Writing with Depression
Content warning: discussion of suicide and depression
I have depression, and I write.
Depression looks different on different people. Living in Seattle, where it’s gray and rainy about two thirds of the year, a lot of people talk about “seasonal affective disorder.” If you’re not familiar with it, here’s an unscientific summary: when it’s dark and gray and miserable outside for a very long time, some people start to feel dark and gray and miserable inside, too. Makes sense.
Of course, that’s not usually how it works for me. Sure, sometimes I get depressed in the winter, but not really because of winter. It’s more because my up-and-down cycle is relatively tight, so in general, I feel lucky if a full month goes by without depression rearing its weird, amorphous head. So, I get depressed in winter. I get depressed in fall. I get depressed in spring.
And holy hell do I get depressed in the summer.
It’s hard to say if I really get depression more often, or to a worse degree, in summer than any other season, or if it only feels worse. There is something particularly galling about feeling like a cloud of gloom circles your head and every tiny effort costs you a piece of your soul...when everyone else is beaming and skipping and talking about how great the weather is right now. Depression feels worse, more damning, when you’re visibly alone in it.
Depression also feels just a little bit worse when everything in your life is going well, and by all accounts, you ought to be happy right now.
You really should feel good about this. Aren’t you so excited? Isn’t everything just wonderful? Don’t you want to sing from the rooftops already?
Why aren’t you more excited?
Why aren’t you happy?
Mood is a precarious thing. The tiniest ripple can rock it off balance. And all the king’s horses can’t put it back.
About three months ago, my first book went live on Amazon. I did a few promotions, and it ended up hitting #1 in the Occult subcategory, and made it into the top 100 in the overall Kindle store. It felt amazing to watch the numbers, to check on my progress, to see new reviews showing up on the Amazon page. I was elated, over the moon, pleased as punch.
That was the top of the roller coaster. Lucky for me, I’ve been on this ride a few times before, so I knew to brace myself for the fall. And the fall it came.
The thing about success at this early stage is that it doesn’t actually change your life, or at least it hasn’t changed mine yet. I still have to work a regular 9-to-5 to pay the bills, on top of everything else. And at this point, I still had to finish the first draft of the sequel, though it felt like I was this close for weeks. Anxiety took hold of me, not just about finishing the sequel, but about every bit of marketing I wasn’t doing, or wasn’t doing fast enough, as well as everything I didn’t yet know I ought to be worried about. It started to feel exhausting just to breathe. Every moment not spent working became consumed with guilt, which eventually became infused with resentment. I was stuck in a marshland of bad feelings.
And outside, a happy sun shone on the world, a lovely breeze lifting book pages through an open window.
The very weather was mocking me.
Still, I pushed on. Decided to use my anxiety and my guilt and my resentment as fuel--though as far as fuel goes, it burned quite slow.
Eventually, finally, I finished the first draft, and I even ran another promotion. A tiny fountain of relief erupted in my brain, and twin urges to celebrate and to rest battled it out for my attention.
Neither won for long, of course. I took a tiny breather, just to clear my head, and then capitulated to my true master: edits.
Meanwhile, the weather got hotter. And summer did the other thing it seems to do, relentlessly, in my adulthood: it got busy. Birthday parties and barbecues and short trips and family visits piled up high, and fast. I simultaneously felt like I needed a vacation, and like I couldn’t justify one with everything going on, and edits still calling my name.
So I kept writing. Through my creeping summertime sadness, through my endless obligations...I kept writing. What else could I do?
I would leave the story at that, for now, were it not for two other things that happened this summer. In case you’ve forgotten the content warning at the top, let me remind you--I said I’d be discussing suicide here. So what were those two things that happened? Two famous, successful, productive people died, by their own hands.
A good number of media outlets seemed to express a fair amount of shock at each of these deaths, and I certainly don’t blame anyone for feeling that way. A smaller number of outlets used this as an opportunity to talk about mental health, and the pressure to pretend that we are all very successful, and very happy, and our lives are made up mostly of picture-perfect lattes and vacations in effortlessly awesome locales.
I understand the feeling of that pressure. A lot of good things have happened to me this year, and a big part of my own brain believes that I should be happy now, and that should be the end of it.
And I am. But I’m also not. I am both happy and not-really-happy, at the very same time. The sun shines on my face, and I can feel it burning me.
Sometimes, I sit down to write something or to edit something, and it seems like the worst thing in the world is pressing down a single key to strike its mark on the virtual page before me. Sometimes I can push through that feeling, and sometimes I can’t.
So what do I do when I can’t? Honestly? I make a giant cup of coffee and I load a bowl. When I feel bad or unmotivated or listless...I fill my body up with caffeine and THC, and it creates an anesthetic barrier between me and my shitty dopamine levels.
I don’t enjoy feeling dependent on anything, and to be honest, sometimes I do feel a little dependent. Sometimes nothing else will drag my mood out of the dumpster but this, and I don’t like that. But if the option is to medicate or to continue feeling the way I did when I woke up...I choose the former almost every time.
So there’s the truth of it: my life is good, but I still have depression. And I consciously self-medicate with coffee and weed. It works better some days than others.
I have depression, and I write.
An Unexpected Coda
So, you may have noticed a date at the top of this, and if you’re reading this around posting time, you may have noticed that it’s more than 10 days past.
The terrible and wonderful thing about mood is that it changes. As of this writing, I actually feel really good, and I have for about two weeks now.
Even as I wrote the first part of this, I already felt better. I’d had a few good nights out with friends, and I’d really let loose. Let go of some of the tiny things I’d been holding on to. Sang myself hoarse at karaoke, and proudly discovered the next morning that I’d actually consumed enough water to fully avoid a hangover. Had some lovely outings with my partner. Went to look at new computers to replace my wheezing old troglodyte, and ended up on an unexpectedly hilarious adventure to get back. (Literally every single entrance onto the freeway going north had been shut down; it was an hour-long journey back without traffic. Turns out, an extra hour of driving is pretty awesome if you’re with people you love.)
And I’ve been having a blast editing the sequel to Shadow Summoner. Not to brag or anything, but I think I kinda love this thing that I wrote. As hard as it was to reach that finish line, it feels incredibly worth it right now. So here I am, over the moon again. I can’t wait to share this book with the world, and I’m so excited to bring that moment to fruition.
Of course, as always, I know that the depression isn’t gone for good. The moods, they’re gonna swing. But I know I can handle it. And I know that it will swing back, too. This post is proof of that.
So here’s to a good, long upswing, and the memory to hold it.
And, of course, weed and coffee.
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