megwrites: Dualla from BSG. Dualla > EVERYONE ELSE.  (dualla)
[personal profile] megwrites
So, I want to have a conversation about being a writer who's dealing with depression/anxiety. Or maybe other mental illnesses or psychiatric conditions - but mostly I want to talk about how writers deal with it.

Right now I'm trying to start new things, but I'm having an extremely hard time. It's hard for me to pay attention, first off. I have the approximate focused attention span of an over caffeinated howler monkey. Even with all the usual tricks (turning off internet connection, blocks on "time wasting" sites, getting rid of distractions on my desk), I have a hard time maintaining focus.

I don't know if this is depression or a symptom of something I've suspected I might have had for a long time (some form of attention disorder). It may explain why books are so damnably hard for me to read, even when I really want to read them. Right now I'm fighting my way through a book by an author that I like, a lot. It isn't that I'm not interested. It's that I can't make myself stay attentive to the words on the page for more than a few pages at a time.

Even as I'm writing this entry, my brain is telling me to get up and do a bunch different things (read that book! vacuum the living room! oh, a drawing we could be doing! call that appointment thing we're supposed to do! clean the desk! look up recipes! check email! make a list of things we need from the grocery! download that new album you wanted!) and I'm fighting it just to keep my thoughts together. Fighting hard.

Worse than the attention span problems are the "wow, this piece of writing is worthless, I am worthless as a writer" feelings which fill me with such utter despair that I can't find a reason to fight against the avalanche of inattentiveness to keep going. I think to myself, "This is so uninteresting, no one will ever want to read this" or "everyone else has done this idea and done it better". I become convinced that my story is so unimportant, bland, plotless, and unworthy that there's no use in continuing on with it.

And I realize some of these feelings are normal for a writer. Before my depression went to Defcon 1 and took a wrecking ball to my life, I had them. But back then I had these coping skills that seem to have vanished. Or I left 'em somewhere or they got lost in the move to North Carolina or ID-effin'-K, dude.

But to the point where I cannot even face writing, where I get in such a state of despair that it becomes a spiral of sadness, anxiety, and self-hate that it escalates into worse things...that's not normal. That's not okay for me to be doing. I don't want that.

I can't tell my editorial voice, which has legitimate reasons to say, "This scene is a bit boring, let's do something better here, what if they fought!" or "umm, I think every book in the genre has done this, why don't we change it up?" from my depression!voice. I know that those thoughts are helpful. Those are things that are my instincts letting me know where I can better tell the story I want to tell.

So for those out there who deal with these things, how do you deal? What are your coping strategies, how do you keep your writing and creative life on track even when your brain chemistry wants to derail ALL THE THINGS?

Date: 2012-06-19 09:06 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] tangledaxon
So for those out there who deal with these things, how do you deal? What are your coping strategies, how do you keep your writing and creative life on track even when your brain chemistry wants to derail ALL THE THINGS?

[Note for context: I've been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia, Asperger's syndrome, fibromyalgia, and generalized anxiety disorder.]

My cocktail of disorders can make any number of things difficult. Focusing. Multitasking. Sitting up. Standing. Remembering things. Among many others. So, I can relate to some of what you've written.

To answer your questions, my coping mechanisms range from setting aside days to let myself not work (i.e. giving myself permission to just step back and feel all the feels), to shutting down socializing/communication while I focus entirely on writing. Ironically, the PTSD and agoraphobia work okay with this, since they allow me to be sequestered away with my work.

Beyond that, though, I've found coffee (well, caffeine, specifically) focuses me. I've heard that's the case with a lot of folks who have Asperger's or ADD, so there's that. I also go on walks with my dog to try to clear my head, agoraphobia/PTSD/fibro allowing. My therapist has "prescribed" yoga as another method for clearing out some of the anxiety.

Compassion toward myself has to be the biggest piece of the puzzle, for me. Reminding myself that I'm allowed to feel these things, and that it's okay if I don't write today, if that's what's best for my mental health. I just know how hard it can be to find a balance between "not writing today/tomorrow" and "not writing for six months because I can't bear to do it." The latter typically isn't an issue for me, but I know it has been for many others.

Writing serves as a sort of therapy for me, too. Which isn't to say my stories are written for the purpose of therapeutic catharsis, but I do find my experiences work their way into my characters in unexpected ways, and it helps me get the story typed out.

Going to therapy for my disabilities has been a tremendous help as well. I know it's a privilege to be able to do so, and that therefore that's not an option for everyone, but if it is an option, I recommend it... providing one finds a therapist who's a good fit.

