Writing and Depression and the Wrong Line of Work


(Note: I actually wrote this piece a while ago, but didn’t have the guts to post it until now. The book in question is The Library of Absolution and it’s being published in December. So I was wrong about it not getting published!)

I’ve come to a conclusion: I may be in the wrong line of work. Yet it’s the only work I can do, so I’m kind of screwed. You see I, like many people (and many writers), battle depression and anxiety. I’ve fought the fight since high school. Some months and years are better than others and I live in relative peace. But sooner or later the demon returns and the fight begins anew. (Drugs don’t work for me because if there’s a terrible side effect, you can be certain that I will have to live with it. And, honestly, at this late stage of the game, I’d rather live with the depression than the side effects of some of these drugs.)

I’ve come to accept it as a fact of my life, as I accept being left-handed or kind of crappy at math. It is what it is.

But being a writer adds a dimension to this fight that I never really thought to consider until recently. It’s no secret that much of my work is dark. I’m not one to write about fluffy bunnies and sunshine. I stick to the shadows of death and pain. Probably goes back to the depressive thing. I do well with darker topics because I’m intimately familiar with them. There is a place in my soul that sometimes seems to actually seek the dark. It doesn’t seek the sun.

And that’s fine in some respects. It makes for good work. Because I can identify with pain and suffering, I think my characters come across as pretty authentic in that regard. I don’t have to go far to know how grief feels. I’m empathetic to the suffering of others and can convey darker emotion in my work without forcing it. (Conveying happiness is harder.)

But this comes with a trade off that my current project has brought home in starker relief than even the Fate books have. This book is darker than anything I’ve ever written. It’s a trip into the soul of a man who’s lost everything, who isn’t a great person, who lives a solitary existence (partly because of his own choices, and partly because he’s ostracized from others), but who still somehow manages to find a sliver of happiness, only to have it snatched away at the end. His fate? Well, I’ll just say it’s not good and leave it at that.

This is not a great story for a depressive to write. The longer I’ve lived with this man, the harder my own fight has become. I spend my days enmeshed in this dark mind and dark place. I feel what this man feels, partly because I’ve felt so much of it in my own life. The music I write by reflects the feeling of the work, as well. And let me tell you, depressing music doesn’t help someone battle depression. But at the same time, I can’t write this book to “Walking on Sunshine,” or, “Happy.”

And silence is worse, in many ways, because then I hear my own voice in my head hollering, “You suck!” Better to listen to music than a voice that insists on my worthlessness.

So, you say, stop writing the book. Turn of the music. Get with the real world. Ah, easier said than done. This is a story I feel like I have to write. Whether it’s ultimately published or not (and it probably won’t be because it is not “commercial”), this one is my passion project. I think most authors have one of these (the lucky get more) in their careers. It’s the story that has to come out. No matter what happens, you have to get it down on the page. To ignore it is to dishonor some critical piece of yourself.

And therein lies the problem. To turn my back on this story, to try to salvage something of my mental health feels, in many ways, like turning my back on my mental health. Will I be happier if I don’t write it? Perhaps, in the short term. But down the road I’ll regret not having given it the attention it deserves.

And it could be argued that I should stop and return to the project once I’m “better.” But the problem is that if I were “better” (i.e., not me), I could not write this story. To go on this journey with this man, I think I have to be a bit damaged. A normal, healthy person couldn’t write this story. I don’t think they’d even want to try. (Although what do I know? Maybe there are plenty of mentally healthy people out there writing about darkness and misery.)

So I journey deeper into the darkest pits of this man’s soul, and my own. I see my own pain reflected in this man. He is me and I am he. And we spiral down together. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I’ve ridden this dragon many times before to no lasting ill effect. Time will turn and a better year will come.

But for now, I’ve come to the conclusion that writing and depression are a dangerous mix. And I now realize that I probably should have chosen a different line of work. Choosing to write, a situation where you often have to identify with pain and strong emotion, is like a drug addict choosing to work in a pharmacy. You can say that everything is okay, that you can handle it, but you know that you’re flirting with disaster. You know that you’re poking around the edges of things that have the power to destroy you. And yet you do it anyway, because it’s inconceivable to do anything else.

(What else would I do? I tried foisting myself onto corporate America and that was worse for me in many ways than locking myself away with miserable characters. At least the horrible people in my writing aren’t real. The horrible people I worked with really existed and had the power to destroy me.)

That may be the very definition of insanity. If so, well, then I guess I’m there. But they often say that if you can think you’re crazy, you’re not really crazy.

(Photo courtesy of darksouls1)

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