Monday, October 26, 2009

Writing Like Crazy

Hello Friends:

I've chosen not to carry full time work for more than a year, now. This is the first time I've gone through a major depressive episode and have also backed off on my 'day job' at the same time.

A couple of reasons for this. Reason 1 is that I experienced my first three episodes of major depression when I was a student in one form or another. I didn't get my Ph.D. until I was 30. I found the life of a student to be generally conducive to hiding mental illness. Reason 2 is that you can't just quit your job and still pay the bills. During my forth major depression, this was a serious, serious problem. I was almost unable to function at my regular day job. I desperately needed a break, and could not take one.

So, some comments on student-and-depressed situation. It is amazing what you, and the people around you, will overlook so that they don't have to deal with the truth of depression. For example, I went from valedictorian of my high school class to being on academic probation in college within the span of a year. This might indicate a problem to anyone paying attention, but since I managed to retake a few courses, pass them over the summer, and then get back to straight 'A's by my junior year, no one really got what was happening. It was chalked up to 'adjustment issues'. The major depressive episode I had in grad school was covered up by the fact that I was out of formal classes and doing research lab work most of the time, on the night shift. Not too many people saw me during a regular day, and as long as I collected data and wrote a few abstracts, again, no one really got how sick I was. (Including me, really. I was in therapy for my OCDs by that time, but did not understand how the PTSD was ruling me.)

I have had two major depressive episodes since I've been working 'real' jobs. The first of these was the worst of my life. I was between the proverbial rock and hard place (usually my head) - we needed the money, but the job was killing me. Almost literally, since this particular episode, which lasted about 2.5 years, had me suicidal for about six months of that time. It was that which pushed me to take meds. I really didn't have a choice since I felt I had no options left to me. I couldn't take a break from work to put my dwindling energies into getting better, and I couldn't kill myself (because my husband didn't want me to). I probably would have completely lost it, except that my husband was offered a great job elsewhere, and we moved.

Which brings up depressive episode number five, i.e. what I'm in now. After the move I had a couple of years where I felt pretty damn good. I didn't go back to working for someone else full time, instead I was able to put together a 'job' for myself with temporary contracts, teaching classes, writing, doing workshops, and more. And it was great. But the only reason I could do that is because the financial pressure was off. My husband could now carry us both.

So when episode number five began to take it's toll (and of course at that time we had no idea we were in this episode - you never do until you are well on the way) I figured I could simply cut back on the work until I could handle the load. Turns out I've been so messed up this time around, that unless I wanted a repeat of number four, I had to drop almost everything. I dropped my professional volunteer work, my teaching, my workshops and contracts, and kept only the writing. This was very, very hard for me to do. It felt like failure. It still does, really. So much of my self worth and self image is wrapped up in work, in getting a paycheck, and in doing what it was I spent all that time in school for. And my perfectionism makes it very hard to accept the fact that some days I'm just not going to produce excellent work.

So here I am, having just turned in the last bits of the book I've been poking at for quite some time, now. It's my first textbook, and without my husband as coauthor it never would have happened. The first year was so steeped in my depression that I got almost nothing accomplished, but as I've been coming out the other side through the last six months, it began to come together.

And when it gets published I'm going to be afraid to look at it. Because I know it won't be perfect. I'll find typos and things I could have said differently and probably issues with some of the diagrams. I'm trying very hard to focus on the fact that I actually DID IT. My first book, and through one of the worst depressions of my life. Instead I'm seeing what I didn't do, on the book, and more importantly, with any other work.

So I'm looking for some ideas from the readership here. How do you deal with your anxiety, depression, and other mental illness when you are trying produce something you get paid for? How do you deal with the imperfection, missed deadlines, dropped balls, missed calls, and unreturned emails that are a part of being too depressed or anxious to think straight?

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image is via Creative Commons from flikr: 'highlighter pen - photocopied text - 9Mar2009.jpg


europas_ice said...

Congratulations on getting that book done. That is a huge accomplishment. I've always kinda wanted to write a book, but I don't know what, and besides, it seems like a lot of work.

The Blue Morpho said...

Hello europas_ice: Definitely a lot of work, but since it comes in stages, I think if I hadn't been so depressed it would not have seemed overwhelming. Just a one step at a time thing. For me I think the key was writing about something that really matters to me. And now having been through the process once, like publishing a journal article, you can anticipate and head off some of the problems. Although I need a break for a little while before I go trolling for any more book contracts!

Andy said...

In general, I seem to have developed a style where I poke at a bunch of different things for a long, long time. Eventually, I realize something's close to done and finish it. I haven't had a particularly good focus since college, maybe even earlier.

So since my MO is basically "work on something in 15-20 minute increments, then get distracted", I'm not really sure I have much useful to offer here. My mood/affect seems to be mostly detached from my productivity, for better or worse.

The Tenacious Writer said...

Last year, to finish a freelance writing job I was having trouble with, I took myself to a writing retreat for a week and did nothing but work on that project. It worked. The cost of the retreat (very affordable) was well worth the accomplishment.

The Blue Morpho said...

Hey Andy - It must be interesting to have that 'isolation' between mood and productivity. Seems like a very functional approach - although, with my generally obsessive thinking and tight focus it would be hard for me to work on multiple projects in the same hour.

The Blue Morpho said...

Hello Amy - Thanks for the comment! I really need to consider the hard-core writing retreat idea. Otherwise, I'm always getting distracted with the usual house related work.

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