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.
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.