Despite surviving my marathon writing this past weekend, it pains me to inform you, readers, that I am still actually behind on my word count.
As some of you may recall, Chebk, the platonic mistress of my heart, had challenged me to writing 75K this month, as opposed to 50K. She argues that she believes in me and my writing abilities and that 50K is cake for me — but the truth is simply that she revels in my tribulations and bathes in the tears brought on by lack of ideas and awkward sentence structures. She is the Lady Bathory of my writing life.
To catch up, I will be writing about 3500 words per day to make 37K by this weekend but, readers, I AM SO TIRED.
I give up on the computer theme. These idiots can carry the rest of November on non sequitur caps.
And by tired I mean it is getting hard to write, for various reasons. Which brings me to the topic of this post: Mental Health and Writing.
I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression in the second half of my freshman year of high school. At this point, both were debilitating. I could not get past second period most days and was going home by 10 AM every day approximately 80% of the week. About eight different doctors declared me physically fine. My parents were upset, my teachers were upset, I was upset. At this point in my life, there was zero writing happening unless you count maybe Xanga or MySpace (yeah, yikes, went there). I lost about 15 lbs, which is significant for me as I stand at 4’6″ on a good day thanks to my Asian genes.
After about six months of crying every morning, knowing I would have to go to school and get through it, nauseous enough to be relatively useless, and angry that this was happening at all, I had a mental breakdown. I had newly discovered a fair coping mechanism in the weeks before this: screaming into a pillow. It was effective up to a point. Now picture the small Asian girl unable to stop screaming or crying until hyperventilation kicked in and parents had to knock down my bedroom door to get in.
Okay, what does this have to do with writing?
Okay, sure, writing is a good way to vent and all that, which, don’t get me wrong, it is. I will testify to this until my lungs fall out. Nothing feels better than a good midnight vent to Mic Word that I can save to a folder no one will ever see. It doesn’t need to be good, it just needs to be on the screen and out of my veins. I get that. I advocate it.
Yes, although maybe less masculine tears than Hemingway’s need to be shed.
The reality as a writer is a little harder. I’m never going to publish those late night spiels, for instance. So when you have to put your nose to the grindstone and get down to your novel or what have you, how do you write while still depressed? Aye, there’s the rub.
It’s not like there is exactly an uplifting answer here. One version is that you sit down and get to it, come hell or high water, but I mean, those are pretty words in the face of depression. I dealt with the rest of my high school years by continuing to blog, turning real emotions and problems into convoluted imagery and run-on sentence ideals. If I could turn everything ugly into something I could feel relatively proud of, it was worth the continuing battle. Making my life into a story made it manageable, quantifiable. The story of my first girlfriend and our subsequent break-up(s) became a twisted story of our one date in Chinatown. The pig’s heads that hung in the butcher’s became the main image and my narrator walked through the filthy alleyways with a bloodied head in hand, a burden and companion. Similar to reading a narrative that plays with your emotions, writing out the situation detached me enough to find a way to at least a satisfying ending (even if at the moment it came out in vengeful, bitter words). I could put the emotion to rest for a least a moment and catch my breath in the real world. It helped me keep moving.
This continued well into college, going through different stages of evolution. Towards the end of my graduate courses, it had become somewhat an obsession. I was trying to examine my own mental illness in my writing like a constant tic, especially my anxiety as frequent panic attacks have plagued me for the past ten years (though gotten significantly better in the last five). Part of my justification for this intensely introspective, somewhat morbid prose was that readers deserved better media representation of mental illness in literature, ones that didn’t always end with a happy-ever-after cure but that focused on how the main character would be dealing with this daily, every day, maybe even forever. The harder part to justify was trying to figure out what exactly went wrong with me to make me this way.
How do you write when you’re depressed and want to do nothing, including not writing? If you’re me, you burrow into the depression itself to try to figure it out in words. Words are the only thing that have ever given me solace or made sense in the midst of madness. The stories of others that were easy to empathize with gave me hope — that’s generally what they’re there for, I assume. I suppose my advice would be to find something you can latch onto that lets you get catharsis from your writing. Throwing yourself or your problems into your characters may not give you real life solutions but it can give you reason to believe that by trying to make your characters better, you have a chance at building your own narrative for the better, too.
This is probably not very helpful, but it’s what I got.
Link to my Tumblr for a reference post for various mental illnesses and related resources. We’re all gonna get through this, friends.