I’ve almost written this post dozens of times. Really, I’ve written it several times then read it through and deleted because, well, because I don’t really open myself up to people easily. I have about half a dozen close friends who get to know things that are really real about me, and most everyone else gets some guarded version.
But this is an issue I’ve been talking about with my kids, something I’ve told them I want to be open about because there could be genetic markers in me that will pass on to them. And I decided I wanted to tell you, dear reader, about it now because while we aren’t related, there are propensities within living and experiencing a creative life that tend to bring issues that may lie dormant to the surface, and when we pretend they don’t, people end up in bad places or worse.
It’s been a little over a year since I had two doctors confirm my suspicions that depression, a pestering presence that had come and gone from my life like an invisible Rumpelstiltskin, was indeed back, and that even though I’d named it, this pesky jerk wasn’t going to stamp its foot and fall through the floor and out of my life.
Since then, I’ve paid close attention to my mood, my progress, my ability to work and laugh and deal with complicated things. I know that I need to be very mindful of sleep – that fatigue is probably my most dangerous trigger. I know that medication has helped but not cured me. And recently, I learned that out-of-whack hormones can pull my personal Rumpelstiltskin up out of the floor and place him loudly in my headspace with speed not possible in any fairy tale version.
I actually have writing to thank for my realization that I needed help. I was sitting at a critique partner’s house with my writing group and we were brainstorming ways to show that a character has depression without being cliché. We started naming things and when I was driving home that night, the conversation continued to replay in my mind, bringing with it the realization that everything we mentioned I’d experienced, often and recently.
Like the character we were creating, the thing that I learned the most, and that is particularly pertinent to readers of TTOF and all aspiring writers is that depression isn’t just feeling sad. It isn’t just wanting to stay in bed. It isn’t just dark rooms and Netflix. It has moments of that, of course, but it also has moments of trudging through what needs to be done because it needs to be done. It’s moments of still putting fingers on the keyboard because I told my critique group that I’d send pages. It’s celebrating that I wrote 100 words in a day and understanding that THAT progress came at great effort, took nearly two hours, and deserves to be acknowledged.
Since my diagnosis, I have had two very dear friends come face to face with their own mental complications. Each of theirs manifests differently than mine (anxiety for both them), but being a little dysfunctional together has taught each of us how to be a little more patient, tolerant, and understanding.
But not all writers have mental health issues. Some have physical health issues, sometimes that become more pronounced as hours of sitting in front of the screen lead to the discovery that all of a treat was eaten in that sitting or that nothing was eaten all day. Sometimes just the unpredictability of the writing world can throw a person off balance and while dealing with little bits of stress is something most of us are good at, none of us are immune to the unpredictable whirlwinds of writing, and none of us can escape this force of energy unscathed.
Whether you have been diagnosed, suspect there may be a need to reach out, or are simply navigating this world and creative endeavor to the best of your ability, it is essential that writers take time to care for themselves. I know several writers who achieve clarity of mind and perspective through running, others who have adopted yoga or meditation, some who take a break from writing to engage in another creative practice, and still others who go through self-care rituals ranging from pedicures to massages to energy work.
The thing that we have to remember is that when we are writing, we are pouring a little bit of ourselves into our work. In order to share what we have with others, we need to make sure that we have fixed the holes in our metaphorical vessel that inevitably come from daily living and that we are finding a way to continue to refill that vessel. Additionally, when you do realize there are fissures and cracks creeping into and along our mind, our self, our well-being, please please please remember that it takes broken things a long time to heal, and that healed doesn’t always mean better.
Finally, if you like me have a — ahem — streak of stubbornness that makes you think you can heal yourself, go ahead and give it a shot. But give yourself a time frame, a point at which you will get help. And tell someone. Peer pressure can be bad, but it can also be good. Find that friend, that family member, that confidant who you can talk to, be honest with, and when they ask how you are doing, don’t say fine if you aren’t fine.
Because the straws of stories within you can only be turned to gold by you.
How do you care for yourself?
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.