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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Writers and Depression (Updated)

Today’s post has been niggling away in my mind for a while, and recent events have prompted me to write this now.

Since I started blogging - and more importantly since I’ve started reading other’s blog posts - I’m continually amazed just how many bloggers/writers suffer from depression. In fact, if you were to Google famous writers who battled - or continue to battle - depression, you'd get a list a mile long. Charles Dickens. Ernest Hemingway. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Marian Keyes. JK Rowling. Elizabeth Gilbert. The list goes on. 

Research has shown that those in the creative field suffer depression at a higher rate than those in the rest of the population. The rate of suicide amongst writers and artists is also much higher.  

It seems that writing and depression often go hand-in-hand, and I’ve been fascinated for a while now why this is the case. Why is it that so many writers, it seems, suffer from a mental illness?

Then I started thinking: perhaps the reason we know why so many bloggers/writers are suffering from depression is because, well, they're writing about it. 

Then I saw a video the other night that confirmed this in my mind. Michael Kimber is the creator and voice behind the 'Come Out Campaign'. He is encouraging those who suffer from mental illness to speak out and tell others.

He makes a number of interesting points in the video, but one in particular stood out for me. He basically says that it is almost expected that those in the creative field would suffer from a mental illness. He says, "Creativity and insanity are supposed to go together. Like peanut butter and jelly.' He believes that society associates mental illness with writers because writers talk about their feelings. 

This is exactly what I had pondered myself. 

Recently, I told you about Lori whose husband died in early January. Even before her husband's death, Lori had written openly about her struggle with depression. Since her husband’s death, she has continued to write, and express how she is feeling. Her writing is so raw. She holds nothing back. I'm quite sure that some don’t approve of this (and she has written about this fact herself in recent posts).

I disagree entirely with those who think Lori shouldn't write so personally.

For a writer/blogger, writing can be a healing experience when dealing with a difficult/traumatic situation. I know this for a fact. 

Last year, when I had a 24-hour period where I felt incredibly low (I don’t believe I suffer from depression, but like everyone else, I have ‘flat’ days), I blogged about it. It was difficult to write. I sat in a café at the time whilst my 4yr old took his weekly sports class, and I wrote through tears, often having to stop because I could no longer see the words on my laptop screen. Afterwards though, I felt some relief about getting my feelings down and out there in the blogosphere. Later, I would be buoyed by comments of encouragement, and not long after that, the low was over. 

I was lucky.

In response to Lori’s posts about her husband’s death, The Bloggess wrote a post about her own struggle with depression (she has always been open about this as well), telling her readers how important it was to talk about it (and congratulated Lori for her openness). It was through her blog post I found Michael Kimber's video.

How can writing about depression be a bad thing? Why is there such a stigma attached to admitting a mental illness? If writers/bloggers didn't write so openly about it, how would anyone know they're not alone? How would anyone know that the feelings they are experiencing are not unlike what others are going through Right This Moment? How would people know it's ok  - more than ok - to ask for help?

For those who, no doubt, have reacted unfavourably to Lori writing in the way she has since her husband's death (and about her desire to not fall apart during this period) I ask this: do you want to hinder someone attempting to not only make sense of what is going on/what has happened, but to heal themselves? Do you want to deny others who feel the same way Lori does, but are unable to express it, this opportunity to relate to Lori's feelings and perhaps get help for themselves? Do you want those who are suffering like Lori's husband did before his death, go without help because their parent/friend/lover/sister/cousin/work colleague didn't recognise the 'signs'? 

Lori needs to blog about this right now - for herself, and for others - just as much as you need to breathe.

Let Lori breathe.

*** Update Tue 1 Feb, 3.45pm

I received an email today that has prompted this update.
I won’t disclose who sent the email, or the full content of that email, but this person did make a couple of points that I would like to address here.
Firstly, this person had a concern that Lori’s ‘graphic’ writing of her husband’s death may act as a trigger for people who are currently suicidal. I’m not sure I agree with that. (Although, I am certainly no counselor. Not by any stretch of the imagination.) I would think, if anything, Lori’s posts would highlight just how people’s lives can fall apart from such an act, and if you view Wanderlust’s comment below, you will see this has been the case in at least one instance. (And some other comments on Lori’s blog also support this.)
The other point this person raised was about Lori’s children. What if they were to read Lori’s posts when they’re older?
I’ve thought about this a lot. Whilst I absolutely support Lori’s decision to blog about her experience, admittedly, if it was my situation, and knowing my current limitations, I very much doubt I would go in to the same level of detail that Lori has, with my children in mind. I’m not saying it’s wrong that Lori has, and I’m certainly not saying she’s not being thoughtful about her kids. When your kids are young, like Lori’s are, you don’t really think about what they will comprehend when they’re older. Having an 8yo, has made me re-think a lot about what I write. Some parents talk in front of their kids when they shouldn’t. Kids talk in the playground. You know?
However, right now, Lori is battling with depression herself and it is of the utmost importance that she get through this…for her kids. If that means writing about it, then so be it.
I have always said a blogger makes a choice about what level of information they will share. It’s different for every blogger and every writer. There are no rules. Now, I don’t know what Lori’s plans are for the future regarding this…perhaps in time, when the initial pain of what has happened is not so great, she may decide to delete her posts about Tony. Then again, she may not. It will have to be her decision at the end of the day.  

1 comment:

Susan @ Living Upside Down said...

Not sure how I have managed to miss this post until now.

I like your reasoning regarding why more writers/creatives seem to suffer from mental illness. Perhaps our occupation/skills simply make it possible for us to communicate what we are experiencing more easily than others.

I know that I have found a tremendous benefit to writing about my own depression in recent months. The support I have received has been priceless and it would never have happened if I hadn't been honest about how I am feeling. I have also had a friend contact me to say that after reading what I wrote she contacted a counselor herself and was able to deal with some issues before they took hold. I find that very encouraging.

I am very careful to consider my husband and children when I write. I rarely reveal details about their lives online. I think online as in real life, we each have a choice to make about what we share with the world.

Thank you for your post Jodie and for the support you have offered me. It has meant more than you might guess. xx