Writing While Depressed, Anxious And Sick? You’re A Freakin’ Superhero!
This article was originally written for The Zharmae Publishing Press’ writing blog, Blog Z, and subsequently appeared on Medium.com and Buzzfeed.
I write books — let’s just get that out there first.
I’m also sick — let’s get that out there too. It’s almost as fun a party subject. Like, all the time, sick, disabled and what’s called “chronically ill.” And dealing with even more fun stuff like depression and PTSD. But I still write books, and articles — which actually ARE fun — and sometimes people write to me about them. A lot, actually. I got a message a while back asking about what it’s like writing while chronically ill.
And that is, in brief, many physical illnesses with funny names like Townes-Brock Syndrome (only one kidney! A removed extra thumb! Wow!) andArnold-Chiari Malformation and Mast Cell Activation Disorder — I know, right? And along with that, chronic pain, acute anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and depression.
(Pausing for y’all to come back from Google… you with me? Cool.)
So, it’s kind of amazing how that little list doesn’t even begin to cover the experience. When every day means illness, pain, depression, anxiety, or other mental conditions are in (or on a bad day, running) your life.
A lot of people have asked me if I’m scared.
…Well, I’m like the Hulk. That’s my secret. I’m always scared.
You and me both, bro. Well, pretty close.
I can’t speak for everyone, because every single person’s brain is different. The individual ways in which your brain on pain or depression or anxiety will try to destroy you are different.
But when I’m depressed, nothing matters. I’d cry, but I don’t have the energy. I’d talk to someone, but they definitely hate me regardless of evidence, so why bother? I’ll just make everything worse. When I’m in an anxiety state, everything matters, and I overanalyze every single word I have ever said and come to fifteen different (and contradictory) conclusions as to why they’re wrong and why nobody will ever love me and I have to fix everything or I will die right this second.
Now imagine having both of that happening at the same time. (Spoiler alert: Welcome to hell!)
Now imagine trying to write a coherent sentence, and have it not reflect everything going on in your brain that very literally feels like it’s trying to kill you. Writing while terrified and depressed is a lot like trying to do anything while terrified and depressed. Except that it has to do withexpressing yourself. And that’s kind of the opposite of what I want to do, because an “expression of myself” would kind of be a horrified vomit of emotion and tension (and maybe some literal vomit as well).
I’ll stare at a screen for hours, feeling worse and worse with every passing second until writing is the last thing in the world I want to do and crawling under my bed forever seems like more fun.
Then there’s the pain. Which… deserves its own post. Maybe later.
So I force myself. And it does get easier. Of course, I have to catch myself on a good day, and then it’s easier to push through and get the writing done. And sometimes, when you have a deadline, you can’t wait to feel better, you just have to write through it, even if it is Absolute Garbage (like how I am convinced 98% of what I write is). And that really sucks. Doing anything when you feel like that sucks.
I find ways around it. Little reward systems sometimes — write a paragraph, look at a video of a kitten or bunny. (There’s a great site for this actually:WrittenKitten! I highly recommend!) Write a chapter, hide under a bunch of blankets and play a videogame. Obtain a cookie, perhaps. Consume said cookie. Repeat the process.
Or you can find little cheats.
One of my favorites is to think about all of the people in my life who wouldlove it if I stopped, and then write just to spite them. Sometimes it’s a bit worrying how much that helps.
Or… Radical thought here. You can actually write about your struggles.
Take the anxiety and use it. Channel it into a character who helps you make sense of it. Write about people who are scared or sick but keep going, the way you feel, treat your own fear as a unique, useful look into your characters’ brains, and use it to write them that much better.
Make your pain, anxiety, exhaustion, all the crap, work for you.
That’s the optimal outcome, anyway. No shame if you can’t. I can’t always. You deal with this any way you can. Even if “dealing with it” is hiding under a bunch of covers and crying for a while.
If I had a lot more helpful hints on how to deal with this, I’d tell you, believe me. I don’t. But here’s a few things I can tell you:
* There’s no shame in asking for help. If you feel like you’re drowning, tell somebody you trust. You deserve to be safe and as happy as possible. * Writing can help you. This is your world you’re creating. Let it help you with your “real” world. Help yourself however you can. * The bad times pass. They really do. * (If they don’t, go back to bullet point one, and ask for help.) * You can do this. I believe in you. Fully. Wholeheartedly. Powerfully. * You are a goddamn hero.
Let me say that again.
If you are writing anything — hell, even if you’re not writing anything, and you’re just trying to breathe, and maybe contribute something positive to society, or contribute something positive to your life, or even just spending a day trying not to die…
YOU ARE A HERO.
You are a freaking rock star.
You are a goddess or god or glorious genderless or many-gendered deity, worthy of praise and all kinds of desserts. Just getting through a single day feeling like this is a VICTORY. You’ve WON. You hear me? You are victorious.
If you are reading this RIGHT NOW, YOU ARE ALREADY VICTORIOUS,BECAUSE IT MEANS YOU ARE STILL HERE. And, holy heck, if you manage to write or draw or sing or dance something, even while feeling like the single worst being crawling across the surface of this planet? You’ve done one of the single best things on the surface of this planet. One of the hardest. And one of the most important.
Well done. Bravely done.
I still need to remind myself of this, every day. It takes every single bit of my bravery to sit down, write the thing — even this article! — and not throw up when I think about other people reading it, and judging it. I’m still so scared.
Like the Hulk, remember? I’m always scared. (You wouldn’t like me when I’m scared. Or hey, maybe you would. You like me now, right?)
Let’s be heroes together. ❤