There are few really great things about living with depression, but I think one of the most frustrating has to be the unpredictability of it. One moment, you’re humming along just fine, feeling competent and capable – maybe even a little bit optimistic, if you’ve had a good night’s sleep – and then the next minute, something small and stupid sets you off, and you go tumbling into a hopeless pit of despair for the next three days, all raw edges and helpless weeping, scraped and bruised and certain that you’ll never recover yourself ever again.
It’s hard to think about writing in times like those. It’s hard to do anything other than slog through the workday in a sludgy daze, longing only to slink into bed at the end of it, pulling the blankets up over your head and ignoring the puzzled, mournful mewing of the cat who expects his dinner. * The day can’t end quickly enough, and the endless stretch of time between coming home and reasonably being able to turn out the lights seems like nothing but a bottomless sewer that can never be filled, no matter how many episodes of Downton Abbey you add to your queue to pass the hours.
It’s times like those, when my projects stagger to a halt under the weight of self-doubt and self-hatred, that a writer (and any person, for that matter) can feel most alone and most defeated. It takes so long to climb back up to my feet sometimes that I wonder why I try to create anything at all. My characters seem dull and lifeless, my plots seem frayed and directionless, and my prose seems pathetically amateur. Nothing works, nothing sparkles, and nothing seems worthwhile.
I can’t control when it’ll happen, nor can I just snap out of it through my own strength of will, as so many people who have no experience of the matter often try to suggest. It’s inconvenient and aggravating to be struck by sadness at the most random times, especially because I feel so completely the opposite when I’m at the top of my game.
Most of the time (well…some of the time, at least), I feel totally fine. There aren’t enough hours in the day when I’m doing well. Work is easy, and there’s never enough of it to tackle. I can crank out 4000 words a day with little trouble, and they’ll be good words that are worth keeping. I can come up with ideas for three different books at the drop of a hat, and draw maps and design covers and take great pleasure in the process of creating new worlds using nothing more than a pen and some imagination.
I’m in one of those acceptably buoyant periods right now, I’m happy to say, after a few rainclouds earlier in the month. After doubting the direction of my series-in-progress, and taking some time to get over a few personal things that I won’t really bother you with, I feel like I’m back on the horse for the moment. A few crucial plot points, newly revealed to me, have reinvigorated my sense of the story, and a couple of characters are finally starting to come into their own and take charge of themselves.
It’s a wonderful feeling, and in one sense, it’s made even more wonderful by knowing that it won’t last. As difficult as it is to wait out the fallow times – because waiting it out is really all I can do – I think feeling down once in a while help me to appreciate when I’m up. Would I enjoy a more balanced existence? Of course. I’d rather spread out the ickiness rather than swallow it all in one big, choking lump. But for the moment, I’m stuck with what I’ve got, so I might as well try to make the best of it.
The point of all this, I guess, is just to mark the fact that right now, I’m doing all right. I’m writing, I’m creating, I’m enjoying the summer, I’m nearly done rewatching Downton Abbey, and I’m feeling like it’s important to talk about the things that affect me most. Will it last? Not indefinitely. But let’s get a few thousand words down on paper while it does.
* Don’t worry. Oliver always gets his dinner.