Presents of Mind

On good days the Muse brings me "presents" for my writer's mind to play with. But those days are rare.

Writing with Depression

Short Story

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There’s a piece of paper rolled into my typewriter that has (page number) -12- typed at the top, but nothing else. It’s been stuck like that on page 12 for two weeks now. The first 11 pages are the beginnings of a first draft of a short story. I’m too terrified to sit down and finish the story. Not because of the story itself or the subject matter; not because I haven’t finished short story drafts before, but because of a huge abyss inside my own self. I can’t seem to muster the self-confidence. I don’t trust myself to go on.

Like many people, I suffer from anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and a constellation of related issues. The conflict for me is that no matter what’s going on in my life, I still have to write, or I can hardly call myself a writer.

It’s my understanding that, for whatever reason, creative people are even more susceptible to this debilitating problem than the general population. I wrote “problem,” when I think I mean “mental illness,” although I’m not a psychologist so I’m not good with labels. I tried to take pharmaceutical drugs (SSRIs), but I hated the effects and wasn’t willing to stick it out to see a change. The challenge for me is, how do I organize and quiet my mind enough to sit down and write?

I’m seeing a cognitive behavior therapist, who advised me yesterday to make myself write for 15 minutes every day. When I’ve written for 15 minutes I can get up and reward myself with something. Then I can ask myself if I want to continue. So far I haven’t done this yet today.

My other homework is to list my reactive thoughts and recognize them as specific types of reactive thoughts, then substitute positive thoughts for each and list them next to the reactive thoughts. This form of cognitive behavior modification is hard work, but it pays off, she assured me.

My other strategy is to practice mindfulness (Vipassana) meditation. Last night I woke up at 3 a.m. with a raging panic attack. Instead of reaching for medication, I went to my meditation spot and worked with my thoughts and emotions for an hour. When I got up from the cushion, my panic was gone and I was able to return to bed and sleep.

SIDE NOTE: My doc told me that a study was done with three groups of patients with depression/anxiety. The first group took medication only, the second group did meditation only, and the third group took medication and did meditation. After a given amount of time, they all improved, but those who took medication stopped improving after that while those who did meditation only continued to improve.

Sometimes I think I can’t deal with this, like it’s beyond my capabilities, like a huge wave that’s crashing over my head, swirling around my head with dark confusion, drowning in my own undisciplined mind. But at least I have a few tools now. Courage is the thing. I’m writing this post today not to give advice, but to share my experience with other writers and creative people who may have similar struggles.

11 comments on “Writing with Depression

  1. rad-tastic
    August 20, 2011

    I agree that us creative people always seem to have some sort of mental illness. Honestly, I’ve come to the conclusion that it comes with the territory, because a “normal” working brain doesn’t have fun thinking up some of the things (me specifically) authors come up with. Or, at least, are intrigued by. But that may be just a rationalization as to why I feel this way, and thus me avoiding having to come to terms with the fact that I may have a problem. Haha.

    Regardless, good for you on tackling your own demons so ruthlessly!

  2. xoxofrets
    August 18, 2011

    I am a nurse who has learned about mental health, it’s treatments and management. And as a person who is facing some challenges, I can say that YOU ARE VERY GOOD. I might not know you personally but I am proud of your accomplishment. Not many people can finish a blog post as honest as this. I too have just finished writing a short story about a girl who is suffering from insomnia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from rape but I don’t have the courage and confidence to post it yet. I thought I still needed to show it to some friends and see if it can pass as a decent post before doing so.

    After reading this, I was inspired.:)

    • Zephyr
      August 19, 2011

      Thanks for your kind words of support, xoxfrets. I too suffer from insomnia as well as social anxiety and life-long grief. I wasn’t raped as far as I know, but I would imagine that’s a terrifying subject to tackle if it’s from personal experience. It would take enormous courage to put it out there, I think. But I’ve read that it’s good to share scary stuff with people who love you and who you can trust. We really are all in this together. By “this” I mean the horrors of suffering, from our undisciplined minds, and from trying to cling to things in a world of impermanence.

  3. Diary Scope
    August 18, 2011

    I go through what you are going through all the time. But the moment I tell myself I’m going to write for myself, to make me happy, all of it disappears.
    when I think am I good enough? will people read this? Am I wasting time? I fall into that abyss.

    • Zephyr
      August 19, 2011

      My heart goes out to you, Diary Scope. I know exactly what you mean. A voice is always telling me I don’t have anything worthwhile to say, that no one will read it, that my words aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, etc. etc. I wasn’t making any progress in my outlook in writing workshops, either. That’s why I started seeing a cognitive behavior therapist. She’s giving me ways to modify these destructive thoughts. She says she sees a lot of artists who all suffer from this on some level. I’m going to give her a chance to help me because nothing else (except maybe meditation) has helped me yet. She’s awesome because she only charges on a sliding scale. Maybe you could find someone to help you modify your thought patterns on a sliding scale if you have money problems. Just a thought. Take care. ♥

  4. Monica
    August 18, 2011

    While reading, I thought: meditation, that’s what you need! And then you wrote point 3, meditation.:)
    I don’t know much about the types/names of meditation, but I practice one in which I practically force myself not to think of anything… which we know is damn hard. I imagine I’m standing in front of a waterfall, and whatever thought I have, it gets washed down with the fall. This calms my mind and afterwards I can think more clearly. I get tremendous help from meditating, any sort of problem, fear, sadness, etc. diminishes greatly after I do it. Good luck!

    • Zephyr
      August 19, 2011

      Monica, I don’t know a lot about different kinds of meditation either. I just happened to find a website on the type I mentioned in my post and it made a lot of sense to me, so I’ve been giving it a go for over a month now. Yup, it’s impossible not to think of anything, but I’m learning how to work with my thoughts, my body, and my emotions in formal meditation. I know what you mean about how all that stuff diminishes greatly after meditating. I can tell you that it’s the only thing that’s keeping me sane right now.

  5. Curtis Martin
    August 18, 2011

    Writing about it and writing through it is a form of therapy in itself. I often get blocked like that. In a fit of caffeinated or manic inspiration I get an idea for a sermon, lecture or chapter of a book that seems amazing at the time. After working on it for a while, the editor sitting in my left brain starts shooting holes in my idea.

    I use a couple of techniques to get past this. One I call bubbles, otherwise known as Mindmapping. I picked the idea up in a book on writing with the right side of the brain, but now I can’t remember the title.

    The other technique is the “morning pages” exercise described by Julia Cameron in her book,
    The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.

    I just started blogging after years of procrastinating. Now that I face the empty computer screen daily the old familiar monsters are resurrected. To all of the naysayers in my head, I say, “Bug off!” and get back to it.

    • Zephyr
      August 19, 2011

      Ah, yes, caffeinated inspiration. I know it well. I’ve tried all the various methods you mention, but my problems seem to run deeper than than these methods. That’s why I turned to therapy and meditation. I visited your blog and learned that you like to run. So do I. Like I said in an earlier post, writing, running, and meditation share a lot of the same discipline and reward patterns. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Sharon
    August 18, 2011

    Wow, well I don’t normally read posts longer than 100 words all the way through but yours was an exception because it was interesting and informative throughout. I wish you good luck with pushing through your fear – you seem to have a lot going for you. I’d hate for you not to take advantage of it.

    • Zephyr
      August 18, 2011

      Thanks for reading the whole thing, Sharon. I’m honored. And I appreciate your kind words. Pushing through the fear is exactly it.

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