Date: 2012-06-20 04:24 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] tangledaxon
Aww, thank you for telling me about Coraline! She sounds adorable. My pup's name is Esper (see icon). She's four years old, a Doberman, deeply bonded to me (and vice versa), suffers from separation anxiety, and loves nothing more than to curl herself up into a ball that seems impossibly tiny for her size and hide under a blanket.

When writing becomes therapy for you, how does that work, if I might inquire? What sort of things in your writing or in the act of writing are helpful to you, mental health wise.

It's a bit hard to explain, but I find my subconscious works things out through the characters before I even realize it's happening. Character arcs turn out to be allegorical to my own journey, in ways I hadn't thought of until I realized my brain was working things out through story. Which isn't a terribly helpful way to explain it, I realize, but it's truly the way it seems to work with me.

...finding a therapist has been TERRIFYING for me ... How did you choose your therapist, if I might ask?

I understand (insofar as anyone can understand another person's subjective experience, of course); my agoraphobia made finding a therapist pretty terrifying. I was lucky in that she came recommended. I did a fairly extensive interview over the phone to get at least a cursory feel for whether we might be a good match. I looked for someone who had experience with PTSD, and then over the phone I asked about that experience and how she goes about treating it. I also asked about her experience with folks on the autism spectrum, people with chronic illness, and queer folks, since these are central issues in my life.

Date: 2012-06-20 02:32 am (UTC)
cat_rood: (Arissia)
From: [personal profile] cat_rood
So for those out there who deal with these things, how do you deal? What are your coping strategies, how do you keep your writing and creative life on track even when your brain chemistry wants to derail ALL THE THINGS?

Note: Diagnosis: OCD, Social Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Possible Fibromyalgia, PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

How do I deal? Some days, I just don't. Some days, I throw my hat into the ring and let the mental illnesses win. Because sometimes, the fight just isn't worth it. However, I take those days back with small things.

No, I didn't write/edit that chapter, but my stove is sparkling, dinner isn't thrown together at the last moment, and I've read that research book and that novel I'd had sitting on the table for 3 weeks. It's a small thing, but it's something.

And sometimes, my creativity needs to be moved.

So instead of writing on the computer, I'll put it on the coffee table and pull out the notebook and write by hand. Or, I'll do something really insane and go sit out back in the sunshine and write. Or, I'll grab my camera and go for a walk down by the river (this is less often because... yeah). Taking pictures, even if it's of nothing in particular is an artistic venture and again, is something.

Writing is very personal to me. So, another thing I'll do is send my writing to a close friend. He knows, when he gets that email, that what I need is that push to get back into the flow. And he gives it. Usually with bells on and a candy cane.

And, I try not to get angry at myself because today, I didn't write. I didn't edit. I didn't do anything creative. Those days are more often than I'd like to admit (and even harder with kids out of school for the summer!) but I try not to get angry with myself or my brain chemistry because I just cannot be productive.

Also: Hydration is a big thing. If I'm not drinking a ton of water/herbal tea, I cannot think very well. (Again, the heat is killing me because no matter how much I drink, I'm always thirsty!)

And there are times I let myself play those stupid flash games (Usually Word Whomp on Pogo) and get my brain away from whatever distraction is there and into the 'proper' distraction: Words.

I dunno if any of this will help, but I hope so.

Date: 2012-06-20 05:50 am (UTC)
jhameia: ME! (Default)
From: [personal profile] jhameia
I have a day where I take a Fukitol and just.... do nothing. After a few days of this, I get angry with myself to the point of wanting to do something, anything.

I then pick something manageable, something I can't fuck up, that still requires some creative work in as little time as possible. (This is usually cheesecake. I have perfected the easiest recipe, which is useful only if you can take sugar, chocolate and dairy products). Once that's out of my system, then my brain's calmed down enough to just focus on one thing.

The other thing though, is that sometimes this process can take a long time to cycle through for me, depending on what's happening in my life =/ Juggling several deadlines at once seems to work, since it gives my brain the illusion that I'm being properly distracted, and so I focus a bit more on tasks at hand (and consider the writing to be a specific task). So once I've given my brain what it thinks it wants, and satisfied those needs, then I figure out how to focus on what I want.

Doesn't always work tho. Right now I have some major writer's block, even for run-of-the-mill things like emails and con reports, so I'm just embroiled in sewing instead =/

Date: 2012-06-20 02:11 pm (UTC)
smw: A woman sits at a typewriter, pages flying, a plug in the back of her awesomely big-curly hair. (Default)
From: [personal profile] smw
It's always a troubling to approach the issue of how much of an issue is brain chemistry, and thus how much of it can be controlled, but if the soul-stopping negative thought patterns are a new Defcon 1 guest, then it seems like there should be some way to beat them.

At the moment, my big motivator is a reader/fellow writer who is guaranteed to be interested, excited, and up for chat – do you have anyone like that?

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