When I got home from London on Tuesday my Mslexia issue 57 was waiting for me. I’m terrible; I get magazines and rarely finish them before the next issue turns up. This time however I’ve finished the magazine in a few hours. I love Mslexia; it’s really interesting and the articles are always insightful. As I’m a subscriber I occasionally get emails from the magazine and a while ago I received an email survey about depression and antidepressants, and their effect on women writers. I filled it in and waited to see the results.
According to the article there has been no research in to the effect of mood altering medication on creativity. This isn’t surprising, it takes long enough to do all the safety tests on new pharmaceuticals and funding isn’t necessarily available for researching something as intangible as creativity. The article writer suggests, quite venomously, that the scientific community doesn’t value creativity. I disagree. I base my disagreement on personal experience of the scientific community and knowledge of the past. You have to be creative in order to make the imaginative leaps needed to get from a crystal interference pattern to the structure of DNA, or to develop new ways to see old problems, and find new solutions.
That aside, the article made me think about my own depression. This is a personal story; if you don’t want to read it then you should leave now. I am not ashamed to say that I have depression, that I have suffered from it for nearly twenty years, most of that time untreated, and that I come from a family of depressives. I know the source of my sickness and I spend every day dealing with it. I am also on antidepressants. I haven’t been on them long but already I have become more productive. I have been able to write the last ten blog posts, for a start. For two months I pretty much couldn’t write, with treatment came a new desire to work again.
This is the second time I have been put on antidepressants. The first time was in 2010. I was an absolute mess. I was (and still am) doing a terribly dull job that wastes my intelligence and I fell in to a black pit from which I felt there was no way out. Through pharmaceutical and talking therapy, especially the talking therapy, I discovered the cause of that particular depressive episode. I also found a solution: WRITING.
Writing, with reading, had always been one of my greatest pleasures. I didn’t go out much as a child, or teenager. I preferred to stay at home and read, or write. My parents bought me a typewriter when I was eight and I used to write all the time. The first thing I ever had published was an article about birds of prey in our primary school magazine, which I also helped produce and edit. My ambition was to be a writer; it was the only thing I ever wanted to do. But we grow up and are influenced by our environment. I was influenced by those who said I’d never be able to make a living as a writer, that I wasn’t extrovert enough to be able to interview people or go places.
Nobody ever said I wasn’t clever enough but that I was far too timid. Self-fulfilling prophecies; the more I was told ‘you can’t do that’ the less I believed I was capable of it. I was diverted in to other areas; the sciences mainly, which is what I studied at university. Yes, it was interesting and kept me amused for a few years, but I knew by the end of my first year that it wasn’t what I wanted. I spent more time in the library reading old books than I probably should have done considering I was studying chemistry. I suffered a depressive episode at university but did nothing about it, I struggled on alone. This is not something I suggest anyone do. Really, get help as soon as possible.
I got my degree, somehow, and tried to find a job. It was difficult and I had to take part time and seasonal jobs with nothing to do with my degree or interests. At the same time I did a few short courses at a community college. One, which was cancelled half way through, was about creative writing. I wrote a few stories and they seemed to go over well. Certainly the constructive criticism helped me develop. I did eventually find a lab job, and while it didn’t pay too badly I was bored. I went back to college and studied English Literature in the evening. I loved it. Then I got made redundant. So I went to work in a fish factory. I hate it, but needs must.
Before I knew it that old demon depression was chasing me again. I hadn’t written anything in years, except a few essays for my course. As I said, by 2010 I was a mess. But with treatment, talking through things and finding ways to cope with my symptoms lead to a break through. I found my way back to writing, and seriously considered it again for the first time in eleven years. Why shouldn’t I try to write for a living? So I started to write again, started this blog, wrote a few articles for an online magazine. I don’t make a living out of it, I’d like to though, and I am not afraid of saying so any more. At the moment it is a creative release and an excuse to investigate the most obscure subjects at times. Everywhere I go, everything I do, see, read or hear now becomes a source of ideas for things to write about.
Without the help of antidepressants I wouldn’t have had a clear enough head to see my way forward, or the ability to plan and act on those plans. My depression squashes any creative urges and the impetus to act on the urges I do have. The medication releases me from the prison of my sickness. I know some people find that their medication deadens their creative side or causes emotional flattening, but I couldn’t survive without the occasional help it provides. My desire to write returned within three weeks of being treated this time around and writing has helped me cope with the emotional turmoil I have experienced.
Thanks for reading.
If you have a mental health problem, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Whether therapy or medication is your treatment of choice take it. It’s better than the alternative. I have been there, I know this.