(This article was originally published on Ginger Nuts of Horror in January 2020)
I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression for more than a decade now. It all started with a panic attack that I thought was a heart attack and led to an interesting ten years or so finding the balance of medication and lifestyle that kept the panic attacks and resultant mood issues under control. Now, apart from the odd burst of impostor syndrome – that I’m sure affects us all – the chemical balance of my brain is mostly stable.
It wasn’t an easy journey – my mother died back in 2010 when I was at my most imbalanced, and the chemical fog of (not yet accurately prescribed) antidepressants levelled out all feelings to a neutral state. Incapable of properly expressing any feelings, I never properly felt the depth of emotion that I should have at her passing, and thus was incapable of grieving at the time. Her death and funeral felt as though they didn’t take place, but in a realm removed from ours – perhaps a fictional one, perhaps a parallel realm of some sort which was the only one where my dad could cry.
This article will undoubtedly have writings from those far more eloquent than myself, and those who have suffered depression way worse or for much longer, but for what it’s worth – here’s my two Penn ‘Orth.
The tip I’ll give is less about following any particular piece of advice, but more about ignoring one – I’ll explain.
It’s a common trope, and one you’ll find across a million interviews with writers – it’s basically a stock answer, one that a writer can spit out by default without even thinking about it. I’m even guilty of giving this advice myself on more than one occasion. It’s writ large in sixty foot tall concrete letters across countless guides to writing, probably inscribed on a thousand crib cards and noticeboards and has been scrawled in biro across dozens of arms and wrists.
Write. Write. Write.
And my well-researched counter-advice?
Fuck that for a game of soldiers.
As writers, we’re encouraged to spend every waking moment either writing, thinking about writing, or researching what we’re working on or what we’re going to be writing next. And for many of us not gifted with a tireless publisher or agent, we’ll spend a formidable amount of time promoting our writing.
The argument is, is that writing is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. You’ll only get better the more you persist at it, and to a great extent, that statement is entirely accurate. But if we’ll take that analogy to its logical conclusion, there are sometimes when you just need to rest a muscle.
There is nothing wrong with lounging in bed binging on a Battlestar Galactica Box set (avoid the “Black Market” episode though. You’ll thank me). There’s no guilt to be had with playing FIFA 20 on the PS4 in your pants (for those of us gifted enough to have a PS4 in our pants). There’s no shame in spending your thyme arranging the contents of your spice drawer into alphabetic order. Whatever floats your boat.
A bus driver is still a bus driver when he’s not sitting at the steering wheel. Just because a premiership footballer isn’t in training or playing a match, he continues to be a premiership footballer. You’ve ever done any writing? Just because you’re not writing at this very moment – or even doing anything to further your writing – you remain a writer.
I used to feel bad for doing anything in my spare time that wasn’t writing related, but it ultimately didn’t help. If you don’t want to write, then feeling guilty doesn’t drive you into doing it - but it will make you feel persistently bad about your constant failings. And starts making you resent doing the leisure activities that you used to enjoy.
And really fucks with your FIFA 20 “A” game.
I’m guessing that you write because you want to write, because either you feel you have something important to say, or that there’s something inside you urging to be transposed as the written word. If you start making your writing into a chore – or, at worst, something you loathe, then it’s time to give pause. Your point is still equally as valid, even if not written down – and your urges can wait until you’ve had a bit of a rest.
I did eventually find the right balance of antidepressants and did eventually come to properly grieve. And I write when I damn well want to write. And, apart from what some of my critics would have you believe, I remain a writer.