Monday, December 19, 2011

A Game Plan for Depressive Writers

I've read many articles that talk about the relation of creative people to depression and rather than revisiting all the same examples and studies, here's a link to an excellent article that explains it all:

I don't hide the fact that I suffer from depression. Before I agreed to marry my husband I warned him that I can be quite moody at times. For me depression starts as a feeling of laziness. The floor needs swept, but I just can't muster the energy to do it, or I have to psych myself up to it. I get easily agitated by things like clothes touching me, people smiling the wrong way, rude drivers, you name it. I start clearing my calendar of everything that's not absolutely necessary and if I'm lucky, I won't completely lose the ability to write, or smile.

Seldom am I the kind of depressive who can't get out of bed. I've learned long ago to swing my feet onto the floor whether I feel like it or not. When I worked outside the home, the depression would usually be gone after a particularly busy shift. That's if I actually could make it to work and not call out. During depressive episodes, I always wanted to call out, not just from work, but from life.

The truth is I've been going through depression for about two months now and realized it about a month ago. Food doesn't taste as good, I have no desire to socialize or laugh for that matter. I find myself wanting to sleep more than I should and waking up in the middle of the night. I do go through periods where I will take medication, but hate doing so because it makes me feel flat. It's great that I'm not severely depressed on the stuff but it makes me feel hardly any emotion at all.

Thankfully, this episode hasn't effected my ability to write. That's always my biggest fear. I've gone through many months where I couldn't. You could offer me a million dollars or put a gun to my head and neither would be motivation enough to make me write anything worth reading. Strangely, this time, I'm doing some of my best work.

I have my theories as to why creatives and writers in particular suffer more than the general population. We use the right side of our brain more than others, so they say.  Perhaps that has something to do with it. Perhaps its the long, drawn out periods of isolation, or the needed introspection, or just the fact that we're having to live in a second world that probably is full of conflict is to blame. Writers need to be empathetic people to crawl inside our character's heads and feeling so much so often forces us to be in touch with emotions we would otherwise rarely visit. Whatever the reason, many of us writers do struggle.

A good friend of mine suffers similar bouts. Luckily, we rarely go through them at the same time and can be one another's accountability partners. Together we've come up with a pretty effective game plan for when one of us is really bad off. I thought sharing it with you all might help some who struggle too.

1. Get sunshine. This might be as simple as sitting for a half hour on the porch in the summertime or in front of a sunny window in the winter.

2. Exercise. Nothing helps a funk like movement. In the summer, I take a run, walk or hike. When I'm depressed this is the last thing I feel like doing, but having an accountability partner to tell me to do this and knowing they'll check back to make sure I have gives me the motivation I need. It's also helpful to know through years of dealing with this monster that it will help and I do want to stop feeling sad.

3. Watch an inspirational movie. Sometimes I'll do this before the above and it will give me just enough juice to put on my walking shoes or at least drag myself out to the yard.

4. Pray. While this is fourth on the list, it's not what I consider 4th most important. I pray for God to give me back my joy. Sometimes He does, often He doesn't, at least not right away. Paul prayed for God to take away his thorn and it helps me to think that thorn might have been depression. After praying for help, I thank God for all that I have to be grateful for. Well, not ALL, that would take the rest of my life :)

5. Focus on others. When I'm feeling blue, I force myself to pet the dogs, play a game with the children, write someone an encouraging note.

6. Take vitamins. I've found fish oil, vitamin C and B complex vitamins to be particularly helpful.

7. Eat healthy. When I'm depressed, I tend to eat better. It makes sense that would help and certainly couldn't hurt. I also find that eating sushi improves my mood. I read somewhere the whys but I'm less concerned with that than the end result.

8. I buy myself flowers. I'm not talking about a fifty dollar rose arrangement, just a five dollar set of sunflowers from Kroger does the trick just fine.

9. Read the Psalms. I find reading the brooding cries just as helpful as the praises. There's something comforting in knowing that even David suffered.

10. Ignore 'helpful' advice from well meaning friends and family who tell me to snap out of it or to spend more time in God's word. I think I can honestly say that my spiritual walk isn't the problem. Depression tends to come on me for no apparent reason. Not because I've given up Bible study or missed church one Sunday or had my house robbed or anything else. It usually comes on like a wave out of nowhere and sometimes during a time in my life when everything is going my way.

11. Shower. I am a big bath taker but when I'm feeling blue it doesn't have the same effect as showering. I think it has something to do with the streams of water that increase blood flow. I'm not sure of that, but I do know it seems to help me get things done. Adding a jet of ice cold water at the end seems to give me an extra kick in the pants.

