Friday, February 02, 2007

AT: Depression - The Occupational Hazard

She was talented and full of potential, but she stopped writing. Whether temporarily or permanently, I don’t know. Either way, it saddens me.

While I was thinking about and praying for this former student of mine, I decided to speak candidly with you about an occupational hazard associated with writing. It’s the reason my promising student came to a standstill. It’s called depression.

Granted, the image of the “suffering artist” may be seen as cliché, but I firmly believe there’s a link between the artistic mind and the dark night of the soul. You might argue that depression hits people in every profession, and you would be absolutely right--but within the confines of this limited space I’m not here to talk about everyone; I’m here to talk about you and me and writing and those seemingly inevitable feelings of despondency.

The causes for depression in general are many, from situational to brain chemistry. For writers, I think it’s partly the fact that we are sensitive souls, that the depth of feeling required for us simply to be writers alternately leaves us vulnerable to melancholy. We are also in a profession that is bullet-holed with rejection and criticism, no matter how successful we are. Too, we work largely alone, and such a solitary endeavor is hard on many.

The symptoms of depression run the gamut as well, from mild but chronic unhappiness to life-interrupting despair. And as for the cure, there is no one generic antidote that suits all; the healing process is as unique as the individual.

For these reasons, my intent here is simply to offer you a two-part word of advice should you ever enter a time of depression or if you are there now: Try as far as you can to take from it while not allowing it to take from you.

What do I personally know about depression? Let’s put it this way: if depression were a place, I didn’t just pass through, I took up residence. For years, every day was an emotional endurance test. I became so used to the inner turmoil, I almost thought it was normal.

So here’s the deal. When you’re in this particular place, you have some choices to make. The first is to get up in the morning and keep on going. If you can do that much, you have to then choose to believe that there’s a reason for your getting up, going to work, being alive. Even as you feel that you’re completely without purpose or a shred of significance, you have to choose to believe there is something beyond your feelings, something that says your being in this world is a divine appointment and not a mistake. And then, when the pain is so deep you can hardly move, you have to choose to believe that there is good in the world, and that the good is greater than the evil, and that the good will in fact outlast everything.

As hard as it was, I will never ever be sorry for the time spent in that dark night. I thank God for it, because I had to believe in exactly the opposite of what I felt. I had to exercise this mysterious thing called faith, with the inevitable result that my faith became stronger. Some of my most precious moments with God, some of the moments when I most clearly experienced his love, came right in the midst of those black hours.

Along with the spiritual refining came an emotional maturing. I grew tougher inside, while at the same time more tender toward the suffering of others.

Then there’s the writing. One’s growth as a person can only spill over into one’s growth as a writer. Greater faith, greater maturity, greater empathy, greater depths of understanding. Isn’t this what we need in order to write stories with substance?

My experience overall is hardly unique. I put out a call to my online group of author friends, asking two questions. Not surprisingly, I got numerous responses. Have you ever experienced depression? Yes. Did it make you a better person and a better writer? Oh, yes. Definitely.
You see, you take from it, you don’t let it take from you. Which brings me to the second part of what I’m trying to say. Never, never, never, never, never give in to the depression by giving up. Now, in case you think I’m waffling on this point, I’ll say it again: DO NOT GIVE UP. Not on yourself. Not on your writing. And for heavens sake, don’t give up on God’s plans and purposes by so much as entertaining thoughts of the unthinkable. A slew of writers have already gone down that road: Virginia Woolf drowned herself, Sylvia Plath laid her head on an oven door and turned on the gas, Stephen Crane jumped over the side of a ship, Ernest Hemingway shot himself, Dylan Thomas drank himself to death. And the list goes on. Writers--God love ‘em.
They’ve got emotions that drive them to destruction. If they let them.

You can choose a different way. You can reach for the alternative by getting help. Begin by picking up the phone and talking to someone: a friend, a family member, a pastor, a professional counselor. Easier said than done when you’re feeling hopeless, I know. Been there, remember? But don’t listen to the lie that it’s hopeless, because it isn’t.

