Sunday, 18 August 2013

All the colours in the emotional paintbox

I often wonder if being prone to depression has invaluable payoffs for a writer, musician or artist. I know people who are bubbly optimists, and who minimise emotional pain obsessively. They are the ones, when someone dies, who tell you 'he had a good innings' or 'at least she didn't suffer'. But when something does go wrong they don't adjust as well to illness or change. This is no help at all when I'm actually gloomily wading in the muddy swamp of grief I find myself in every August but when I come to does kind of help. One of my characters grew up isolated and sick. her life has been defined by her struggle just to live, it has affected her personality. When she rises above that, fighting for her family and who knows, even love, she is sort of heroic. That's the way I would like to see fighting out of depression, heroic. But people who have never been depressed really don't understand it.

I've heard all the 'why don't you go for a walk' and 'just ignore it and do something nice' comments I can presently cope with. Depression affects the way you interpret the world. It's like saying to someone who's temporarily blind, 'why don't you go and see some art? That will make your eyes work again.' Hm. No. Depression makes it exhausting just doing the things you have to do, let alone stretching yourself to do more. It's like having the flu. You're exhausted, you ache, you feel weak. And you are sad, painfully sad. It's easier to do nothing because whatever you do do hurts.

But, if I can drag myself to the computer, something else happens. I write less, that's true, and my concentration is pants so I can't organise my thoughts as well. But the writing is richer, more emotional, more true somehow, as if it comes from a deeper place. I suspect it's less guarded or filtered, and it certainly uses all the colours in the emotional paint box. My character is fighting for her self, as she feels she's losing the battle. But she keeps going and it's easier for me to understand her feelings.

For me, this is grief. Years ago I spent ten exhausting days watching my child die, and those days have left a mark. Every year I relive the agony of not pushing food and drink on an eight year old who's decided not to eat and drink. Watching her pain escalate and her morphine with it, until she slept through the last day. Feelings ran up and down the emotional scale from the very top to the depths, every day, all day for those last ten. I seem to run that emotional memory through the background of my life these years, and it's exhausting. Where I didn't sleep in the past, now I have insomnia or nightmares. Where I was anxious then, I get sudden panic attacks. I know it will be over on the 22nd August, the day after her death, but in the meantime, I'm trying to keep writing, and keep remembering until it's over. It will be over soon.


  1. Hey,

    This is an amazing post. I'm currently battling depression (I find that hard to write, which is why I'm also trying to battle the stigma!) and this post really spoke to me.

    First of all, I read somewhere that telling people who suffer from depression to just 'think of something else' or 'go for a nice walk' is actually really unhelpful. I read that it should be approached and thought of in the same way as sufferers of illnesses like diabetes. You wouldn't tell a diabetic to just 'try to forget about it for a bit', or 'don't worry about it' etc, so why do people think it's ok to say it to us?!

    Second of all, I'm impressed that you manage writing so well. When I'm feeling bad, I can't push my thoughts out into anything coherent. I'm just starting out as a writer who refers to herself as 'a writer', but the depression really hinders me. I think it's a good idea to try to build it into the character, perhaps distancing it a bit and writing it from the perspective of a fictional character would actually help to confront it. I do however use art to help me. I can only paint when I'm depressed for some bizarre reason. So I've just started up again having not been able to paint very well for about 5 years! Weird!

    1. Hi Nikki,

      It's taken me a long time to be able to write when I'm depressed, but when I do it helps. My characters seem to carry some of the depression off with them! I don't know if it would work if I wrote romance instead of fantasy, though. There shouldn't be a stigma, depression is hard enough already! Keep painting but the act of writing makes you a writer. Hope it eases up son. Reb x

  2. Oh Rebecca, what a heartbreaking post. I can't even begin to imagine the pain you went through ten years ago and the pain you've suffered every day since. I can't believe the insensitivity of people telling you to go for a walk. Thinking of you. X

    1. Thank you, Cally. I do dread these weeks each year. The rest of the year has gradually got better, but those days seem as sharp as ever.