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Depression : When Feelings Attack (and ruin your literary ambitions).

April 11, 2014

I always thought that if I ever became depressed, I would be fine with it. I always thought that depression was no different from any other illness – you deal with it until it goes away, and in the meantime, you keep going as best you can.

What nobody told me is that keeping going is actually much harder than it looks.

I’ve been writing this blog post for 6 months now. I started in November, and I started with the idea that I was going to get everything out in the open. Normalise things. I kept telling myself : ‘You’ve been ill since forever. This is nothing compared to that’.

But the endless blank page in front of me just stared back and said ‘Nope’.

So okay, depression is a bit harder to talk about than I anticipated. I’d love to sit here and tell you guys that the worst part was waking up every morning knowing that I didn’t have the energy to go anywhere or do anything. Or that the worst part was having to tell people that I was totally fine because telling them ‘I might go lie down in traffic, actually,’ wasn’t really acceptable. Or maybe that the worst part was crying over nothing and trying to explain that to everyone who asked why I was sobbing futile tears into my bowl of shreddies (it was because I cried on them earlier and they went soggy).

To be honest, plenty of other blogs have that covered already. And they have picturesGood ones. 

Nah, the worst part about having depression in my particular experience was that I had writer’s block, too.

I’m not gonna lie – I’ve been sad before. I’ve been so sad I’ve kept myself up all night crying. I’ve been so sad, I’ve written poetry (which like my tortured teenage soul will never see the light of day again). When I was sad, I wrote things. I wrote some of my favourite things when I was sad. It cheered me up. I think on some basic level it helped me escape to some other place where I wasn’t sad at all.

Being an omniscient narrator with the fate of (fictional) millions at my fingertips wasn’t so terrible, either.

(Except he uses the first person but whatever)
This guy knows what I’m talking about.

Well, every time I sit down to write when I’m feeling sad now, I just sit and stare at the page. Nothing comes to mind except how sad I’m feeling. That kind of sucks.

What sucks even worse is that, as a creative writing student, having writer’s block is kind of a big deal. I felt so lame turning up to class with nothing to hand in and the excuse that ‘I wasn’t feeling creative enough.’ So I stopped excusing myself. I went along, and I sat and listened to everyone else’s (amazing) stories. I tried to join in with the writing exercises, but I kept coming out with really grim things and I figured no-one would want to listen to them. So eventually,  I stopped going to class at all.

That’s when my tutor stepped in to give me some advice. She asked if I was nervous about my writing, and I replied : ‘Pfft. No. Of course not.’

Yeah, I was totally nervous about my writing. I’d lost all confidence in myself, and in doing so, I’d lost all confidence in the things I wrote. I remember mumbling something about how everyone would get sad about the horrible grim things I was writing, though.

She thought about that for a second. Then she straight up told me, ‘Well, you’re the writer. You can turn things around and make them positive again.’

Nope.

Maybe it was the fact that it was 9AM and I’d been up all night stressing about going into class, or maybe it was the overwhelming humidity of the arts building making me dizzy, but something about that sentence struck me as more than writing advice. It was like a life lesson that I’d desperately needed to hear.

I think the source of my depression was that I felt like I couldn’t change things. I had no real sense of autonomy – I didn’t do things that I wanted to do, because there wasn’t really anything I did want to do, just things I wanted to avoid. My frustration was manifesting itself in everything I did – I couldn’t go out with my friends because alcohol kept making me grouchy, I couldn’t play video games because… they also made me grouchy, and I couldn’t write because everything I wrote came down to the same thing : I was sad, my characters were sad, and we were all stuck that way. There didn’t seem to be much I could do about it.

Well, obviously there was, because I’m sat here writing this, and it’s the first thing I’ve written in half a year that I didn’t absolutely have to write. I think it’s going okay.

The thing that I did was to sit down and go through everything I’d written in class. I took all the unhappy beginnings I’d written and I turned them into happy endings. The elderly man forced to move in with his unloving son met his grandchild, who adored him. The dead woman whose family had moved on without her became a zombie supermodel. The alien who came to earth to learn about our medicines and discovered that we were really bad at it brought some weird technology along and revived a kitten hit by the ambulance. Yes, some of these were quite a stretch, but writing all those happy endings actually made me feel pretty happy, too.

And since I hadn’t felt happy in a long time, I figured I’d roll with it, and here I am churning out 1000 words for a blog I haven’t updated since November. That’s one of a few changes I’ve been making recently. I plan to make many more. Hopefully, all of them will work out this well.

Thanks for being patient with me, everyone. I think I’m gonna be okay now.