Writing, depression, and why they’re not necessarily compatible

So one thing I’ve never made a secret of is that I suffer depression. The other thing is my feelings on the subject of “writing through it” and the cult thereof (for example, see my previous post https://wp.me/p2t3xw-Sg for an example).

Well let me draw you a picture of what I mean. Because for … I guess it’s been a week and a half? I don’t know, I’m rubbish at maths except when I’m not … since last week Tuesday (there, you do the maths) I’ve been dealing with one of the absolute worst episodes of depression I’ve ever had. And this is someone who’s medical records list a diagnosis of “major depression” and for whom, since around 8 years old or thereabout, suicidal ideation has just been normal part of more days than not. I’m fine, if you care, but the thing is that … well … let’s actually work our way through whyit’s hard enough for someone who’s going through this to even just get out of bed and brush her teeth, never you mind “just write through it”.

You see, let’s start with Tuesday. I had a breakdown. Maybe there’s a better word for it, I just can’t think of one right now. I spent almost that entire day crying my eyes out. I had reasons, and I also didn’t. I was far worse off than those reasons warranted; I was “overreacting” (is that really one word?).

Now, it should be pretty obvious that I could hardly write if I could hardly see, but you’d be amazed who needs this spelled out for them so let’s just knock that one out. Sometimes having depression includes getting depressed, and just like anyone else who’s depressed, we cry, and when we cry there’s tears and seeing through them is a wretch. I’m sorry but I’ve never had the greatest patience with stupidity, but right now I have less than no patience for much of anything (another depression thing we’ll probably get to in a bit if I can stay coherent enough).

Now, the difference between depressed and depression … this is why I say English is rubbish for talking about this. We’ve lost too much subtlety, especially with that quip about what a synonym is. It doesn’t help that taking mental health seriously is a tremendously new thing. I mean, ADHD is still centred around how it annoys and affects everyone around you rather than, necessarily, yourself (so there’s plenty of meds out there to help you concentrate on boring stuff, and even trigger our hyperfocus, but not a single one attempts to sort the hyperfocus that is what normally bothers us).

So let’s see … how do I explain a sudden utter apathy to things I love? Even, perhaps, a sort of loathing? See, this is a Thing That Happens. In my case, I am happy to report that I did not delete all my work. Well … I guess I hope that’s happy news. We’ll call it happy news, I’m better off, right now, if I think that way. I simply “didn’t want to write anymore”.

Some of you just read that last question and asked “why” or “why not”. Congratulations, you probably don’t have depression. At the time, I think, I had a why, but the thing is I literally couldn’t articulate it. The “reasoning” such as it was had a sort of … fog … to it. The more I tried to focus on the reason to explain it the harder it was to find. Which was, in turn, not helping the depression because the last thing you need in a moment like that is MORE frustration. But that’s just it. The all-powerful and amazing “why” is answered with: brain chemicals went a bit off spec. That’s it. There’s nothing more I can hope to convey. My brain just was thoroughly convinced that this was a Good Idea. And thing is, it’s still hovering just this side of that. Which all … that s-word for transition that I can’t spell at all apparently.

Depression is a brain chemistry thing. Depressed is a fun way to say you’re sad. Oh, yeah, there’s more, but this is where things Matter. See, depression doesn’t have to mean crying. Often it doesn’t. It’s depression, it’s exhaustion (you’ve no idea how tired I can be sometimes for no apparent reason), it’s rage, it’s apathy, it’s frustration, it’s hate, and sorrow, and an entire gambit of emotions. What’s worst is that sometimes it’s several at once. When things get really fun it decides to be all of the above and then a few we don’t have good words for.

In short: depression is a shitstorm of biblical proportions.

It affects so much of you. It’s not just the exhaustion, it’s not just the lethargy. It can be as rough on memory as a migraine. You know, the thing that a common side-effect of is retrograde amnesia? I could describe it as the apathy and ennui that everything resets into until the chemistry gets itself sorted out properly means you don’t care enough to bother forming new memories. And sure, why not, we’ll go with that. It’s wrong, but we’ll run with it. But … seriously … it’s very difficult right now for me to form new memories and old ones are – how to put it? – hazy.

