Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: depression

Depression and Writer’s Block

In a way, I don’t know where the past few weeks have gone, though I can tell you what I was doing for most of them since my last post here. The essential thing is that I’ve been in a depressive funk and struggling to do pretty much everything from rising every day to writing on anything to indulging in hobby activities like crocheting. I’m not out of the pit yet either.

What I’ve been doing is getting out of the house a lot. Between Christmas and the beginning of last week (the 7th). Most of the time, I’ve either been going to the offices where the Utah Pride Center moved their therapy services, or, even more often, to Oasis Games, which bought the pride center’s old building and fixed up the first floor. I’ve been going there mainly to read Dungeons and Dragons books; I finished reading the Player’s Handbook and have been making slow progress on reading the Dungeon Masters Guide since about the first week of January.

I’ve also been continuing crocheting. My primary project is now complete, and I’ll be giving it to my friend who I decided to give it to soon if I get an opportunity. To be honest, I’ve done most of the work on it at the pride center’s therapy offices.

But even with those things, I’ve been in a depressive funk. The main reason is because I received a decision from the VA on my Compensation claim. I’m not sure if I mentioned it last year, but I started the claim in order to try and connect my bipolar disorder to my Naval service. Well, they didn’t even bother opening a case; they simply denied it without investigating. I’m fairly certain that is what threw me into this depressive funk.

It’s still with me. And, unfortunately, it’s not a state of mind I’ve been able to simply write through. I’ve tried. The first 4 days of this month, I wrote at least 500 words a day. Managed to complete, I think, 2 scenes on Unwritten Letters. But I didn’t feel like writing. Even with plot cards, I had trouble grasping the ideas. I felt no joy in getting the words down. Even though the quality was up to my standards, I hated what I’d written because I’d written the words when I felt bad. Gah, talking about it is dragging me down again. Enough.

Anyway, I haven’t touched my writing to do more than read stuff since then. Most days, I haven’t even been able to read my writing. I will not go into detail about how that makes me feel—it’s even more depressing than my description of writing, and I really don’t want to get as bad as I was last weekend over it all.

So, I foolishly thought writer’s block was a myth. That people who had it were undisciplined and lacked initiative in their writing. Well, since September or October, I’ve seen what it’s like to be undisciplined and lack initiative. And now I’ve been treated to my own grand case of writer’s block thanks to this depression.

Let me go over this again, to make it clear. Reading my writing depresses me, primarily because I see all its potential and am not actively capitalizing on it. Writing on anything depresses me any more because it’s not THERE—the ideas are vague, no matter how well-prepared I am for writing, and I hate the act of writing, and having done so makes me feel horrible because I didn’t enjoy doing so and I think I should. So it’s easier to just not write. I’ve gotten to the point where I dread writing, and I figure when it’s that bad, there’s no point in torturing myself.

Oh, I won’t be this way forever. I have faith in that. Maybe I’ll tuck myself into the inpatient mental ward at the VA, maybe I won’t. Either way, I’ll get by and this depression will pass. It’s already started to lift—a little—the past few days. I have a good long-distance friend I can chat about this with, and if that doesn’t help, I can always call the Veterans Crisis Line, and I’ve already notified my mental health care team about where I stand emotionally. All I need to do is stick it out long enough for the clouds to pass, and I’ve done that before and know I can do it again. In the meantime, I’m getting out, cuddling with my cat, and doing what I can to distract myself from my depression so I don’t do something stupid.

The Thief

This is a realization I had upon the announcement of Robin Williams’s death yesterday afternoon and the fact it was probably due to depression.

Oh, how precarious any mentally ill person’s mental health actually is.

Mental illness—any kind, but especially depression—is a thief. It only takes. It takes your energy. It takes away your will. It takes away your ability to find true happiness.

Depression, and by extension, the depressive phase of bipolar disorder (which I have extensive personal experience with), takes everybody’s power away. Not just the mentally ill person’s power, but also that of those around them. Loved ones and friends who want to help can’t. The best loved ones do their best to guide the depressed/bipolar-depressed person to the help they need: therapy and possibly medical assistance in the form of medication.

Unfortunately, that requires they be able to recognize the mentally ill person’s condition. Also from personal experience, I know to what lengths many, many mentally ill people go to in oder to disguise the fact they’re struggling emotionally. They will do everything in their power to appear normal, happy, well-adjusted. Some will self-medicate with alcohol and illegal drugs. Others will force themselves to function to hide the fact from everyone around them that they’re really walking the edge of an emotional cliff they’re terrified of falling off of.

And they invariably do.

Now, I can’t say whether Robin Williams’s family even had any sort of inkling about his mental state or, if they did, of its severity. I can say he was probably dealing with the collapse of his mental stability longer than anybody can guess. It takes a lot of courage for a mentally ill person, particularly someone who’s severely depressed enough to be contemplating suicide, to admit to being so “weak” emotionally.

