Any advice for writing with depression?
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Laura asks (paraphrased question–full question below):
I am working on my dissertation, and am wondering if you have any advice about writing with depression. I have imposter syndrome and it is always worse when my anxiety and depression come up. I realize that a lot of people who will themselves to success aren't facing the kind of mind-altering depression and anxiety that I am. When it is really bad, I don't just question my writing, but my value at all, and I can't just snap out of it. Any advice about writing with depression?
Trollbrains sometimes fucking suck, don't they.
Hi Laura. I paraphrased your question so that it could fit into the "top of the fold" and a Facebook preview, but the full version is down below.
Your trollbrain, Izzy, sounds like a real turdbucket. You can tell her I said so.
One of the things I've learned over the years is that labels are, at best, the beginning points for understanding the deep nuance and individual-expressions of neurodivergence. When some armchair psychologist tries to make the beginning and end of the conversation "DIAGNOSIS-BAM, now you fit into a box," they are usually not demonstrating anything beyond a wicked lack of understanding and real knowledge. So I think you have the right idea asking for lots of input, and I'll put out the question to our readers.
My two cents: I've never been diagnosed with anything other than "you were abused and it has messed with your everything," but I go through some pretty wild ups and and some pretty severe downs from time to time, and I have several friends (many writers) who struggle with depression and the way that anxiety and depression can do a wicked combo (particularly if they tag team in a triple threat with imposter syndrome). Most of the advice I've picked up is pretty basic stuff: keep up on self-care, if it's possible to have therapy and meds, keep up on those. Be kind to yourself about your regimen on the days that it's really bad.
But to this I would add some particular insight because, like the subject of the Fleetwood Mac song, I am given to going my own way.
First off, establish a daily routine and stick to that regimen....at least as much as you possibly can. For every day you scrape through that writing, no matter how much you really don't want to, the slog is that much easier when you're less overwhelmed. Sometimes people stop brushing their teeth or taking care of themselves when they're depressed because they're that depressed, and I don't want to trivialize the situation or depression for the people who reach that point. It's absolutely not about sloth and it's absolutely not something they can just "get over." However, for many in their day-to-day struggles, something like teeth brushing might one of the last things to fall away (or that it does is a sign things are really bad) because it is an established habit that is much more rote and routine than, say, hanging out with friends or doing that activity one loves. Getting writing to be tooth-brushingly habitual can help you be able to do it in spite of brain weasels. Maybe it'll take a "nine" to break your routine instead of a "seven," and that's a lot more productive days, year after year. It's not panacea because even basic self-care falls away sometimes during bad illnesses, but it can help to have that routine firmly entrenched and push yourself to maintain it. Be honest about that assessment. (But if you really can't, then be as kind to yourself about that as possible. It happens. It's okay. Think about what you'd say to someone else.)
The other is to honor the moments where things are going well. Hitting your stride with no Izzy in sight? See if you can clear a few hours from the schedule and try to write for a little longer that day. Make the most of the good moments.
But how about everyone out in readerville? How do those of you with depression cope and keep writing, or get back to writing as fast as possible? I will set the comments to a lower security setting for a couple of days and deal with the deluge of spam, so please feel free to contribute for Laura some tried and true techniques you've found over the years.
Laura, you also might want to check the Facebook post for this article. A lot of my FB followers steadfastly refuse to write comments on the blog instead of on the comments FB post itself, and something worthwhile might turn up there.
Just don't read the comments.
Oh shit, I guess you have to. Well, keep a picture of a cute bunny or something on standby.
I love your blog and fb posts and it has been really helpful and
encouraging! It gives me a sense of community despite the seeming
black hole void nestled in an isolated universe that is writing a
I wanted to ask if you have anything in the archives or know of any
mentors or role models that talk openly about writing with depression.
I have absolutely evil Impostor Syndrome, I've even named it as a way
to manage it, but Izzy is a cold-hearted bitch. And her existence and
power is manifold when coupled with high anxiety and clinical
depression (which is delightfully exacerbated by the soul-crushing
rite of passage that is finishing a dissertation).
I recently realized that the people around me, that I see powering
through and succeeding don't have the kind of hateful mind-altering
depression and anxiety that can render me useless in the space of just
a few minutes. And the people that I know that do have severe
depression, really struggle.
I know more of us deal with this, I know it's not just me.
Intellectually, I know I'm doing the work and what needs to be done,
and I recognize when Izzy has made an appearance. But it's not just
Izzy. Eviscerating my Impostor Syndrome requires that I first wade
through the seemingly endless quagmires of shit that is Depression -
and let me tell you, that combination is a very very scary one,
because when you're depressed, Impostor Syndrome doesn't just tell you
you're a bad writer, or scholar, it gets much more personal, much more
quickly, using those activities as leverage to convince you that not
just your writing but perhaps your entire life is worthless. It can be
terrifying. One well-meaning colleague recently, probably in her own
frustration with my dissimilar experience, suggested that I try "just
not letting it get to" me. Not helpful. Alienating, actually. But it
made me realize that she doesn't understand this particular obstacle
and that I could use support and encouragement from a writer or
writers that do get it. (I promise I have a good support network and a
great therapist! I just want to convey that my query is about
Depression, and only tangentially Impostor Syndrome, and finding a
writer or writers out there who can genuinely understand this
experience and offer support, encouragement, or even understanding
solidarity that isn't, essentially, "snap out of it.")
So, it would be helpful to hear from some established writer, or even
writers who also identify in this way. Even if we do all of the good
writing habits and the self-encouraging positive things we're supposed
to do, we are still struggling. Perhaps knowing of others' experiences
with this, I (we who live with this reality) can chart a way forward
for myself. Honest to goodness, somedays I feel like Frodo battling
just to get to Mordor (not even just the task itself but the trudging
through), or Brienne of Tarth who is/was also trying not to die while
trying to fulfill her duties.
Thanks so much for your work and for the community you've built!