We Need To Talk By Eden Mabee

Our fabulous sponsor Eden Mabee is giving us a twofer this round.  Given a lot of what I’ve seen flying around the interwebz, I think it’s well timed.  Particularly as we’re approaching the end of Round 3 and some folks won’t have made their goals and will take that really hard.

~*~

 I want to bring up one of those “we’d rather not think about it” topics: depression. Given that the word “depress” as in to “press down” is right in the name, it should be no surprise that it can stop us dead in our tracks, keeping us from achieving not only our writing dreams but also almost anything. Depression is a serious concern, and it’s important to know how what to do about it when it happens.

Writing is a generally solitary craft. Except for the rare conference or critique group, much of our community contact comes though screen and electronic interactions. The human element that has proved so vital for heath and happiness just isn’t there. Most cubical farms offer more direct human connection.

Is it any wonder that cafes have become a haven for wordmongers? A moment’s chat with the barista, a conspiratorial wave to another oft-seen regular as you each take seats near the only two outlets in the place… asking someone if you can move their coat enough to share the outlet they are using.

There are always ways to connect with other people, ways to be more involved, of course. But often we have so much to work on: writing, editing, rewriting, social media build up of our authorial platforms (yay, screen time!), plotting covers and dealing with publishers and… and, oh yes, the daily affairs of him and family , jobs, car repairs, schools. You name it, there’s work involved that seems to never end, leaving us tired and mentally drained…

That slippery slope

The thing about depression that makes it so dangerous is how insidious it can be; one can be close to the edge and not know it. Each day at a time doesn’t seem like much, but over time, things add up. For example, a number of us try to squeeze writing in during the “wee hours”, which too often translates to after everyone else is asleep and all their needs have been attended. And morning after morning we find it harder and harder to do even the little things… till one morning we wake up and pushing the blankets off has become a Sisyphean task.

Oh really?

I can hear you all thinking “Come on, it’s not that bad. Yeah, I’m a bit tired–who wouldn’t be with the hours I put in. So a few things slid, they weren’t that vital; I can get to them later when I catch up. All it will take is a little extra effort… not a big deal.”

However, how often do we actually catch up and have nothing waiting in the wings for us to get it finished? There is always something, and we know it.

And if there were ever a recipe for hopelessness, it’s the feeling that you’ll never be done. When the words “The End” seem beyond reach, when we see everyone else hitting that “Publish” button and we’ve been fighting writer’s block for weeks at a time…. Some of us give up, some of us fight on, and all of us struggle with the questions of worth.

Something to consider

Writers, as a rule, tend to be the hardest on themselves. We are our own worst critics pressing ourselves to wear more and more hats, tweak those words just a bit more to make the sentence stronger… The challenge of breaking into our chosen field and living comfortably while doing so pushes us to take on jobs that we’re not trained for, and while adding new skills is a good thing, in the short term, it’s yet one more thing taking our energy… when we’re already running at full steam, finding that energy can feel impossible. And we’re usually running at full steam.

Even on the best days, words, ideas, even smiles, won’t always come easy. And if we’re close to that edge… let’s not have a few small setbacks push us over.

So what can I do about it then?

First off, I am not a doctor, so if you think you are at danger for depression, please get a clinical opinion and counseling/medication as needed. There is a genetic tendency towards depression, but it can strike anyone. So, if you think you might be at risk, here are a few things you can do to stave off some of the effects of depression”

  • Cultivate some strong supporting relationships: Yes, the ROW80 offers a great support structure but add some face-time to your days too. And do so before depression becomes a problem. Make a “date night” with your family, plan outings with friends, get in touch with some of the “old crew”
  • Exercise! One of the best things you can do for yourself is to get out and move regularly. This can’t be a one time shot in the hip; regular exercise releases endorphins that boost mood, and studies show that this effect can last longer than medication.
  • Practice relaxation techniques and stress management: These two go hand-in hand, but so do the two above. Exercise can help you reduce stress, and maintaining healthy emotional relationships can be relaxing and reduce stress as well (healthy relationships are key… there are a lot of unhealthy relationships out there to be had too, unfortunately). Meditation can be extremely helpful here.
  • Eat healthy: We are what we eat after all. So let’s eat the good stuff. And yes, that means we can (and should) enjoy the occasional cookie too. Willpower is healthy, but denial is not.
  • Sleep: Preferably you’ll be getting enough of that sleep when the sun is down (because sunlight is good for your mood too, releasing serotonin when it hits your optics nerve, and helping your body produce Vitamin D), and hopefully you’ll be getting close to the recommended seven hrs (give or take a small bit) a night. Sleep helps your brain process all the things in your headspace.

