Reader Request Week 2010 #6: Depression
Have you ever been depressed or introspective in a way that was harmful to your relationships or way of life? What did you do to find your way out of it? Do you think people would be surprised or motivated by the depths that you have experienced and come out of?
I’ve been what I would consider profoundly depressed twice in my life. One of these times I’ve discussed here before, including the steps I (or more accurately, we) took to get out of that state, and rather than rehash that one I’ll just commend that link there to you; the piece is worth reading if you haven’t already.
The other time was when I was a teenager and I had had an overwhelming crush on a girl (like, for years) and all the drama of that came to a head in the summer between our senior year and the first year of college. I won’t go into detail about that particular event right now, but I will say looking back that it was probably the one time in my life where I believe that I truly would have benefited from psychological and/or pharmaceutical intervention. I wasn’t suicidal — never have been — nor was I violent, but I was pretty much everything else. Lacking outside therapeutic intervention, I just eventually got over it and moved on. It probably took longer than it should have.
Beyond those two times I don’t think there have been times where I have been depressed to such a great extent that it had a substantive effect on my life, although I also note that I am perhaps not the best judge of that, and maybe others would tell you differently. What I can say is that at no other time have I felt paralyzed by depression to such a degree that I was aware that there was something genuinely wrong with me, and that my state bordered on illness.
Beyond that, well. I certainly get into moods, and always have. The way that I tend to describe it to people is that I have a wide dynamic range to my emotional spectrum. In my particular line of work it can be useful; it has the potential to make you particularly empathetic, which writer should be. But the flip side is that the volume knob on your emotions is twisted all the way over, and this can be problematic. This was something I think was especially noticeable when I was younger, and had less emotional control of myself. If you speak to anyone who knew me as a kid or a teen, most of them can tell you stories of me being far more wound up about things than I should have been.
As an adult, I still have that emotional range but I’m also rather better at dealing with it, a thing which is part of that process we commonly call “being an adult.” Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that, because I’m aware I have that sort of emotional range, I also pay attention to when it starts skewing to an extreme, and work to deal with it before other people have to. I think I’m generally successful with this, although again I’m not necessarily the right person to ask.
Having said all the above, I’m aware that some folks out there will now be taking their pencils and plotting out where on the bipolar spectrum I lie (“He’s totally cyclothymic!”). It doesn’t help that I’m a writer, a class of human more showily prone to bipolar disorders than other professions. I’m not going to discourage your fun, or even deny that it’s possible that I could be on that spectrum somewhere because hey, it’s not impossible (although I suspect if I am, it’s something sub-threshold-y). But I’ll note that it is also possible to have a wide range of emotional states, and even occasional bouts of depression, without an underlying mood disorder. I know, I know. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. Even so.
These days, I don’t have much cause to be depressed — my personal relationships are good, my home life is groovy, my career is chugging along, we’re all healthy and have money in the bank — so I’m generally not. The thing that is most likely to make me depressed these days is work, and the (lack of) progress therein. This is especially the case at the start of a new project, when I occasionally have to kick my own ass to get started on it and then kick my ass to keep at it. I get agitated getting myself back in gear. This is one very significant reason that last year I basically rebuilt my book writing process, so that instead of writing, say, 8,000 words in one gout and then spending a week not writing, thus making it more difficult to start up again later, I switched to writing some significant amount every work day. It made a difference in my mood, and as far as I can tell it didn’t hurt the writing any; The God Engines, for example, was written this way, and people seem to think that works pretty well.
Oddly enough, writing poorly doesn’t (generally) depress me. A couple of years ago I was writing the sequel to The Android’s Dream, and it wasn’t going very well — what I was writing just wasn’t working, for values of working meaning “Something I would want to read myself.” Eventually I realized I was going to have to scrap it and start again some other time, and that this was better than trying to keep polishing the turd I currently writing. This pissed me off — I had lost time and blew a deadline — but looking at it analytically rather than emotionally meant I didn’t get that “oh, shit, what do I now?” thing that writers sometimes get, followed by panic, followed by depression. Basically, remembering that writing is (also) a business, and looking at it dispassionately from that perspective, has been a really good regulator of my mood. I don’t suspect this is all that surprising.
One thing I would like to note here is I am a very big believer in people, when they are depressed, finding help for it. Whether it’s an isolated incident or indicative of an continual underlying problem, there are ways to deal with it. Deal with it. I noted above there was at least one incident in my life where my depression was profound enough that I should have gotten help for it; if it weren’t for Krissy being a heatsink for me that other time, there would have been two. Let my own stupidity be a cautionary lesson.