In an earlier post I mentioned several subjects I would be covering in this blog. To no-one's surprise I guess, "Depression" provoked easily the biggest response. So, finally, I'd like to take a look at some of the ways depression has informed and shaped me as a writer. Hopefully, as fellow writers, we'll be able to share your experiences and maybe later we'll look at the way other writers have developed strategies to cope with the illness.
In speaking openly about what is such an emotive subject I need to make it very clear at the outset that this post is not in any way a cry for help or sympathy. I'm very comfortable with where I am at with the illness and most of the time I believe I have it under control. The black dogs are usually safely in the kennel, even if they are continually straining at their leashes.
If the subject doesn't interest, or affect, you in any way, you may want to skip the next few posts and come back when the party at the Pundy House starts again. More than likely, the only people who will find the discussion remotely interesting will be anyone who has read my novel A Half Life of One and who wishes to gain an insight into the extraordinary mind of an author who can write such a bleak and depressing book.
Before I can begin to examine the ways depression has influenced my writing I will attempt to put the illness into some kind of context and also try and define the varying degrees to which I am, and have been, affected. You need to bear in mind that I am coming at this from an entirely amateur approach although I have read a lot about mental illness, anxiety and depression over the years, and even spent two years at university studying Psychology (not Psychiatry, but there is an overlap). What answers and insights I have gained are purely my own.
I must also confess that there is a lot I disagree with in modern psychiatry and having observed the science in action for many years at first hand I have become deeply sceptical about its efficacy. As a young man I was a big fan of H J Eysenck, whose views on the effectiveness of pyschiatric treatment were controversial to say the least. I still hold to many of his opinions.
It is generally accepted that there is a genetic component to depression. I became aware of this at a young age and the knowledge gave rise to a great deal of worry. As far as I could tell, my father's side of the family were poor, but perfectly normal folk from the Sheffield coalfields. There did not appear to be any mental illness on that side of the family (although curiously my father died when he was 50 of congenital polycistic kidney disease - I have a 50% chance of inheriting the same, a fact which caused my personal insurance premiums to rocket). My mother, as I have alluded to in other posts, was a different story.
My mother's family came from Ireland, a tiny village in County Monaghan. As well as my own mother there is a long history of mental illness in the family. Her mother went "insane". A brother spent his entire adult life in a mental institution. I believe there was a suicide in the family. My mother's sister was hospitalised with depression and my mother herself was variously diagnosed as schizophrenic or manic depressive and spent most of her life in an institution. It was hard to trace the family history further back - they were all illiterate - but I already knew enough. The omens were not good. From a young age I have continuously monitired my mental condition. Later on I kept a very close eye indeed on the mental wellbeing of my two sons, both of whom, I am happy to report, appear to be in robust good mental health. They are fully aware of the family history.
As well as the genetic component that may, or may not, be present in depression, there is also the environmental factor. Having lived, at varying degrees of proximity, with my mother and my aunt for the best part of 55 years I can see where this too my have had an impact on my mental disposition. That's why the book I am working on now is called "Mummy's Boy."
Types of Depression
I believe I have suffered from four main types of depression at varying times in my life.
Low-level depression: This is my normal mental state. You would never guess I was in this condition.
Mid-level depression: Usually triggered by a specific event or a stressful situation. I struggle to function as a working human being but I get by. Quite common. If there is a significant gap in my blogging this is usually the reason why.
Clinical depression: Severly depressed. Difficult to function on any level. Impossible to think. Only been in this state once and it lasted for about five years. This was the period during which I wrote A Half Life of One, literally one painful word at a time.
Chemical depression. Very odd. Feels like my brain has been flooded by some sort of toxic chemical. Infrequent. Lasts about twenty-four hours. Impossible to combat or ameliorate. I don't believe anyone could possibly live for very long in this state.
There is a further twist to these four categories, namely that I am pretty sure I am a manic depressive too. At one point I thought of running a competition in the blog for readers to guess which bi-polar phase I was in at the time. I gave up on the idea. Far too easy.
I should add that I have never had any kind of medication or treatment for my depression, nor have I ever been hospitalised. This isn't a boast. The fact is that I believe I am tough enough to cope on my own.
There is another reason which I expect may invite ridicule but here goes. I have always wanted to be a writer. To write well I need to know what I am really like. As a consequence I wouldn't allow any drugs to alter my consciousness and thus my personality. If I did I would never be able to find the truth. Doesn't stop me getting pissed of course with a fair degree of regularity. Hm. I can see the inconsistency.
In the next post I'll try and look at what effect these various mental states have had on my writing.