On Permission and Self-Care

Last night, I learned that depression took another writer. If you want to know what happened please visit Phil Brucato’s post titled: Silence or Violence: Logan, Suicide, and the Culture of Masculine Silence. If you’d like to contribute to Logan’s memorial fund, you may do so here. It’s not my place to talk about it other than to say that I think our (meaning all of us) exchanges online would be so different if we remembered there’s a person, not an avatar, on the other end of the screen. And, while I understand that depression killed Logan, we often forget we have no idea how important our words are, even online. If you are in a critical situation, please consider calling your doctor or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This is what brings me to the reason for my post today, and it goes out to all of you who are suffering right now. As I am not a medical doctor (and your health or pain is not something I am remotely qualified to diagnose), please know that these are meant only as words of encouragement, love, and support.

Maybe you are flat broke, and you feel guilty about all the things you could have done to prevent your current situation—even though you’ve already done everything you can.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you were abused for a long time, and you didn’t realize that’s what was happening, so now you blame yourself because you didn’t figure it out sooner—even though you couldn’t have.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you fell in love, and your relationship didn’t go the way you wanted it to. Now you’re heartbroken, and you wonder if you’re worthy of being loved by anyone—even though you are.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you don’t fit in, because you can’t relate to anybody else around you, so you feel like you’re fundamentally broken—even though you’re not.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you feel like a fuck up, every day, because you feel you’re responsible for every thing that happens to you, like when someone frowns or when your coffee is cold–even though you understand you cannot control the actions of other people.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you hurt someone deeply in a fit of anger. Now you’re secretly punishing yourself, because you feel you’re not worthy of being forgiven–even though you are.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you feel like your body has betrayed you, and you wish you could do something about it without help, but you can’t and you still feel guilty like you did something wrong—even though you know in your head you shouldn’t.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you had to make a gut-wrenching decision, to establish clear boundaries you never thought you needed, and deep down you feel if you were just a little stronger you could’ve handled an impossible situation—even though you can’t.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Whoever you are, however you’re hurting, please know this: I may never know you, I may never meet you, but I can only reach you through these words.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Oh, the Writer’s Life for Me… With Beer? Negative Self-Talk?

So here I am again, in the valley of a long series of peaks and valleys. Like most writers, I do not live a linear life. Linear — that mathematical “straight” line summed up by a series of experiences that happen at specific milestones. Grade school, high school, college. College sweetheart. Internship. Job. Marriage. 2.5 kids and a dog. First house. First divorce. Second job. And so on.

If you’re a writer or any other creative, chances are you do not live in a world made up of straight lines and right angles. We do things that don’t make sense to most people. We live in a world made up of daydreams and the occasional pot o’ gold because that is who we are and we’re usually fine with it — until something bad happens that reminds us that we still have to live in the so-called real world.

What is real? Is it living up to someone else’s expectations or your own? Do we have to put blinders on and move forward no matter what? Sure, there’s this little thing called “money” that we all have to deal with — I’ll never go back to eating mac ‘n’ cheese — but money is a flow. It’s a kind of a “chi” that we can get anywhere, but we have to block out the voices to focus on it, which can be hard when all you want to do is lock yourself in a room and hibernate through the winter with a tall glass of Guinness.

I remember the first time I talked to writer C.J. Henderson, who you may remember wrote Baby’s First Mythos. CJ is a personable fellow, but a very realistic writer who has lived several lifetimes like many of the rest of us.
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Writer’s Depression: Part Two of an Essay

In Part One of this series on writers and depression, I had talked about some of the statistics and surrounding factors on this powerful, mental health topic. I had sent out various emails, trying to get more research on the subject of writing and depression, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get responses to help write this article. So instead, I will take a page from my personal files and share with you some of the things I noticed, in retrospect, that I was dealing with and methods that I, personally, took to help myself. I did find a comprehensive depression guide to help you read some medical tips on the subject.

Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression is a book of essays on the subject from other writers, and I recommend this work for other insights.

Depression, for me, is like looking at myself in the mirror too long. It becomes narcissistic, because the only voice I hear is the one in the back of my head telling me my writing isn’t good enough, or worse. Enchanted with those dark words, it turns into a kind of spell, shrouding me from seeing the bright, shining truth.