And that’s where the stigma lies. The impression all mentally ill people who spend any time stable have that they’re supposed to be able to function, stand on their own, and be strong. When we see other people functioning well, and are fairly certain they’re not suffering as we are, it’s silent encouragement to be as strong as they are. When mentally stable people openly dismiss their own emotional struggles as something easy to get over (and yes, I understand, it is that easy for a fair number of people), it’s only further indication we who are mentally ill, particularly those of us who struggle with any variety of depression, are weak.

This of course only exacerbates the problem. Because, no matter how stable and functional we seem to be, a lot of mentally ill people always have a little doubt about themselves. We’re worried about being “normal.” We’re afraid of seeming “weak.” We’re terrified that if we seek the help we need when we begin to need it, others—the mentally stable—will think we’re whiners, complainers, and seeking undeserved attention. Depression is a “should” disease (“My life is good, so I should be happy—why can’t I be?”) and a disease of fear (“What if everyone else realizes I’m such a big whiney baby over something so stupid?”) and when we’re directly and indirectly encouraged to be something we’re not feeling, it only makes the doubts and fears worse, and, if the depressed person is trying to hide their mental instability, those doubts and fears eat away at what little joy and confidence we have.

Eventually, with this vicious circle spinning through their mind, a depressed person begins to see suicide as a viable way out. Depressed people develop debilitating beliefs, and one of them is commonly the belief they’re a burden on their friends and family, that they only hurt those around them with a selfishness they may only mistakenly perceive but which may, unhappily, be supported by comments and encouragement to Be Happy others give them. They can’t make themselves Be Happy for these other people, and that only makes it seem like they’re making everyone else unhappy, so they begin to think that if they only remove themselves from the equation, everyone else will be happy again.

You have to admit, it does make a twisted sort of sense.

The thing is, with healing from depression, it’s not as simple as telling yourself you are happy. Depression is frequently, particularly with clinically depressed individuals who rebound into self-medication and/or healthy therapies for mental health care, a chemical imbalance in the brain. Nobody can simply command their brain to level out the chemical imbalance. That just doesn’t happen, particularly with people in whose families there is a history of mental illness.

And the worst thing about depression is the power it takes away from the loved ones of the depressed person. It’s easy to figure out what to do if someone breaks an arm or leg, or falls down, or needs help in a move. One of the hardest things for me, in my depressive phases without medication, is watching those around me struggle to find a way to help me. That’s another thing which adds to the whole mess in such a way to make suicide seem like a good idea. Depressed people don’t know how to ask for help, and it hurts them to realize their loved ones are struggling with offering the assistance they need.

Depression is essentially a deep dark pit of hopelessness, and everything about the condition only buries the sufferer deeper in the pit. It separates the sufferer from those around them, makes them believe no one can care—because no one else can understand the depth of loneliness they’re suffering. And, even if the sufferer’s loved ones don’t feel the victim is a burden, it creates a kind of paranoia about it, no matter how much the depressed person is reassured otherwise.

And the worst is, not all sufferers of depression turn to obvious methods such as illegal drugs or alcohol to control their depression. I never did. I’ve known others who haven’t. The scariest part of depression for someone on the outside looking in is that it’s not always easy to spot. For some sufferers (like myself), the most obvious symptom of depression is not getting out of bed, and we all have days like that, particularly if we’re physically ill, and if the depressed person lives alone, there’s no one to see the regularity with which this happens. If the depressed person is determined not to betray their emotional condition to anybody, they may well force themselves to go to their job, socialize, and carry on an outwardly normal life as well as possible until they either suffer a complete emotional breakdown . . . or commit suicide.

I wish I could give a lot of advice on what mentally stable loved ones of those who suffer from depression can do to help. I can’t. My experiences with depression have only been from the depressed person’s perspective. All I really can say is that if you even suspect someone is depressed, you offer your time and attention. Talk to them, ask them how they’re feeling—demand honesty when you do, and be compassionate and offer to listen when that honesty is given. Do not tell them to buck up, or that things will get better, that all they need to do is put a positive light on things. Just . . . really listen to them. Promise you’ll be there to listen if they need you again later. And, if they give you the opportunity, or ask you to help them find the help they need, do so. Give or help them find a depression/suicide hotline number. Do your best to help them get into mental health care by researching local government mental health assistance organizations.

