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The pages are still blank

July 5, 2009
Image from Strollerderby

Image from Strollerderby

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible
Vladimir Nabokov

This quotation from Nabokov was the inspiration for the name of my own writing blog. At the time, it encapsulated perfectly my feelings as an emerging writer, a neophyte in the field of writing, yearning to release the words that I was aware of, stories that wanted to be seen and read by others.

Today the phrase has another, less joyous connotation for me. The words are there, I can sense them, I know they are, but clamoring now means struggle. It is a hard fight to make make the words visible. It is a painful and slow process to make sense of the screaming in my head, so many words at once and the totality making little sense, barely able to discern the single strands of coherence.

Words are there. They want to be seen, they want to be read. But at times I can’t see how to make them known.

For some months now I have struggled, and have at least been diagnosed with, depression. My attention is unfocused, my will almost non-existant and my energy low. Writing is an effort, whereas before it was a joy. And while the anti-depressants I have begun to take will help to dispel the worst of the murky gloom that hangs over my mind, I’m terrified that it will also dull other parts of me, specifically my ability to imagine, to write, to tell stories.

Is depression, indeed is mental illness more generally, the price for artistic merit? Or is artistic talent more prevalent amongst those who are prone to, or suffer from, mental illnesses? I know of (and in some cases know personally) writers who suffer from depression. Musicians and visual artists also have amongst their ranks many talented individuals who have seen depression touch their lives to varying degrees.

Is the incidence of depression amongst artists higher than the rest of the population? Or are artists more willing to acknowledge it, and so it is merely a higher reported incidence?

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Paul will stand back up. You’ll know just the moment when he’s had enough. Sometimes he’s afraid, and he don’t feel so tough. But he’ll stand back up.
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8 Comments
  1. July 5, 2009 10:04 am

    I don’t know the answers to your questions, Paul, but I think it’s what you *do* with your depression that matters. And while you may not be able to come up with ideas or write while you’re going through it, you *can* use it later on. Don’t try to rush yourself. Sometimes you just need down time. You may be surprised at the productivity that eventually springs from this fallow period.

  2. July 5, 2009 10:40 am

    This is a common fear among creative people who are depressed — i.e., that they’ll lose their creative gift (or that it will be dulled) by medications.

    My own experience (with a lifetime of clinical depression [I’m 48] and now about 12 years of antidepressants) and those of friends is that, when you find the right med (far easier to do now than in days of yore) and the depression lifts, *your gifts will flow more freely.*

    Depression is soul-destroying. There *is* a way through. The challenge is to hang in there as fear and inertia battle faith until you’re on the other side.

    Good luck.

  3. July 5, 2009 2:22 pm

    Paul,

    I have suffered from depression on and off since I was 12 (maybe even sooner), though it wasn’t diagnosed until much later.

    I think maybe you might want to consider a 3rd option in your cause and effect question. Perhaps many people who suffer depression turn to art as an outlet, so it seems like artists are more prone to depression.

    Even if your creativity is lower during depression I think it’s important to keep writing, even if it’s just journaling, as not only can it help you move past the depression, but when you feel a little better you may find be rereading your journals that you have some good material for your writing (after all characters are often depressed).

    As to the medications, for the one time I was on them it took my Dr. 3 tried to find one that worked for me. If you feel “suppressed” on your meds, tell your Dr. Once they found the right one for me the only problem was a touch of high blood pressure.

  4. JoniB permalink
    July 5, 2009 9:33 pm

    Paul, I’m another writer with depression. It was journaling that helped me cope and eventually get off my anti-depressants. This led me to the fiction writing I do now. I still have bouts with it, but knowing that the writing gets me through, that’s where I turn.
    I don’t know if there is a relationship with creativity – depression runs in my family – but perhaps changing your creative outlet temporarily would help. Music, painting, sketching, or ceramics? LOTS of ways to regenerate.
    And, hell, it is OKAY to be dry for a time. THERE ARE NO RULES and you are the best judge of what works and what doesn’t. Be kind to yourself.

  5. July 6, 2009 1:28 am

    I agree with Dale in that it’s probably more likely that depressed people become creative, then the other way around. Though I imagine depression would make it hard to write.

    I’ve been there and posted on it before. I think writing is certainly something that helped, rather than it suffering because of the illness.

  6. July 6, 2009 7:29 am

    I think writing has always been the buffer for me – from falling head long into the abyss or teetering on the edge.

    I wonder if writers and creative types get more “press” about their mental illnesses than your average office worker or the likes.

  7. Laurie permalink
    July 7, 2009 2:59 pm

    Hi Paul…

    Ironically….I have always written most prolifically and with most insight when depressed. In fact, both the quantity and quality of my work seems to be inversely proportional to the blackness of my moods…which kind of explains at least in part why I have barely written a syllable worth reading in a long time…!

    I have a theory…which may or may not apply…anyhow it is this:

    The emotional responses which deep depression precipitate in me do act like a powerful muse but the subject matter and expression of that creativity is for me at least best lived vicariously…since it is based around pain, murder, horror and angst etc and so…I write about it…this is safe.
    On the other hand…happiness, contentedness and serenity fill me with the desire t0 love life and live it to the max…this is best achieved in the real world with real people…and writing about that seems dull by comparison.

    Simplistic..maybe..but it seems to fit the bill for me.

  8. July 8, 2009 12:26 pm

    Thanks for speaking out so candidly on a topic which clearly touches many of us.

    In her book “Touched With Fire” Kaye Redfield Jamison presents statistical studies which show manic depression being found more frequently among artistically talented people than among the general population.

    Dr. Jamison is herself manic depressive and had to keep this hidden throughout much of her education and career, but has had the courage to write an excellent autobiography and account of her illness called “An Unquiet Mind.”

    It would seem we are not alone… but many of us still feel so isolated…. fueled of course with the old chestnut of the long suffering solitary artist.

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