And, no, honestly, between the stigmas and misunderstandings around many mental health matters a lot of us don’t want to talk about it. And maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t. I’ve very mixed feelings on talking about it, but the thing is that we’re … afraid to. I try to talk casually about it, even the suicidalness because it’s a thing that needs better normalised. But I do it online. I don’t talk about it in life because … because it’s very hard. People … it’s like it’s one thing to be an out trans woman on this blog, on my Twitter. I am not, repeat NOT, out to the people in my daily life. People treat you differently. Also the stigmas and such embed themselves into us just as much as everyone else. You’ve probably seen the PSAs about us “not wanting to be a burden”. Well, it’s stupid asinine PSA talk, but it’s true in a warped and nobody ever thinks/talks/acts/whatever like anyone in any PSA ever does, but we’ll humour them.

But the key is that for over a week I’ve been, as the kids say, A Hot Mess. I’m fried. I can’t think straight (yes, ha ha, get the queer humour out of your system, I’ll wait … … … … better? Moving on now?), I can’t … I don’t know what day of the week it is. I know but I don’t know. If it’s more than 5 minutes between times I have to say it (and assuming I said it right which is so-so odds) there’s no promise I can say it without having to stop and cognitively work it back out. Yesterday I simply couldn’t remember Tuesday so with absolutely no duplicity said I hadn’t been somewhere then-yesterday that I absolutely had been. But I didn’t know that. And I mean at like 2:30 in the afternoon of yesterday I couldn’t have told you I’d been … anyway not the point, the point is I’m like that ‘brain on drugs’ PSA and the strongest thing I take is gabapentin (because I don’t like my Ritalin I don’t generally take it … migraines suck).

I tried to write today. Nothing important, I wasn’t up to that, but a little catharsis WIP I have, a fun thought exercise about a potential future of a character who’s currently 7 years old. A scene played around, growing, and revising in my mind. But as a picture. I sat down to write it … nothing. Not a damned thing. And not ‘I can’t find the right words’ can’t, no, it was ‘the whole thing dissolved like so many soap bubbles’ can’t.

Depression is a … struggle? … it’s a war with your own brain. It’s being able to actually doubt the validity of your own emotions. And I don’t mean justification, I mean validity, as in authenticity. As in it’s possible to ask yourself questions like “do I actually know what happiness is? Have I ever actually felt it? Or all those times I thought I was happy was I just parroting happiness I knew I should feel and how I should react?” That sort of thing. Second guessing you own emotional states and, sometimes, being right. Sometimes, emotionally, it’s all hollowness and everything is just so much mannerism. What’ll cook everyone’s noodle later is trying to work out when it’s one or the other. Because yay, as we’ve discussed, it plays merry hell with your memories.

Oh, and just no. “What’re you depressed about?!” Yeah, see previous about the annoyance with word similarities okay? Don’t go there, don’t be that person, just NO. Stop right there and just back up.

Point is, I’d been doing well. I’d ended up with 9 works in progresses and piling on word count and everything. And then suddenly … I’m Wile E Coyote faceplanting right into that cliff face with the tunnel painted on. I guess, using Looney Tunes for a basis, I could say depression is when the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t turn out to be an oncoming train but rather turns INTO an oncoming train. I’ll get better, I always do. And when I do I’ll probably obsessively write some 60k words in a couple of days or some such. But until then I’m probably going to be scarce. I mean not that I’m not already kinda scarce on the blog a lot of the time (oops) but on Twitter, too. Not absent, not yet anyway, but scarce. I’m probably going to spend a lot of time vegging in front of familiar films, and curled up with favourite books … to somewhat overstate the matter … trying to rediscover pleasure and joy.

But … yeah, this is why I have no truck with the bullshit of “just write through it” and all the other cheerleadery crap people like to vomit all over the internet. It’s not that damned simple, Becky, I’m sorry.

PS I have absolutely no illusions that I speak for Depression Sufferers Of The World. That’s laughable. Thing is … yeah I know things from research, from experience, and from the fact I interact with other DSotW. And thing is … we’re all of us different. This was ME and those discussions and researches put to you through the lens of my experience. This was that catharsis that some folks get from therapy. I do this instead and I can’t take antidepressants, they don’t agree with my brain in a very – no exaggeration – terrifying way.

Neurology and the #WritingCommunity

So I wanted to do a post today RE Western Society & the Cult of mediocrity and it making people unable to understand spectrums or statistics. But I’ll save that for some other time (why, yes, I did just do that so I won’t forget. You may get a biscuit 🍪).

