'For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of Is come unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.'
Book of Job
For me, the act of writing is a lonely pursuit. I am not one for cafes or company. My personal next-door-but-one mindworld is one where anything is possible - magic, dragons, gods...and also monsters. It is the monsters I would like to talk about today, because sometimes, for a writer like me, who also suffers from chronic depression, the monsters rise up in revolt. Right now, however much I don't want them to, however much I fight them, they are winning. However much I protest that it isn't true, they tell me (among other things) that there is no point to what I do. They have the spirit-sapping power to make me believe that however many books I have had (or ever will have) published, I will never succeed in writing a really good one. At the moment, the thing we call creativity is an impenetrable smog where any idea seen is vague and blurred - impossible to grasp hold or tell the shape of, let alone craft into something coherent and meaningful, such as a story. Even writing this non-fiction piece has been a painful and slow process.
|Job (Wikimedia commons)|
I know this can be hard to understand for those who have never suffered depression. It's hard to explain. How can this job of writing, which I love, turn on me like a monstrous beast, snarling and snapping amid the greyness, leaving me unable to go near it, tearing at and trying to destroy the creative source of the words which normally come to me so easily? And what triggers it? This is not 'writer's block'. This is me fighting my own mind and losing - badly. I have been here often enough to know that it will pass. I know what I need to do - give myself rest and time to refill the creative well (from which I am currently pumping dregs). The stark truth is, though, that I don't have the luxury of doing that for very long. There are deadlines (I know - I'm LUCKY to have deadlines). I have to meet them. All I can do, then, is to take as much time away from the world as I can allow (a few days), switch off the world of social media, say no to anything outside the bare minimum of current responsibilities and commitments, remember to eat at least once a day - and do a lot of comfort reading, because that's the only way I can escape my own mind and heal. I also have to pray that this small 'plaster' will be enough to get me through - and that's an added pressure I don't even want to think about just now.
Many creative people of both past and present have their own depression monsters - Sylvia Plath comes particularly to mind, as I've recently re-read The Bell Jar, as does Matt Haig, whose recent Reasons to Stay Alive is an excellent and helpful foray into the darkness which can beset a writer's mind. I am in the best of good company. I keep telling myself that, but it doesn't really help. (The monsters say, of course, that I shouldn't be presuming to put myself in that company at all, that I am a fake and a fraud).
Some of you reading this may feel uncomfortable that I lay myself so bare in this piece. But so many writers currently suffer with depression and still feel it is necessary to hide it that I feel it's important to be open about the toll it takes to stuff the monsters away and pretend to be 'normal' (whatever that is). I am very very good at the pretending mask. 'Fine' is my default response. If you meet me in a public place, you will not be able to tell that anything is wrong. But today I am taking off that smiley mask, and hoping that by doing so, I will give other people (not only writers) the courage to take off theirs. There is still immense stigma around mental illness. It's only by talking about it and acknowledging the mental cost of it openly that we will ever begin to help those who still believe that suffering in silence is the only option. Just because you can't see the pain of the mind, like you can a broken limb or a bleeding wound, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.