And while we’re talking about lies, don’t listen to the one about real Christians never getting depressed. Says who? Surely no one who has read the Psalms, some of the finest songs of despair ever written. You bet those psalm writers were depressed, but they managed always to end on a note of hope. That’s what it means to live by faith.

If you’re in a place of depression, resolve to squeeze every ounce of good out of it that you can even while you are taking steps to move on. Sometimes that means going through the motions of living until life comes back. But that’s all right. Life will come back, and it will be even better than it was before. I promise. And more importantly, so does God.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why are you disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him,
The help of my countenance, and my God.
- Psalm 43:5

Read more about Ann Tatlock at her web page,


At 2:45 AM, Blogger Christina Tarabochia said...

I've been thinking about depression lately, as I stumbled across a blog written by someone who is deeply depressed. I stand back and pray because I don't know what else to do. The entries are void of joy, but the writer seems to hold onto hope and struggle against the blackness.

Quite a few people I care about have lived through depression, including my mother. And I thank God that I can say "lived." That's one of the reasons we wrote our first novel--to speak about what is so often ignored.

At 4:27 AM, Blogger Karen said...

Thanks so much for writing this. I noticed this too, but you put it to words so nicely.

If there was a soundtrack to this post it would be "I'm Not Alright" by Sanctus Real. Here are a few of the lyrics:

If weakness is a wound that no one wants to speak of
Then cruel is just how far we have to fall
I am not immune
I only want to be loved
But I feel safe behind the fire wall
Can I lose my need to impress
If You want the truth, I need to confess

I'm not alright
I'm broken inside, broken inside
And all I go through,
It leads me to You, it leads me to You

Burn away the pride, bring me to my weakness
'Till everything I hide behind is gone
When I'm open wide
With nothing left to cling to
Only You are there to lead me on
Cause honestly,
I'm not that strong

I'm not alright
I'm broken inside, broken inside
And all I go through,
It leads me to You, it leads me to You

--And you gotta check out the video to this song, I think it's on YouTube. Great post!!

At 7:20 AM, Blogger Dianne said...

Excellent post. I think it's good to think of depression as a place, as you said - one in which we can choose to take up permanent residence or move on. Good advice.

At 7:37 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Beautiful post! What an encourager you are. You blessed me (and lots of other writers). Thank you.

At 7:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ann, thank you.

God's timing is so...perfect.

Just yesterday, I was saying to two writer friends that I don't think I have it in me anymore. I am so discouraged, and it is not even because of rejection. You can't be rejected if you haven't submitted!

My discouragement comes because of life's circumstances -- and because I am, as you say, a sensitive soul.

Whenever I find myself questionning my calling to write, I should know, KNOW, that I'm tottering on the edge of depression.

Thanks for helping me to see it.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Betty said...

Oh, Ann, this post is why I love you! You are such an encourager. Your post brought me to tears this morning.

Now I see why your words are so tender, so pure and true. You are a gem, Ann.

At 12:17 AM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

I don't often post here because, well, I just don't. LOL! But I wanted to say, that last verse you posted is exactly the key. Praising God. I'd fallen into a depression in recent days, unlike anything I'd experienced in years. I was baffled as to why. Things were tough but no worse than before. Then one morning in my quiet time (another important key--keep prayer time even when you don't feel like it) it suddenly dawned on me that I'd stopped praising God in my trials. I praised him right then and there. The cloud began to lift, and God restored my joy. I hope I never forget that lesson.

At 9:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A wonderful post. Only someone who has walked the road can speak so eloquently of it.
I, too, have walked that road and can now say, "Thank you Lord for my dark night of the souls."
Only when he took me through the fire and the flood did I know with unwavering certainty that His words are true. He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Beautiful lyrics solshine7-thanks for sharing them.


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