And, please, be respectful of their struggle. Don’t downplay it, and don’t tell anyone else what you’ve heard unless the depressed person gives you permission. It takes a lot of courage for a depressed person to admit to needing help, and if they’ve trusted you with the need, that means they trust you to not go around declaring their condition to all your friends (and if you do that, it may make the depressed person feel even worse because it tells them they couldn’t trust a friend, so why should they call a hotline and admit their struggles to a stranger, whom they have even less reason to trust?); treat their confession of instability like a gift and look for an opportunity to help them get into the mental health care they need.

The Guilt of Mental Illness

(A bit of a ramble and a small rant.)

There’s the deep, depressive, dark pit, where I can’t care about anything.

There’s the hypomanic high, where, to be blunt, nothing and nobody matters to me except what I want to do.

Then there’s the in-between. When I’m functional, but not quite all with it. This is the worst. I’m not so depressed I don’t care, and I’m not manic to the point of nothing matters. In this state of mind, I care about every little thought that goes through everyone’s head.

Well, not every little thought.

And it’s actually more a worry. About one thought. I’m afraid people are thinking I’m just using my mental illness as an excuse.

I’ve been in this state of mind for the past several weeks. It’s been pretty consistent, though it fluctuates from easy-to-ignore to I’m-sure-they’re-thinking-it. For most of the past couple weeks, I’ve been feeling antisocial to the point of not even caring to check the mail. I’m afraid I’ll meet another resident of the building who’ll talk at me. Or that someone will pass by the building and I’ll have to greet them somehow while I’m outside. It’s been all I can do to go square dancing.

And both last Tuesday and tonight I sat out the dancing. I read. Buried myself in an ebook. Didn’t talk to anyone except other members of my club. Could not bear the mere thought of trying to talk to someone I hadn’t already known fairly well.

Both nights, members from other clubs came to join us for our weekly night. People I either barely know or had never met before.

Both nights, I had to explain to my friends that I simply could not dance. That the mere thought of socializing with people I barely or didn’t know ramped up my anxiety. No, I don’t have social anxiety. It’s more generalized, and triggers are unpredictable. But this past couple of weeks, it’s been social interaction. Due, in part, to a depressive phase which has made me feel like not doing anything. Not even getting out of bed, though I make myself do so.

It’s hard to explain to people how my mental illness affects me, especially when they’ve never seen me like this before. And it makes me feel guilty. I’m afraid everyone, even my friends will think I’m using my mental illness as an excuse to be rude. Especially when I’m feeling antisocial to the point of ignoring guests.

Part of it was the fact it was a surprise both nights. I went dancing expecting only my club members—and then maybe not even enough for a full square—to show up. Except . . . strangers arrived too. I couldn’t convince myself to socialize last Tuesday, and after attempting to with one person tonight, I couldn’t handle the stress and had to get away from the social interaction.

I feel bad for not being able to socialize. For letting my mental illness control me like this. I suspect this is a feeling only another mentally ill person can understand—this feeling of inadequacy, of “I can do better than that!” I feel. I’m lucky. My friends are kind and understanding. They don’t tell me to “buck up” or suggest I might feel more like doing something if I forced myself to.

(Depression doesn’t work that way. No mental illness does. It’s incredibly rude, inconsiderate, and disrespectful of someone to suggest a depressed person be happy. Or that someone who’s feeling antisocial be social anyway “because it’ll make you feel better.” No, we don’t need advice, or someone else’s attempts to “fix” the issue. If we’re taking care of ourselves, we’ve got a therapist who does that for us. What we need is compassion and a little willingness on the part of our friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers to not treat us like our difficulty is something easily dealt with. Yes, it may all be in the head, but, with mental illness, it’s not simply a case of “mind over matter.” That does not work when there’s a chemical imbalance in the brain.

What makes a mentally ill person feel better is having a hug. Or a kind word. Or simply a listening ear. Or, if they need it, to be left alone to muddle through it however they’re able. . . ./rant)

I’ve been very, very lucky. When I was depressed and antisocial in high school, my mother forced me to join a local Star Trek club chapter. And the friends I made there earned my trust by letting me go hide in a dark room by myself if I felt overwhelmed by the social requirements. The other members of the square dance club I’m now in are the same; if I’m at an emotional point where I can’t induce myself to socialize with people, particularly strangers, they don’t push me.

And I still feel guilty. Because I’m not normal. Because I’m not emotionally stable enough to see strangers and throw myself into socializing with them. Because I feel like there’s nothing worth getting up for right now, and it takes everything I have to get out of bed every day, never mind convince myself I actually do want to hang out with friends who I want to see. My friends don’t need to say anything to make me feel this way.

I’m glad I’ve gone square dancing the past couple weeks. I enjoyed seeing my friends. It was good for me to get out—even if I’m not feeling like it was.

I just hope no unexpected strangers show up to dance with us next Tuesday. LOL

Okay, ramble over. Just had to get that off my chest. So glad I’m seeing my therapist this Friday.

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