep more than I should and waking up in the middle of the night. I do go through periods where I will take medication, but hate doing so because it makes me feel flat. It’s great that I’m not severely depressed on the stuff but it makes me feel hardly any emotion at all.

Thankfully, this episode hasn’t effected my ability to write. That’s always my biggest fear. I’ve gone through many months where I couldn’t. You could offer me a million dollars or put a gun to my head and neither would be motivation enough to make me write anything worth reading. Strangely, this time, I’m doing some of my best work.

I have my theories as to why creatives and writers in particular suffer more than the general population. We use the right side of our brain more than others, so they say.  Perhaps that has something to do with it. Perhaps its the long, drawn out periods of isolation, or the needed introspection, or just the fact that we’re having to live in a second world that probably is full of conflict is to blame. Writers need to be empathetic people to crawl inside our character’s heads and feeling so much so often forces us to be in touch with emotions we would otherwise rarely visit. Whatever the reason, many of us writers do struggle.

A good friend of mine suffers similar bouts. Luckily, we rarely go through them at the same time and can be one another’s accountability partners. Together we’ve come up with a pretty effective game plan for when one of us is really bad off. I thought sharing it with you all might help some who struggle too.

1. Get sunshine. This might be as simple as sitting for a half hour on the porch in the summertime or in front of a sunny window in the winter.

2. Exercise. Nothing helps a funk like movement. In the summer, I take a run, walk or hike. When I’m depressed this is the last thing I feel like doing, but having an accountability partner to tell me to do this and knowing they’ll check back to make sure I have gives me the motivation I need. It’s also helpful to know through years of dealing with this monster that it will help and I do want to stop feeling sad.

3. Watch an inspirational movie. Sometimes I’ll do this before the above and it will give me just enough juice to put on my walking shoes or at least drag myself out to the yard.

4. Pray. While this is fourth on the list, it’s not what I consider 4th most important. I pray for God to give me back my joy. Sometimes He does, often He doesn’t, at least not right away. Paul prayed for God to take away his thorn and it helps me to think that thorn might have been depression. After praying for help, I thank God for all that I have to be grateful for. Well, not ALL, that would take the rest of my life 🙂

5. Focus on others. When I’m feeling blue, I force myself to pet the dogs, play a game with the children, write someone an encouraging note.

6. Take vitamins. I’ve found fish oil, vitamin C and B complex vitamins to be particularly helpful.

7. Eat healthy. When I’m depressed, I tend to eat better. It makes sense that would help and certainly couldn’t hurt. I also find that eating sushi improves my mood. I read somewhere the whys but I’m less concerned with that than the end result.

8. I buy myself flowers. I’m not talking about a fifty dollar rose arrangement, just a five dollar set of sunflowers from Kroger does the trick just fine.

9. Read the Psalms. I find reading the brooding cries just as helpful as the praises. There’s something comforting in knowing that even David suffered.

10. Ignore ‘helpful’ advice from well meaning friends and family who tell me to snap out of it or to spend more time in God’s word. I think I can honestly say that my spiritual walk isn’t the problem. Depression tends to come on me for no apparent reason. Not because I’ve given up Bible study or missed church one Sunday or had my house robbed or anything else. It usually comes on like a wave out of nowhere and sometimes during a time in my life when everything is going my way.

11. Shower. I am a big bath taker but when I’m feeling blue it doesn’t have the same effect as showering. I think it has something to do with the streams of water that increase blood flow. I’m not sure of that, but I do know it seems to help me get things done. Adding a jet of ice cold water at the end seems to give me an extra kick in the pants.

12. Grooming. I make myself paint my toenails, pluck my eyebrows, get a trim. It’s easy to let myself go when I’m feeling blue, but forcing myself to take care of me can often help get me over a hump in the same way as making myself clean my house does.

13. Fake it til you make it. Supposedly there’s endorphins released when we smile. Plastic or not, it does seem to help a little.

Whatever the reasons writers tend to suffer depression so often, something tells me that it is not as much a curse as it can feel like. I could be wrong, but I can’t help but wonder if I didn’t feel things as deeply as I do would I write with the same depth and feeling? Of course, that’s little consolation when the black cloud is following me around.

Gina Holmes is the President and founder of Novel Rocket and the bestselling and award-winning author of Crossing Oceans and Dry as Rain. In 1998, Gina began her career penning articles and short stories. In 2005 she founded the influential literary blog, Novel Journey. She holds degrees in science and nursing and currently resides with her husband and children in southern Virginia. To learn more about her, visit www.ginaholmes.com.