Instead a Twitter conversation led (is that the right one or do I mean lead? Bollox, migraine aura, English is hard enough without it!! 😱😭) to me wanting to speak my mind about the way the culture of writing is beyond ableist into a whole new realm of discrimination. Now, before we begin I want to make perfectly clear that the conversation in question simply put my brain down this path. Anyone who thinks for a moment I’m saying the person with whom the conversation was with was anything but marginally mistaken for a moment before gaining clarification, from me, and otherwise gave understandable encouragement can just piss right off into a volcano 🌋 or something. I’m sick of histrionic outrage and hypersensitive evangelical fundamentalist activism, too, but I can’t actually blog about that, and see no point vlogging it since it would just be me screaming until my voice or lungs give out. There’s sub-genres of metal if you wanna hear that.

Now that we’re clear I’ll put a link because it’s a good conversation & should be both shared and should be easy to find again should it be wished. Now … short codes … you’d think I’d know them by now …

Thing is, y’all, the whole “Just write! At least you’ll have written! You can just scrap it later!!” Besides my personal bias against the waste that is, there’s this: It really isn’t so simple.

I mean if you’re just a perky cheerleader type of personality putting that out there for someone who actually finds that motivational or whatever people who don’t have brief visions of violence flash through their minds when presented with perkiness feel when they see “motivational cheerfulness” or whatever the devil one calls it, it’s cool. You put anno—er helpful? vibes out there in the universe for people. Keep scrolling if it ain’t for you. I mean someone who says it a LOT maybe needs a little reminder that it’s not always that simple, and anytime it’s their go to answer to a person rather than the universe … now we have a problem.

And that’s the thing, it IS. Like seriously, these people just toss that around.

“😭😭 My cat has spleen cancer and has only a week left, I tried to write but I just start crying. Going to go watch Kurt Russell films with Fluffy for the rest of his week”

Someone is going to come along spitting this perky “just write!” attitude.

Thing is, depression is real and can be pretty draining. It can be debilitating. It can be a lot of things. It can be a source OR a detriment to creativity. I mean I can be creative when depression strikes, I guess, if you like the stupid 90s goth White Wolf Interview With a Vampire ennui crap (I’m not really a fan, myself).

Migraines. Those are neurological. “Just write through it!” Bitch! I can barely hold a pen. My eyeballs feel like they’re being used for atomic testing grounds. My head is throbbing. Thinking is, literally, painful. No! I will most certainly not write through it thank you! And that ignores the neurological aspects. Some migraine folks (moi included) do stuff like lose words. For me the only noun that exists is often ‘thingy’. There is no writing through that. What am I going to write, pray?!

Dyslexia. Dude, newsflash, it rarely works the way pop culture says. If it were just that we could just work it out and all would be swell. It don’t. A) for a fair chunk of us it isn’t always happening and when it is there’s just no way to tell. B) Many forms of it include random bouts of pure illiteracy. There’re times when, assuming I literally am capable of seeing that the text exists in the first place, that I simply cannot comprehend a single letter in front of me. For a mental picture, you don’t know one single kanji and the entire universe has just had the language settings switched to Japanese, and the UI moved the settings function.

Disability doesn’t even have to be drastic, or even permanent. The person whose cat has spleen cancer will probably feel better … eventually. Maybe you’ve got a nasty cold, or the neighbour’s dog has kept you up half the night three days running so you’re exhausted. Dude, it’s cool. Don’t write. What’s the point?! You’re not doing yourself any favours.

Go, hold Fluffy & enjoy Big Trouble in Little China one last time together. When the movies are over & you’re done crying the story will still be right where you left it. It’s not going anywhere.

Why write if what you’re saying is “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” but what you just wrote was “Banndrt houpl 8$&mop gerpl!” Especially if tomorrow, when you’re feeling better and are looking it over you can’t recall what that nonsense was supposed to be. Now you’re frustrated and angry and that’s not generally a good place for creativity, creates these blocks from frustration. There’s studies. I’m tired and feel ill so I’m not about to go looking for them. You’re on the Internet if you’re reading this. DuckDuckGo is a Thing That Exists.

If your fever is too high to recall by the end of a sentence what’d been the beginning of it, lie down, get fluids, play … Pokémon or something.

And y’all perky cheerleader sorts? Context matters. There’s a time & place for “Ra Ra! Go Team! You can do this!” And a time to say “Wow, here’s a hug and a cup of tea. I’ll just make sure your novel is put away neatly & safely while you go have a quiet lie down”. Relax a little bit with the “at least you’ve written” line. I mean … I didn’t even touch how that affects those with anxiety issues, that’s its own post all by its lonesome & I don’t even have anxiety. Assuming it isn’t just a catalogue of profanities, a person with anxiety could likely manage a series of posts.

So, let the watchword of 2020 be “chill”