Writing While Grappling with Anxiety and Depression

Is it egotistical to write a post extending my About Me section? It seems that way, but I consider sections like that to be a sort of internet “hello,” where we introduce ourselves and get to know each other. Feel free to introduce yourself in the comment section or by sending me an email. I would love to hear from you.

Oh, and don’t worry, this isn’t going to be an autobiography.

I love books, which is different to just reading. You could read articles on Victorian-era dining etiquette or lines of text on social media about how someone you’ve never met’s cat resembles Wilford Brimley and you might gain a moment of ephemeral entertainment from it. But, a book is world different from your own where you get lost for hours before realizing it's probably too late to go to sleep before work in the morning. That’s enjoyment that stays with you for years, and if you’re lucky, a lifetime.

I grew up with an Atari 2600 console, Beta Max video, and tape player cassettes. The stories inside books were a whole world to explore. And the best part was I could revisit them any time I like, make stories inside my head as I read, as if I were a part of it all. I guess, that was when I decided I wanted to be an author. Well, actually it was when I stood on top of the Ivory Tower with Atreyu pleading with Bastian Bux to believe in himself, and to heal Fantasia and the Childlike Empress.

And, I’ve wrote ever since. I won’t bore you with details, and the best summary was already written in the About section.

So, why haven’t I been published by now? Many reasons, really. Most of them having to do with my own personal struggles with anxiety, depression, and just plain thinking I wasn't good enough. Its difficult enough being a writer. I believe that it’s one of the most mentally and emotionally excruciating professions you could choose to take on. It is a barren wasteland of self-doubt, little outside affirmation or encouragement, and to top it off you may never succeed.

In a way, being an author is like voluntarily taking on the task of Sisyphus. You write. And, if by some marvel you’re able to write “The End,” your labor is only a quarter of the way finished. You edit. Revise. Rewrite. You show it to strangers who give you sordid remarks. You take the scraps of advice, carve and dice up your work until you believe that it is the best you could produce. Then, you send it to a publisher or agent. And that is when the hailstorm against your ego really begins.

Now, imagine all of that with a person with a history of anxiety, and depression. And, it doesn’t help that I get distracted with projects outside of writing. When I was in school I was in drama but couldn’t remember lines, played baseball, tried wrestling, and did well at ROTC drill team. I loved video games. I got lost in philosophy and mythology. I was a DM for friends. Looking back, I suppose I was searching for an identity, and wasn’t really find one.

I longed to write. And, I did. But, I was told throughout my youth that while I should enjoy reading, I shouldn’t ever consider writing. There was no future in it. I was discouraged each and every time I brought it up or showed interest in it. So, I got a job at the only stable occupation hiring men like me, whose father had left and all hopes of college going along with him. The Army.

I promise this isn’t a biography. Just hang with me a little longer, please. There is a point to all this.

I’ve held many different jobs: grocery, soldier, laundry distributor, patient transporter, unit secretary, registration, and now medical coding. I’ve had a plethora of interests, and many in same categories: space, philosophy, religion, chess, politics, drawing, writing, hiking, camping, gaming, horror, gardening, and almost every genre of music I can think of.

Are we seeing a theme here? Never did well in school, but never did poorly either. I didn’t start to realize what was going on until my daughter mentioned to me that every time she sees me I’m into something new and different. Then I corroborated with my wife and she nodded emphatically how I talk in rapid tangents that are difficult to follow. Sounding familiar? Perhaps to you?

If not, then congratulations. Writing is about a quarter less difficult for you than for those of us who have this cynical jittering monkey resting on our shoulders at all hours of the day, and often into the night. You can probably stay in front of that computer, or in that journal, and write for hours at a time without distraction. The rest of us, might need distractions to get us back on track with what we were distracted with in the first place.

I can’t diagnose anyone. But, I am willing to believe that the reason so many artistic people fall into the stereotypical author-with-a-drinking problem category is because we are self-medicating. Which isn’t healthy, and can in fact make the problem of anxiety and depression more pronounced as spouses, children, and friends become alienated with the worsening of the activity. Then, it doesn’t become about writing anymore.

Anxiety and depression are obstacles some never get over. I’m in my forties and I’m just starting to think that I’m publishable. I can only imagine how every other writer feels while plowing away at a computer with the monkey telling them how they’ll never be any good and that it is a waste of time to even try, because only rich people who have time on their hands and connections could ever be published. I could go on for paragraphs. My monkey never shuts up and I’d wager yours doesn’t either.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Writing isn’t easy. It’s a venture for those with large amounts of courage and astounding perseverance. Many give up. Many let go of their dream because the world tells them that theirs isn’t one worth striving for. There is no more awe inspiring miracle than the ability to put lines of ink on wood pulp and have others dream along with you. The world is far too dark to let the light of creativity die out in yourself.

If many of us writers struggle with this, why do we do it? Why put ourselves through the seemingly endless task of turning thoughts into something real? I expect that its because writing actually plays to our strengths. Artists are the samplers of life. And, I mean that like it sounds. We excited about ideas and so we order it up as an appetizer. As an example, if you are like me and ordered a year of Masterclass, and after looking at their catalog decided that you could watch and would like to try doing them all, then you might be the kind of person who wets their appetite on the spice of life. You want to try it all.

And, there is nothing wrong with that. I’ve often wished I were immortal just so I could try everything the world has to offer at least once, and maybe twice if I liked it. This jack-of-all trades experience provides the fuel for our creativity. We can’t possibly do it all in one life, but we could if we lived someone else's. That's what reading and writing books does for us and for our readers.

I’d like to hear about your struggles with your own jitter monkey. Please, leave a comment on this blog or send me an email.

And, whatever you do, never give up.

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