With Mo*Con quickly approaching and with our main conversation centering on the issue of the mental health issues we writers may struggle with, I thought that I would encourage some guest posts from some of our guests as well as interested observers. One such observer would be author Lucy Snyder.
I wanted to be a writer pretty much from the moment I learned how to read; my desire to be a speculative fiction writer was firmly cemented after I started reading books like Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time.
Books like that were my respite from a world where I felt as though I did not belong, and worse, would never belong. But I’d lose myself in a book, and for a few hours the universe changed into a much better place. And I thought to myself that if I could write something that made another person feel that same shivery sense of wonder and excitement, then that would have to be the best job in the world.
But books couldn’t make everything better; I went through my first suicidal depression when I was 12 years old.
Part of it was a matter of brain chemistry, sure. But the other part was circumstantial: I grew up in a conservative military town in Texas. A town out in the big empty part of the state. There was the mundane stress of being female in a culture where girls were told at every turn that they were inherently less capable and worthwhile than boys and that their only true value lay in being decorative. That’s pretty depressing if you’re a girl with an ounce of ambition.
But there was also the matter of being a queer kid in that culture. I knew one boy in high school who was out as gay, and it’s a miracle he survived to adulthood. I don’t know any lesbians who came out then. It just wasn’t accepted. And bisexuality wasn’t a concept anyone discussed. It was a black-and-white world. Either you were straight, or you were a homo, and if you were a boy who kissed just one boy you were a homo for ever and ever after.
So I was effing terrified of being a lesbian. When I started having some “Hey, she’s cute” type feelings when I was young, I squashed those suckers down as far as they would go. This, of course, affected things. Badly. I became standoffish, and afraid of touching anyone or to be touched lest There Be Feelings. I kept to myself, and felt totally isolated.
So, yeah. I spent most of my teen years struggling with depression and anxiety. The depression part got somewhat better in college, only to return with a vengeance in the academic pressure cooker of graduate school. Which, perhaps not coincidentally, is when I started trying to write for publication.
For me, depression is like having a huge monster constantly looming over you. This vile creature breathes out toxic gas that clouds your mind and saps your energy, and with every breath it tells you, “You don’t deserve to live. Everything you do is a joke. You should have never been born. If you had any guts you’d take that bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet and wash it down with some Drano. You pathetic loser. You girl. You don’t deserve to live.”
Who the hell can write under those conditions? I know I sure can’t.
I went on meds for a while, and they alleviated my depression considerably. But the side effects nearly crippled me physically. I decided I’d rather be able to walk than be in a good mood, so I stopped taking my prescription and started trying other tactics.
My depression is a chronic illness that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life. The symptoms might subside for a while, but I can count on them coming back if I’m not careful.
The toxic monster I described above? My first goal of every day is to wake up before it does, go down into the basement where it’s sleeping, and beat the thing unconscious. And then I can get on with my day.
Here are my weapons against depression:
1. I know my triggers, and take steps to avoid them. A big trigger for me is loneliness. I know that I probably can’t ever live by myself. Further, once I start slipping into depression, the monster will tell me that nobody really wants me around, they’re just humoring me, etc. And if I listen to those toxic thoughts, I will isolate myself and make the situation worse. So, I know that when I’m feeling the urge to withdraw, that’s exactly the time I need to be with people.
2. I know I need backup. The thing about depression is that once it starts, your brain isn’t working so well anymore. You might have an idea that seems perfectly lucid and rational to you, but in fact is neither. So, it’s important to have people around who will give you a reality check (and get you to a doctor when things get bad). My main backup is my husband, but I also have other friends I know I can count on.
3. I take care of my brain chemistry. Most people have heard of St. John’s Wort as an over-the-counter antidepressant. But that herb also gave me unpleasant side effects. After doing some research, I started taking Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and fish oil along with my morning coffee. And you know what? That combination works about as well as the prescription meds I was taking. I take 500-1000 milligrams of Vitamin C, 1000 IU of D, and 1200 mg of fish oil every day, plus probably 90 milligrams of caffeine from the coffee; the worst side effect I’ve had to deal with is the cats being super-interested in sniffing my breath.
I hope some of you found this useful. Write well, and be well.
May 3 – 5, 2013. Indianapolis, IN
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