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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Down in a Hole - Guest Post

Today Sarah from A Place That Does Not Exist was kind enough to share some really important and personal thoughts in a post about something millions struggle through each day. Something that for some, writing can help with.


Depression sucks.

I could try all day to explain why, and I'd never do it half as well as Allie Brosh already has. So all I'm only going to say a little bit about the "why" part today. I recommend clicking here to read Allie's explanation, if you're one of the few who hasn't seen it already.

The biggest why, for me, is the isolation. There's a reason my work in progress is set in a desert. At its core, it's an exploration of what my therapist loves to call my "trauma" issues (doesn't that sound so dramatic?), and it gets a little ugly in places. It's going to be a series, if I ever quit rewriting the first book to death, and somewhere in there I expect there will be redemption and hope.

In real life, those things exist--even with depression.

The problem is, it's hard to believe in them when you're already dead inside. If you're lucky enough to have people who care about you (or unlucky enough to have people who just want things from you), you'll hear a whole lot about hope. How if you have enough of it for long enough, you'll pull through, and probably all the reasons you should have it.

Ever repeat a word so many times it lost all meaning and melted into random babble? That was "hope" for me, after a while.

I grew up privileged, and I was raised to believe you had to work to stay that way. Talking about your problems was whining and only results mattered. So I worked hard for what I wanted and mostly got it, except I guess a lot of it wasn't what I really wanted. I didn't know what I really wanted, and complaining about what I had felt idiotic. Nice house, nice husband. A good salary and a beautiful son. I was counting my blessings and coming up short.

People told me to buck up and fake it 'til I made it, and it didn't help. I'd been telling myself to do those same things for far too long, and I didn't know why I couldn't anymore. Explaining it to someone else would've been too much effort, anyway.

It was much easier to be alone. Scratch that--it was much easier to create a world where I wasn't. A world populated by people as screwed up as I was. I didn't do it intentionally, but its people spoke to me and wouldn't shut up until I wrote them into existence. And thus, Cliffton was born, and apart from my one-year-old son who couldn't talk enough to get bootstrappy, it was all I cared about.

Eventually, it was my way out of the dark. Sort of.

It was the only way I could feel, but it didn't feel good. It was raw and scary far too real. My characters were, too, in my head, and hurting them hurt me. I wondered constantly what kind of person would give life (even fictional life) only to destroy it, but I couldn't stop, because the stories needed to be written.

I wrote the first draft of my book in about three months. During that time, a lot of things happened in my "real" life (the one that wasn't inside my head), and I decided to go to therapy. If it weren't for my son and my characters, I don't think I would have. I'd probably still be alive right now, but I'd also probably still be stuck in the same hole I was then.

Digging my way out has been hard, but it's been worth it. There's only one problem. Sometimes I miss that hole, and my desperation to claw my way out of it. That desperation fueled my writing, and now that it's gone? It's not that I can't write anymore. My writing's been better since I've been better... when I can make myself do it. But I don't need it to survive now, or at least it doesn't feel like I do. You need oxygen to live, but you don't notice that in any given moment unless you're actively suffocating.

For every step I take toward rejoining the "real" world, for every commitment I make out there, that other world slips away a little more. It's still right here, and so are the people in it--revealing themselves to me in new ways all the time. But stepping out of my reality and into theirs? That gets harder every day, and I hate it.

My writing process used to go like this. I sat down in my chair, put on some music, and got sucked in. Whoosh. At my peak, I was churning out a chapter every day or two--even though they were crappy first-draft chapters. Now, I produce a chapter a week, and that's if I'm really pushing myself, the wind is blowing in the exact right direction, and all the stars are perfectly aligned. I outline and I rewrite and I second-guess.

I'm on antidepressants now, and my therapist warned me that they might affect the way I connected with my characters. She said it was most likely something I could work through in the long run, but I'd have to re-learn how to do it. I'm trying, and succeeding in some ways. But damn, does it ever suck sometimes.

My book is in first person, from five different characters' POVs (stop laughing). When my depression was at its worst, I could only connect with one of them on a deep and reliable basis--the one I often refer to as [Problem Character]. He'd hijack my brain whenever he felt like it, and at those times, the words would flow effortlessly.

For the non-writers here, let's pretend this is a normal thing. Okay?

This was good for my book, in a way, because he drives a lot of the plot. It was also bad for my book, because when I wanted to hear my other four protagonists, he'd shout over them. Besides that, he's mentally unbalanced and an Unreliable Narrator. He may drive my plot, but it's the other characters' perspectives that make it all make sense.

Since I started the antidepressants, I've developed the ability to hear two of my other mains really well. I'm still working on the other two, but I know I'll get there. [Problem Character] doesn't hijack my brain anymore when I'm in the middle of making cookies or trying to sleep, which is for the best because that got a little scary after a while.

It's just that have to work so hard for all of it now. I get so frustrated that I want to quit. It feels like it'll never get any easier and whatever magic I had before, it's gone now. I've tried everything I can think of to get it back, that perfect certainty that the story I'm writing needs to be told. I've written character sketches, done an outline, taken a break to read lots of other authors' work, forced myself to write every day even if it's awful.

No matter what I do, that drive--that craving--just isn't there anymore. I'm starting to wonder if it's gone for good. If I've already quit, and I haven't admitted it to myself.

And that? That's kind of depressing, isn't it?



  1. It isn't easy understanding depression and it affects so many people around the world. I sure understand how you feel. Just getting up in the morning can be the hardest task to do that day if you can drag yourself up. Thanks for sharing. I fight depression every second.

    1. Thanks for reading, and I'm sorry you struggle with this, too. It really isn't easy to understand from the outside--I've been guilty of that "hope" pep talk a few too many times before I had my own experiences with depression.


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