Depression and Writing

I was shocked when I came across a January 2010 posting from author Marian Keyes detailing the severe depression that has halted her writing. I like her books a lot, in large part because they have such surprising depth and heart considering how entertaining the stories usually are. I even reread Anybody Out There right after my husband died because I remembered how she got grief so right. But I had made all the same assumptions of Marian Keyes that I usually do of successful authors – she had arrived; she had it made; her life was charmed. She was livin’ the easy life on the good side of Writer’s River, while toiling schlubs like me were still trying to figure out how to cross over. To discover that depression had debilitated her to the point of barely getting through the day was to make her human.

Make no mistake – there is no Schadenfreude here. If anything, I feel a sense of kinship with Ms. Keyes, suffering from depression as I sometimes do and currently am. But while I’m sorry for her pain, I’m also grateful for her honesty, because I think it helps deromanticize the myth of creativity and depression. We like to glamorize the dark pockets of our writers’ and artists’ minds, equating great suffering with great art. But as Elizabeth Wurtzel says in Prozac Nation, “‘Madness is too glamourous a term to convey what happens to most people who are losing their minds. That word is too exciting, too literary, too interesting in its connotations to convey the boredom, the slowness, the dreariness, the dampness of depression.'”

With a grandmother who killed herself in 1965 (read Ila’s Gloves), depression is the darkest thread in my own family tapestry. And while my current bout with low-grade depression may not be the full-blown “howling tempest of the mind” of William Styron’s Darkness Visible, it has still brought all work on my novel to a halt, leached the creativity right out of me, and¬†created the click-and-whir – the psychic noise pollution – that keeps me up at night.¬†There is nothing gratifying, ennobling, or productive about depression. Maybe once you’re through the dark woods you can look back and describe the horrors of the forest, but it’s impossible when you’re in it, fighting to get through.