Was it Always Thus:Thoughts on Writing and Depression [2]

by , under Arts, Resources

Good to see the comments on the previous post, in which I was trying to open up a bit about the prevalence of depression among writers.

I’ve been mulling on that a bit, and thinking about why teachers (curses – I’m that too) also rank as professionals with some of the highest rates of depression. I wonder if it has something to do with isolation and futility.

Teaching, ironically, is quite an isolated profession. Although you are surrounded by children the whole time, you are not there as an equal, and contact with colleagues can be very limited, especially if you have a full teaching load. Those of you who are writers will know how isolating that can be too. Obviously when things are going well this is a great thing – you are immersed in your characters / plot / arguments, and don’t want any disturbance. But it can be a bad thing too, and the thoughts come that people aren’t just ‘not disturbing’ you, but actually hate your guts and don’t want to see you anyway.

Secondly, I think teaching and writing can appear, at times, to be both futile and endless. There are always more children to be taught, and so so often you end up teaching the same bloody things over and over and over again because it just will not bloody well stick in their teflon minds that the square of a negative number is positive…  And there are always more words to write too. Once one chapter is done, there’s another. And once one book is done, there’s the next. The giddy high of the polished and sent manuscript is quickly followed by the crashing low of the next empty page…

So what might we do about this?

Firstly, we need to be careful. Some aspects of depression are circumstantial, while other aspects are clinical and need far more careful and expert intervention. But here’s some thoughts about day to day stuff that I think helps get over the isolation and futility.

Meet people. People who don’t care less about books or exam results. I play football each week with a bunch of guys, and the exercise is bloody good, but the meeting over something totally different is important too. If you’re in a solo profession, make damn sure you arrange stuff that involves other people that’s not ‘professional.’

Do something that has an endpoint. It might be gardening, or digging an allotment, or carpentry, or… whatever. But make sure it’s physical rather than intellectual craft. Get your hands dirty, and get involved in something that creates a physical product that doesn’t take too much time. Something where you can say ‘I’ve finished.’

Plus fresh air. Walk. Then walk some more. Along rivers, around streets, up hills. Doesn’t matter. ‘Mentally munching nothingness’ as Will Self puts it. It’s good for you. Oh, and comedy clubs. Live. Nothing like it. Sydney Smith’s witty advice is pretty damn spot on – taking things less seriously is pretty damn good in every situation 😉

Some of these things have worked for me… do share others if you have them.


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  1. Mike R

    Exercise is definitely a good one. They reckon that exercise does as much good as some talking therapies (behavioural? Surely not!)

    I think there’s also a thing about personality types. It took me until my forties to work out that I was actually an introvert. I find “solitary” much more refreshing than company (although do need to be around people from time to time to maintain healthy balance).

    Mindfulness Meditations and Guided Imagery Meditations are also extremely helpful, I find.