Writing and depression

I don’t often link to other blog posts, but I have just read this one on writing and depression by James Bradley, on his City of Tongues blog (it was published in Griffith Review Edition 23: Essentially Creative). I think it is fascinating reading for not only writers, but also mental health professionals and those who have suffered from mental illness. I think he uses his skills as a writer to very eloquently and clearly discuss his own experience both of depression and recovery.

Definitely worth a read.

4 thoughts on “Writing and depression”

  • Thanks for this Dawn, a very interesting read. I like the quote from Wallace, ‘he wanted to write “stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief about what it feels like to live”. This is why I write also. I am always amazed when people say they don’t want to read books that deal with difficult issues. It’s as if they cannot face anything that isn’t glossy, forced, fake. I know that you have also grappled with writing a novel that some may baulk at reading. But I believe there are many more people who read to try and make sense out of life, and literature can help one do this. Like Bradley, I think my writing is a “compulsion to control and order the often unbearable pressure of day-to-day existence through the controlling medium of art”.
    I can’t wait to hear how your editing retreat goes. I’m in the throes of editing now … talk about depressing hahaha

    • Hi Leeann,

      Yes, I also think that literature – writing or reading it – can be a way of working through difficult issues. As you know, my novel idea came from a real life encounter with a case of infanticide at work, which has stuck with me ever since. I think that writing about it has been a way of dealing with the issues that it raised for me personally. Let’s hop that someone else wants to read it!
      Good luck with the editing – it is a frustrating process! I think it is one of those articles where they compare the mentions of writing with those of depression and mania – not that I’d ever compare the experience of mental illness with the emotions I feel when writing – but I can understand the frustration and despair which turns to elation when you finally work out an issue. For me, this has been a recent experience – I have legal scenes in my book which were obviously under-researched and hence out of order and not very coherent. I have managed to contact a prosecutor, done some research, and then had a break through when I know what should happen to my character and how I should write it. A lot more work, but now I know it will be good – and that’s a brilliant feeling!
      I’m off to the Hachette/QWC retreat in a few days, I can’t wait!

  • Thanks DrD for another really interesting – and topical – post.

    The area of creativity and mental illness is certainly intriguing, and there has in past decades been a virtual ‘mini-industry’ in publishing about the links between a writer’s/ musician’s talents and their struggle with inner demons. As you point out in another Post, without mental illness, or at least personality disorders of some sort, ther’d be virtually no Shakespeare, little Wagner or Beethoven (though we’d still have sugary Mozart), and probably no 60’s revolution in music. The ‘act’ of writing itself seems to be therapeutic or ‘healing’ in some deep sense, and many great writers/ poets (Bertrand Russell, WH Auden, Graham Greene, Paul Celan) have pretty much said that writing kept them sane. [Though Celan eventually had enough of his inner demons and drowned himself in the Seine exactly 40yrs ago] I have an adage that “all writers are wanabee therapists, and all therapists are wanabee writers”, which may be hyperbolic but has a shard of truth, methinks. I also came across another interesting Blog by a US therapist, “Write out of Depression”, where she explicitly uses the writing in therpay to provide a ‘healing’ space or narrative for her clients – fascinating!
    I also wonder if the current global obsession with social networking and ‘microblogging’ is, especially for our disaffected youth, some kind of therapy, or at least escape: an area which, as a child psychiatrist also, I am quite interested in.
    Thank you, and Merry Xmas/ Festive Season to all!!!

    P Tam

  • Hi Philip,

    Hope you had a great xmas and new year, and thanks for your comment. Apologies for the tardy reply, but as you may have seen, my baby arrived early on the 22nd December so I have been a little preoccupied!

    I had to laugh at your adage about writers wanting to be therapists and vice versa – there certainly are a lot of similarities between the two professions. Although, writing is very much a solitary game, whereas therapy requires strong interpersonal skills. Many people, of course, have both! I have a friend, Karen Leibovitch, who has recently published a memoir called ‘Two years to normal’ – she is a therapist who developed cancer, and then as a result had to undergo her own therapy (much of it by email etc as her speech was affected), and she wrote a book about it. So there are many people out there who successfully straddle the two.

    Interesting point too about social networking and the therapeutic role that it provides. Not to forget the increase in formal therapies (eg for eating disorders and anxiety disorders) which are now being trialled – successfully – via email/computer modules…

    Happy New Year!