Writing and Mental Health

7 August 2013

I’m notorious for telling people, in the same breath, that they should totally write a book and that it will be the worst thing they ever do to themselves. I play it off as a joke. Yeah, I’m like the drug addict who gets all her friends addicted so we can go to rehab together! Haha! Writer humor!

I’m serious, though.

When I started writing Accessibility Handbook , I knew nothing about writing a book. I had no trunk novels, save for one Nanowrimo mess. If a blog post of mine was longer than 1000 words, I was amazed. I just knew that I could write about this topic, and I felt I had a different view than the other accessibility books out there.

Starting the process was a joy. I’d get up early and write. I’d write on my lunch break. I’d write in the evening. I was having so much fun! I do dearly love writing, and I was finally getting the chance to get paid to do so!

At some point, the joy faded. At first, I was simply tired of writing. That wasn’t a big deal. Maybe I’d overdone it at first. I could still choke out a section or two every day. Maybe I just needed to hunt around for my inspiration.

Then things got darker. I got tight-chested every time I looked at the folder that contained my book files. I’d wake up in cold sweats. I felt depression creeping in. Nothing brought me joy, not even things outside of writing that I normally liked. Nothing brought me peace. I felt like I was caught in a horrible limbo, where I needed to do something to get out of it, but couldn’t do anything.

At 16, I was diagnosed with depression. It’s just a thing I deal with. I also have issues with anxiety that, while never officially diagnosed, are pretty textbook. The two normally come together, feeding off of each other until I feel like I’m pushing through quicksand every time I take a step. I can usually shake it off on my own, though honestly, the older I get, the more I think I’m getting too old to power through without help.

Writing a book didn’t cause me to have anxiety and depression. Those two things have always been there. Writing a book did trigger both of them to come alive in a way that completely took me off guard.

I’ve dealt with lows before. I’ve dealt with anxiety. They usually come on slowly for me, so I have a chance to prepare. I can’t get rid of them, but I can at least get through the motions that are involved in day-to-day life.

These came quickly. Over a few days, a switch would flip, and I felt like I was being buried under a tidal wave of things I couldn’t deal with. Everything was too much. I couldn’t bring myself to get the mail. I’d forget to shower. Email languished. I couldn’t even muster the energy to dive into something different to pull me out of it.

The only thing that cured it? Finishing the book.

My editor called me when I hadn’t responded to (yet another) email. Should we cancel the book? No, I decided. I was too close to being done. I could do this. I spent a few feverish weekends pounding out words, but I got the last two chapters submitted. When I sent the last chapter in, it felt like the air around me cleared. The tightness in chest was gone. I could smile and really feel it.

For a while, I thought maybe I was alone. Maybe the other writers out there don’t go through this crap. Then, Writing Excuses put out a fabulous podcast about writing and personal health. When they published this, it forced me to sit down and do nothing while I listened to it. The writers all spoke of their physical and mental issues that have been exacerbated by writing. They talked about managing it, and how it was sometimes just a natural byproduct of writing.

As for me, I’m still learning how to deal with it. I went through the same issues with Teach Yourself Python in 24 Hours , but it wasn’t nearly as severe. The book wasn’t delayed by several months. I still managed to enjoy things. I talked about it slightly more with my loved ones, who never saw my spiral with my previous book (I’m an old hand at this depression thing. I hide it well). It was still there, though.

I know this all sounds dire, but really, I’m not trying to talk anyone out of writing a book. I’m just trying to lay out a warning or two. Know your mental health. Talk to your loved ones. Maybe set up a weekly hour with a therapist. Take care of yourself. Because, while nothing is more awesome than seeing your book on Amazon, it’s still not worth trading in your mind and body for.

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Comments

1 naka says...

"The two normally come together, feeding off of each other until I feel like I’m pushing through quicksand every time I take a step."

Oh man I know that feeling. I'm not much of a writer but I'm with you on the depression and anxiety thing. I can only imagine the sheer effort of will to get up and speak at cons.

As a beginner programmer (maybe I'm more like a hobbyist that never really took it seriously enough until recently), sometimes I read blog posts or articles about programming jobs and how social skills are really valued these days. I can appreciate that a lot of communication goes into any team project but as a really introverted (and mildly disabled) guy I feel like programming is one of the only jobs I have a real shot at.

Is programming still a good gig for introverts?

Posted at 12:48 a.m. on September 15, 2013

2 nigelb says...

I just re-read this post recently (probably because of a bug in my feed reader :P). I had a bad time health-wise recently, I was vomiting and dehydrated first, and 2 weeks later had an episode of seizure.

To be honest, I was feeling a little low about being sick so much. I eventually felt better when I got home and wrote about it. I was just writing it was a journal entry, but then enough people asked me about it that I made it a blog post and published it.

I discovered that writing it out and publishing the post made me feel a lot much better than I was feeling. Clearly, writing seems to help me feel better! :)

Posted at 3:43 a.m. on November 16, 2013

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