You can try variations on these basic five things, and if you find they don’t work, consider professional intervention–immediately if you’re feeling self-destructive. Whatever you do, don’t let this one thing slide. Depression is a very real danger for writers, but there are ways to protect ourselves.

~*~

Eden Mabee

10 comments

  1. Thank you for this post.There are so many writers who do get depressed, and I know this can be very helpful for them. I, personally, don’t struggle with this. I get a little stressed, and I can get sad or down over things, but the concept of true depression is a little alien to me. But I know it exists, and it’s really high among authors from what I’ve seen. I have friends who struggle with this. I hope those that read this post will take your advice, not only about the ways to help prevent it, but also what you said about getting professional help.

    1. A very belated “Thanks for your kind words”, Lauralynn. I didn’t even know Kait had posted this piece. It was a crazy year, I guess.

  2. Well said, with some good tips. And – been there, done that.
    I went through this when I divorced years ago. Some friends and family dropped me, but some stayed with me as a support group. Lack of sleep didn’t help, so my doctor convinced me I needed a mild sedative just long enough to let me get rested enough to deal with my issues, He was right. Then a good counsellor/psychologist worked with me to re-build my self esteem, develop coping skills, and recognize my ‘triggers’ for this. Along with weekly homework – I needed homework. Once I started coming up with solutions on my own for my questions she shooed me out the door, as ‘cured’. It still is never really gone – I think everyone suffers from this at one time or another. For instance I know that if I awake at 3 am and can’t get to sleep and start thinking of all the things I should do or have missed out on doing – well, I won’t make myself feel any better, that’s for damn sure. So I recognize what’s happening at the time, and stop the spiral. But that’s me.
    Choosing a new career as a writer is not necessarily a good way to build self-esteem, with rejections from agents, and questions from friends and family as to what you really do all day, and how they could write too if they weren’t so busy doing other things, and why aren’t you selling more books? But I’ve learned – finally – to accept praise and to turn a deaf ear to pointless criticism. I get satisfaction from building a story around a person or event, and then communicating that story to others. And of course some positive feedback helps, but I already know that I like my writing.
    I’ve built a circle of friends now that appreciate me for what I am, and I return the favour.
    ROW80 has been especially helpful to me- not only for the people, but for the concept, the balance between writerly goals and the rest of your life. I like to enjoy life, but I also like to challenge myself – just enough for a nudge. Sometimes my goals/objectives last for months, and many are met. Some are even exceeded. Some are missed – oh well. Occasionally I let myself flip it around, and pretend that the accomplishment at the end of the day – while not on the initial to-do list – are just ones I forgot to put there, so still deserve to be celebrated.

    1. They do deserve to be celebrated, Mike. I’m sorry I didn’t reply to this sooner (as I told, Lauralynn, I didn’t realize Kait had already posted the piece… I actually only found it when I was thinking “hey, Kait’s run out of posts for this round, and I sent her that second on, wonder what… oh!”).

      Sorry to hear about you experiences with depression. As you say, it never goes away, but… eventually you learn to live with it.

  3. Important advice, Eden, and Kait has timed posting it well, as we assess what we’ve done, or not done, this Round.

    I want to underscore two things you said. Depression is insidious. Taking heed of the little changes in behavior and mood are key.

    Also, making human contact is so very important. Make time to interact in some way.

    I’m guilty of not doing enough, and this post is full of great reminders. Thank you!

    1. You are so NOT guilty.. of anything (that I know of at least… you don’t have any bodies stashed in that Toyota of yours, do you?), Elizabeth.

      Just be careful of the slow creep of depression. And if you need… we can always go to Phoenicians. 😀

    1. Thank your for commenting, Kathy. I’m only sorry (as you can see from the responses I just made to everyone else …except Shan, she and I see each other in person enough regularly) that I didn’t see it sooner. I hope the post was helpful either way.

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