Okay, it’s the week of Mo*Con, so things are crazy on this end (read:  I have to edit this novel before the end of the week and get it turned in to the publisher) and I’m trying to put a few projects to bed so that I can enjoy myself.  But we have a few more guest blogs.  Next up, Apex Book Honcho, Janet Harriett, shares her story.

Harriett photoTalk Is Not Cheap

by Janet Harriett

When I was in that “what do you want to be when you grow up?” stage, I remember my parents being concerned that being a writer would make me depressed. Their concern was not without justification. Mental illness, as the meme says, doesn’t so much run in my family as stroll around getting to know everyone, and I’ve had depression and anxiety to one degree or another for about as long as I can remember. Plus, let’s face it, creative types do have a bit of a reputation for being sometimes fatally not quite right in the head.

My parents really should have been more concerned about my sister’s choice to become a massage therapist. Turns out, as an occupational group, personal care workers have the highest rates of depression, followed by food service, social services, and healthcare. You don’t get to writers and artists until #5. That’s still pretty high on the list, but statistically speaking, “troubled manicurist” is more prevalent than “troubled writer.” (For those interested in the data: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/2k7/depression/occupation.htm)

Creative folks’ reputation, while perhaps undeserved, is not entirely a bad thing. People already expect writers to be a little nuts, so we run into a lot less stigma in admitting that we’ve struggled with mental illness. So, while artists and writers may not lead the pack in having depression, we sure run the table on talking about it.

Talking helps. Not just talking with a psychologist (though I do that, too), but talking with people who have been there. They understand what I mean when I describe thoughts being epoxied in place in my brain until the days run together. They know how terrifying it is to be stuck in a malfunctioning brain that refuses to do what I want.

People who have been on the ledge or held the knife understand the difference between wanting to hurt yourself and wanting to make this all end — a distinction that is often lost even on mental health care practitioners. I still haven’t said the word “suicidal” to my doctor. On the other hand, I have swapped “when I was suicidal” stories with other writers — writers I’ve just met — without fear of judgement, because they talked first.

Calling it the “When I was suicidal story” sounds so flip, but the writer-mental illness combination provides the skill set to turn these  experiences into narratives, which make talking about it easier. All the hard work of figuring out what to say is done once, and the anecdote becomes not entirely unlike giving readings. I can tell the story because, in telling the story, it doesn’t quite feel like I’m talking about me.

A good chunk of my decision to be open about my depression came because Jim Hines laid out an eloquent argument in favor of treating mental illness like any other significant medical issue. When I first blogged about my depression, my husband, who has the monumentally difficult task of dealing with me at my worst, asked if I was sure I wanted to do that. The creative world has less of a stigma attached to mental illness, but I can’t blog just to them. Other people would know, too. After the private messages I got from some of those other people, I definitely was sure that I made the right decision. I work in a career field where admitting to mental illness is relatively low risk, but others aren’t so lucky. I got messages thanking me for speaking up, and expressing a hope that they, too, might some day get to a place where they’re comfortable with themselves and don’t fear professional repercussions from their admission.

Talking about it helps me. I have enough anxiety without having to try to keep something else about my life secret. I sincerely hope that, by talking about it, I can pay forward the work others — others who didn’t know me — did, and maybe help break the stigma that keeps people in those four industries above ours struggling silently.

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Janet Harriett is the senior editor of Apex Publications, as well as a copy editor for hire and occasional writer of science fiction. She lives in central Ohio, fearing the zombie apocalypse after her ill-considered decision to buy a house next to an active cemetery. In her spare time, she has no spare time. Find her online at www.JanetHarriett.com and, more often, on Twitter @janetharriett
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Mo*Con VIII: The Mind and Spirit of the Artist

May 3 – 5, 2013.  Indianapolis, IN

Previous Guest Blogs:

Maurice Broaddus – Being Crazy, Christian, and Creative

Lucy Snyder

Doug Warrick

Jim C. Hines

Gary A. Braunbeck

Nate Southard

Delilah Dawson

Michelle Pendergrass

Steven Saus

Janet Harriett