Tuesday, 21 September 2010

You Don't Have to be Mad to Work Here, But...

How susceptible are writers to mental health problems? My gut feel here is very, as if a certain lack of mental balance is required to write effectively. Nathan Bransford always gets tons of comments on his blog (because he's an agent and an author and darned good at blogging) but a post on angst and writing earlier this month netted 186 comments. That's a whole lot of angsty writers!

As usual, I have a vested interest, because I've been told this very day by a mental health professional that I'm "moderately to severely depressed." I'd thought I just had anxiety problems (oh, I'm "severely anxious" as well, apparently) but now I have depression too. I'm not looking for sympathy here (oh well, maybe just a little), because I still feel quite functional. I mean, I'm writing this aren't I? And it all makes sense, doesn't it?

Mental illness is still quite a taboo subject in our society and maybe that's why I'm writing this post. For all of the authors bravely addressing the subject head-on (step forward Tabitha Suzuma) there are many others who have to skirt around their own problems or put on a brave face through the pain. Now, I'm not necessarily arguing for full disclosure, and I think we're all aware of the "too much information" culture that social networking has brought about. But if I break my arm, I wouldn't feel bad about disclosing that information. Why should a broken mind be any different?

It came as quite a shock to me when I took up my current day job to find out that my new employer wanted a full medical history from my GP. I had been going through therapy after being made redundant and now I was afraid that this very treatment would stop me getting another job! As it turned out, my fears were unwarranted - requesting a medical report is now standard practice and I was able to take and do the job. That just didn't mean I was cured, obviously.

For me, beating mental illness is all about finding focus and a purpose. Which can be rather hard if you're depressed. But I have a meeting with a publisher tomorrow and that will be just the boot up the bum I need. Here's to the next draft!



  1. I'm glad you can still write despite the depression. Best of luck coming through it. I agree, writers are more prone to mental problems - partly the insecurity of the job is enough to drive anyone bonkers, and partly the toll that living mostly in your own imagination takes. I used to be so scared of flying, and I know part of the reason for the fear was I couldn't stop thinking in stories - obviously, if your character gets on a plane in a story, the plot-friendly thing is for something to go horribly wrong with it!

  2. Nick I am so sorry - one of my closest friends lives with depression - managed but the bloody thing is always there. It's taken her a long time to accept that taking the drugs keeps her well, in exactly the same way I take drugs to keep my heart on an even keel, she takes drugs to keep her head on an even keel. There is no difference. Both of us have a problem ticking away in the background but you learn to manage it - to recognise the triggers, to know when things are sliding and take steps to put them right.

    I've only ever once experienced the physical crushing that depression brings ( a drug that didn't suit me ...) It was absolutely awful and I feel for you. So look after yourself, treat it for what it is, get better and stay well x

  3. And it really, really irritates me when people who do not have depression say, "Oh they could get over it if they really tried." - as if people actually want to feel that way?!
    I sympathise - if that helps at all - and I think it is a good thing that people know about it.

  4. I hope that mental health professional is wrong, Nick, but if not, then at least writing gives you other worlds to run in. For what it's worth, I don't think artists should ever be truly happy. But I wouldn't wish depression on anyone.

  5. Well I think you do brilliantly and you write - stories and blog posts - with such wonderful humour! Hope is all goes well with the publisher!

  6. But would you want to be anyone but you? I'm reminded of Stephen Fry's comment on his manic depression when asked if he'd want to be without it. "Good Lord, no." (OK I made up the quote, but that was the gist.) He felt it gave him more than it took away - a kind of richness and excitement that he'd miss if it were gone. I am anxious most of the time, but it means I am NEVER bored. The world always feels like the most exciting intense place to be!