12. Grooming. I make myself paint my toenails, pluck my eyebrows, get a trim. It's easy to let myself go when I'm feeling blue, but forcing myself to take care of me can often help get me over a hump in the same way as making myself clean my house does.

13. Fake it til you make it. Supposedly there's endorphins released when we smile. Plastic or not, it does seem to help a little.

Whatever the reasons writers tend to suffer depression so often, something tells me that it is not as much a curse as it can feel like. I could be wrong, but I can't help but wonder if I didn't feel things as deeply as I do would I write with the same depth and feeling? Of course, that's little consolation when the black cloud is following me around.

Gina Holmes is the President and founder of Novel Rocket and the bestselling and award-winning author of Crossing Oceans and Dry as Rain. In 1998, Gina began her career penning articles and short stories. In 2005 she founded the influential literary blog, Novel Journey. She holds degrees in science and nursing and currently resides with her husband and children in southern Virginia. To learn more about her, visit


Nicole said...

Multiple people, not just writers, will benefit from your honesty and your suggested steps. As I've said before, you're brave and courageous, Gina.

Gina Holmes said...

Thanks Nicole. You're a wonderful encourager.

Katherine Hyde said...

I certainly agree a lot of writers (and other artists) are prone to depression, but I don't think writing causes depression. I've been prone to depression for a lot more years than I've been actively writing. I think there's something in the temperament that leads to depression which also can lead to becoming an artist.

Niki Turner said...

Wow, Gina. Excellent, and very comprehensive list of suggestions. I've been in a funk myself for a couple months. It truly is something that has to be battled against, and it helps to know other people go through the same things and have similar symptoms and experiences.
Thank you!

Gina Holmes said...

Katherine, I think you're right. I've struggled with this my whole life and now that I think about it, writing is probably great therapy as opposed to adding to it. I think a lot of it is chemical. Most of my family struggles with it as well and they're not writers. I do think in some strange way it helps us be better writers though I'm not sure why. Niki, thanks so much for that.

keiki hendrix said...

Gina... Love your authenticity. Sorely needed in the writing community. Reading this encourages us all. Thank you.

ellehasuly said...

Yes, your suggested are time-tested and (this) reader approved. There may be some truth to the artistic temperament; but there are also active steps we can take to stave off being immobilized by our emotional states. Your article was encouraging and offered constructive steps to counteract the black hole:). I'd like to add that singing in the shower works wonders as well:).

Cup o'joy and a fresh taste of the bread of heaven to you...

Lynne Hasuly

ellehasuly said...

Oops, I meant to say "suggestions" or "suggested remedies". Sorry for the awkward phrasing:).

Jodi Janz said...

Thank you for your open and honest writings Gina. I am glad to see I am among friends. Your list of ways to help is great. There are also some foods that really help. Of course I can't remember the whole list right now but advocados and nuts are on there. Granola too I think.
Anyway, I also was happy to read you comment about how the meds affect you (It's great that I'm not severely depressed on the stuff but it makes me feel hardly any emotion at all.) Me too! My Dr thinks I'm crazy.
Thanks for the post today. I loved it and I needed it.

Gina Holmes said...

Love avocados, nuts and singing in the shower. Thanks for the encouragement guys!

Michael Ehret said...

Great list of suggestions, Gina. I will save for the next time.

Gina Holmes said...

Thanks Mike. I thought you were polar like Ane. ha

thequietpen said...

I really appreciate these suggestions. My husband knew I was morbid and sometimes morose before we even started dating. However, he never got hit with the full strength until we were married. Thank God, he has a naturally sunny, quirky disposition that often zeroes in on my attitude before I get too far gone.
I find listening to music to be an excellent release as well.
I think the biggest thing I struggle with is the relentless need to hide my depression. I come from a neurologically-quirky family, and I was trained to act normal in public, no matter what. Thus, I tend to feel incredibly alone when I get hit with depression, because I put up such a good face that I can't break through it and be real. On the other hand, I think it makes me a decent writer, because I pour everything out onto a page, and once I rip out the self-serving angst, the remainder resonates with others going through difficult times.

Jim H said...

How many folks do you reckon like to read posts on depression? I'm one of the strange ones who do. I did a lot of research on the subject for my novel, Moe. I'm always interested to read the take of others on the subject, especially those who experience it. (The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon is an interesting read on the subject.)

I commend you for your openness, and you hit the nail on the head with many of your recommendations for dealing with it, especially getting outside (sunshine), exercising, and eating healthfully. There's a huge connection between the body and mind (soul, too).

Well done.

Jim H.
Author of Moe - "...woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to pick him up!" Eccl. 4:10

Gina Holmes said...

Quiet pen, "neurologically quirky family". Love that. I come from one of those too. ha. Thanks for the encouragement Jim.