Monday, 19 October 2015

Depression And The Writer's Mind - Lucy Coats

'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.

17 comments:

kathryn evans said...

Oh Lucy: powerful, brave, honest. I hope the shadow passes quickly for you xxx

Sue Purkiss said...

Lucy - I hope it passes soon. You know the monsters are talking rubbish, but I know that, just at the moment, that's not much help. Look after yourself, and rest.

Elli Woollard said...

I could have written the exact same post (except I probably couldn't have, as I don't have the bravery). I hope things get better for you soon.

Nicola Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicola Morgan said...

Oh, Lucy. It's such a horrible illness. You are an amazing woman, whatever the monster tells you. xxx

Emma Barnes said...

Lucy, thanks for sharing honestly your experience in this way, and so much hoping that the monsters are firmly in retreat.

Joan Lennon said...

You describe it very well, because you are a good writer. No two depressions are alike, as no two minds are alike - but I recognise and salute. And believe that it will pass.

Anne Booth said...

Thank you very much for sharing. I recognise your experience and it is a horrible illness. I hope that your wisdom about what to do will help you through this next bit and you can resurface again soon. I am really sorry you are suffering.

catdownunder said...

Prowling in very quietly to just sit beside you

michelle lovric said...

Lucy, you are being wise to stop pretending that it is there, and to deal with it with quiet-warrior-reading. I can't imagine that anyone can have been more productive than you in the last year. You can rest on your laurels. It is a shame that laurels are so spiky, isn't it?

michelle lovric said...

Of course I meant you are wise to stop pretending that it ISN'T there.

Steve Gladwin said...

I'm really glad you posted this as well Lucy. I've been only partly there but know it well enough. You will come through smiling on the other side I'm sure, but I know it hardly feels that way at the moment. I look forward to one day meeting you and drinking Caipranhas, (or was it a capybara!)

Susan Price said...

I recognise your description too, Lucy. As a fellow lover of myth, can you call on Odin? - The writer's shaman, who knew the world was inescapably doomed, but chose to oppose the monsters of Chaos anyway, simply because. Because they're monsters and it's better to fight them every inch to the very end than admit defeat. There's a drop of His mead waiting for you when you're less tired.

Becca McCallum said...

Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.

Katherine Langrish said...

The world's blessing on you, Lucy, and love, and strength.

Beverley Baird said...

It is that feeling that you are all alone, that the demons can pull you down - thank you for sharing such a powerful post - I feel less alone.

Unknown said...

You are brave. You are divine. My last depressive episode was 3 years ago and I thank the universe every day that I am able to keep the monster at bay for one more day; I know how hopeless and difficult it is when you're at the bottom of the pit with the monster to see the way out. It is not impossible. The world will wait for the best of you, don't rush the time it takes to take care. You will find the ladder out of the pit, and the hands that reach to pull you up every wrung. We love you.