Writing, Depression, Chronic Illness


I recently read The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig (great book, do recommend), and one bit really stuck with me. Wendig writes:

It’s worth noting that sometimes the thing you think is writer’s block is actually depression. Depression is neither helped nor fixed by attending to it as if it’s writing block—no amount of “writing through it” will solve depression. Depression requires its own solutions that you should discuss with family, friends, and any medical personnel you trust with such a decision. (p. 77).

This seems obvious, but for the longest time I was oblivious. I was blaming my inability to write on everything but my mental illness. I just thought I was lazy, or untalented, or too scared of failure to even try. But then two things happened—1) I found an antidepressant that worked for me, and 2) I got the Big Bad symptoms of my chronic illness (pain and fatigue) under control.

And then?

Surprise surprise, I could actually write again.

But it wasn’t until I read Wendig’s words that it really struck home how badly I’d been treating myself over this. The truth is I really did think I was a failure. I really did think that somehow it was my fault that I couldn’t write. I even started toying with the idea of giving up on writing altogether and switching to something like business admin or landscaping.

Which is dumb, because I’ve written stories for my own entertainment since I was a kid, and have pursued writing in a professional sense since I was 19.

But in the midst of the depression and the pain and the fatigue, I couldn’t enjoy writing. Never mind even enjoying it, I just couldn’t bloody do it. Writing my Honours thesis was hell. It felt like pulling teeth. Each word, every letter, was hard-won. In August I was sure the thesis would never be finished. But by November I had submitted. I had done it.

I started finding my way back to writing, little bit by little bit. It began with this blog—I set myself the challenge of blogging everyday while I was on my study tour. And (for the most part) I did. And I loved it. Or at least, I didn’t hate it.

When I came home from the trip I finally got a diagnosis—fibromyalgia—and I was finally able to start treating my condition. But things went downhill from there. I started a new job which I absolutely loved, and worked myself into the ground. When my contract was up my body just gave up too. I moved in with my dad and spent three months in bed, unable to look after myself. Writing was so far out of reach.

Eventually, I hit on a combination of medications that worked. It’s only been two weeks, but I’ve written more in those two weeks than I had in the entire year preceding. And then I read Wendig’s book, and finally it started to sink in that of course I couldn’t write, of course it felt like pulling teeth—I was really fucking sick.

I’m enjoying writing. I’m working on a cyberpunk/noir/thriller thing and I’m really fucking into it. I’m part of a mentoring program and I’m getting feedback on my work from an established local writer (who happened to be the one to loan me this book, thanks Matt!). I’m reading again, and having ideas, and dreaming really fucking weird dreams, and I’m loving it.

Who knows, sometime soon I might even be able to start walking my dog again.

Long story short: depression sucks, writing is great, and if writing hurts there’s probably something else going on. Remember this for next time, please, Josephine.

A photo of an old BMW at a car wash
The E30 never fails to bring a smile to my face, even when things are tough

Wendig, C. (2013). The Kick-Ass Writer. Blue Ash, OH: Writer’s Digest Books.

If you’re struggling and need someone to talk to, check out Beyond Blue, headspace, or Lifeline.