On Depression, Isolation, and a Creative Life

In light of the sad loss of actor/comic Robin Williams yesterday, the internet has been flooded with all sorts of information about depression, including many calls for people to seek help if they need it. This is wonderful and important, but I feel like this is also the sort of thing that happens whenever a public figure commits suicide or announces a history of depression, and what we truly need is a more ongoing openness in the face of this illness. People don’t only need to seek help the week someone else succumbs to their own depression; they need to feel able to talk to someone whenever they need the assistance. And this is particularly important for anyone suffering from depression in a void.

There have been suggestions that creative types — writers, actors, artists, etc. — are more prone to depression because they are more sensitive or their work requires them to mine their demons or for whatever other reason. Maybe this is true, but I suspect not. All sorts of people suffer from depression — far more than you might suspect — and I don’t believe it has anything to do with what they’ve chosen for a career. It’s an illness, not a side effect.

However, many creatives spend time isolated — writers or artists working alone, actors with down time between parts — and so I think they sometimes have (or feel they have) less of a support system than someone with an office filled with coworkers. The same is true of people who live alone, travel alone frequently for business, and so on. Depression isolates a person all by itself, making it difficult to reach out for assistance for so many reasons, and so if that person is also isolated in reality, they have even less of a chance of seeking help from someone.

So yes, please reach out if you’re feeling depressed or suicidal, even if it’s only a fleeting thought. The suicide prevention lifeline in the U.S. is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and I’m certain there are similar helplines in other countries. The only way to find a solution to your problems, no matter how impossible they seem, is to remain in the game.

But for those of you who know people who might be depressed, please make an effort to reach out to them. You can’t fix them or cure them or tell them much that will register, because a depressed person’s brain will filter your words and hear what they believe rather than what you say. But, what you can do is remind them that you are there for them and that they have a support system. Check in just because you care. Be present in their lives so that, even when their brains are insisting they are alone, some small part of them might still realize that you want them in your life.

Friday Links

Happy Friday! What has your week brought you? What are you hoping for this weekend? I suspect a good number of you are hoping for warmer weather, given what’s been going on on the east coast. I’m wishing you all sunshine and milder temperatures, or at the very least some time to burrow under a cozy quilt with a mug of your favorite hot beverage and an excellent book.

To kick the weekend off right, I’ve got a nice assortment of links today. I hope you find them inspiring and/or helpful. I feel like they lean strongly toward the self-help aura of January, but a couple address important issues that can hit you any time of year. Enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend!

Navigating Stuckness – One artist’s dissection of the stages of his career and the path he’s taken, both the high points and the low.

Year of ‘Reading Women’ Declared for 2014 – An article on the wave of people dedicating themselves to making sure women writers and writers of color get more attention. I’m going to have more to say about this next week.

Staff 5s 2013 – Powell’s Bookstore’s annual lists of the year’s top five books from their booksellers. Always fun because the range of tastes practically guarantees you’ll find something intriguing you hadn’t heard of before.

On One Writer and Depression, AKA Life in the Black Pit of Hell – Bestselling author Alyssa Day talks candidly about her fight with depression. A really important read.

Things They Do Not Teach You in Writer School, #17 – Author Marie Brennan on figuring out how much story you have, or how long your book might end up being.

Friday Links

Friday has rolled around again. I’ve had a weird week in that it seemed to fly by, even as each individual day was a week long all on its own. I’m hoping you all experienced time in a more normal fashion, and that you’ve got a wonderful weekend planned.

At least in this half of the world, spring seems to have finally come to town (with a few snowy exceptions). Don’t let spring fever derail whatever writing goals you’ve set for yourself. Instead, try to combine your goals with a little fresh air. Grab your laptop or a notebook and go write in your yard or at a nearby park. Take a thermos of coffee and a blanket or folding chair and breath deeply while you write. Who knows what inspiration might strike? Just don’t forget your sunscreen.

But it’s Friday and that means links, as I’m sure you all know by now. I’ve actually got quite a few this week. It’ll be good to finally close out all these browser tabs. I hope you find these as interesting, educational, and entertaining as I did. The Will Hindmarch piece is a particularly important read. Enjoy!

This Column Will Change Your Life: Helsinki Bus Station Theory – A theory of creativity. It references photography, but really, this could apply to any artistic endeavor.

I Read Everything Jane Austen Wrote, Several Times – An interesting look at one reader’s impression of Austen’s work and what it meant to her.

Alix Ohlin Recommends – The author gives a couple of tips on how to drum up inspiration.

Forever All The Time Always – Guest blogging for Wil Wheaton, writer Will Hindmarch talks about depression and the lies it tells you about your writing, your skills, and your worth.

Let the Memory Live Again – Did you memorize poetry as a kid? Do you still? The Paris Review blog talks about a new app from Penguin Books that helps you to memorize a few classic poems.

Pablo Neruda’s Grave Is Opened in Inquiry into the Poet’s Death – ¬†Questions have come up as to whether he might have been poisoned by someone in the Pinochet regime.