The only way, that I know how, to dispel this dark form of mental sorcery is to physically remove myself from whatever is causing my uncontrollable sadness, by remembering what it is that makes me happy, no matter how silly or stupid it may seem to someone else. It could be a new pair of shoes, or a frothing cup of real cappucino. It could be walking in a park, or spending time with your loved ones. Whatever “it” is, that thing, person or event can hold the keys to help you break yourself out of your depression.

Sometimes, yes, it is invaluable to just have someone listen to your woes and share your misery. But that too, can be addicting and, as I’ve learned, can damage friendships if you go too far.

Here are some small, inexpensive ways you can help yourself get out of that rut of “writer’s depression.”

  • Keep a “Writer’s Brag Book” Unlike a “journal,” a brag book contains anything you are proud of as a writer. From meeting word count goals to exquisitely-written passages, it’s your chance to remind yourself how awesome you are as a writer and that you HAVE achieved milestones.
  • Shift your Efforts to Research I know that depression can really put a damper in your writing, so to keep productive I would focus my efforts on research in a library. Not only does it help you get out of the house, it can turn up interesting ideas.
  • Go with What You’re Good at When your mood turns dark, it really helps to do something you’re good at. I usually make a list if I can’t think of anything, then look at my hobby activities. For me, it’s cooking so one of the ways I help myself (and others) is to make someone else a meal.
  • Walk and/or Travel You have to give yourself a break now and then, because writing is a full-time, 24-hour activity some days. Force yourself to go for a walk, or travel to some place new in your area like a coffee shop, restaurant, arboretum, or museum.
  • Teach Writing Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to give a little. What better way than to teach? Whether you start a workshop or simply donate your time to your local charity, you can help bolster your confidence and get back in touch with your talents.

The key was, for me, to act–not to continue venting, speaking, and discussing that which ailed me. You see, writers can get caught up in words, because that is what we do. In order to remain healthy, we sometimes need to remind ourselves to do the exact opposite.

If you feel your writer’s depression cannot be solved through behavioral changes, please explore the facilities in your community. There is help, even free, low-cost help, if you truly need it.

Essays: Writers and Depression Part One

According to the mental health statistics found through the National Institute of Mental Health, “Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages 15-44.” The site points out that Depression is not something that is just in your head, it’s a “serious medical illness.”

What does this have to do with writing?

The link between creativity, depression and mental illness is one that has claimed the lives of countless painters, poets, philosophers and writers throughout the ages from every culture imaginable. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Jean Améry, Hubert Aquin, Reinaldo Arenas, Thomas Chatterton, Sadeq Hedayat, Ernest Hemingway, Gérard de Nerval, Socrates, Virginia Woolf, and many others are just a few of the authors who took their own lives, affected by depression. After reading a CBS interview about creativity and depression, it seems as if we should pay attention, not only to historical figures who have already committed suicide, but to today’s creative people to support and understand why so many seem to take their lives into their own hands.

After performing extensive research, I have not been able to find any resources offering hard data as to why this may be so. As a writer myself, I can only speculate why that is–it could be that many writers are depressed and don’t even realize it, or maybe they don’t know the difference between “clinical” depression and shrug off their bad moods as a passing “mood swing.”

Whatever the reason, I think that as writers it’s important to understand what mental illness is because, in my opinion, it might be possible that we are more susceptible to poor health simply because of the fact that writing is a very lonely, solitary activity.

My opinion is, in part, supported by this clinical trial about female writers and depression. Their conclusions indicated that, The high rates of certain emotional disorders in female writers suggested a direct relationship between creativity and psychopathology. But the relationship was not necessarily a simple one. As the results of the predictive analysis indicated, familial and environmental factors also appeared to play an important role.

In this case, “familial and environmental factors” seems to mean the life you have outside of writing. As all of our lives are different, trying to analyze writers for hard data is like trying to barcode human beings.

In Part Two of my article on Writers and Depression, I will share some of the factors that cause depression and talk about some of the things we can look for to catch ourselves from falling. If you have feedback or wish to contribute to the next article for this series, please contact: Monica Valentinelli

Monica Valentinelli >

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