Sunday, April 05, 2009

That Old Depression ...

Nicholas Hughes’s mother, and mine, succumbed to the exhaustion of unrelenting depression. They self-destructed. And we grew up in the wreckage of their catastrophe. Their deaths took away from him and his sister, Frieda, and from me and my sister, Joyce, the solace of a mother’s love. And worse, all four of us, I imagine, had to live with the knowledge that our mothers had quite willfully abandoned us.
Following the suicide of poet Sylvia Plath's son, Nicholas, Linda Grey Sexton shares her own experience of living with a tortured inheritance the The New York Times. Her mother, Anne Sexton (left) killed herself in 1974.

Staying, for the moment, on the depressing topic of depression (!), novelist Margaret Drabble writes very candidly in The Guardian about how she wards off her own bouts :
I write at least in part to investigate, to ward off, to understand these recurrent dark periods. Maybe depression fulfils a useful function, maybe it has an evolutionary benefit. In the year of Darwin, this is a question that I haven't yet seen posed. How early in pre-history, how many millennia before Hamlet, did man and woman begin to suffer in the mind as well as in the body, and what good did it do the human race?... Many other writers have prophylactic motivations similar to mine, and some admit to them, though others strongly deny any connection between writing and self-therapy, just as they tend to deny links between alcoholism and workaholism.
Drabble reads from her new autobiography The Pattern in the Carpet here.


Baronhawk said...

It is the rule of things that some float while others sink. It is the rule of things. Depression is a natural state of being.

Drachen said...

I had periods of depression until I got married. Guess I'm just the marrying type.

bibliobibuli said...

depression is a dark and very scary place. for me is was a sodden blanket which came closer and closer to suffocate me. i'm glad i am through that time but always scared it can return. my way through it was to write.

dreamer idiot said...

Depression is a vampire that sucks the lifeblood out of you. I went through the darkest times when I had it, where there was neither day or night.

I think one of the most important thing also is to have supportive friends/family around you.

Baronhawk said...

It is nice to know that depression is not an insurmountable thing. Such as it is, being the natural order of things. Great to know that all of you have survived it intact, or at least it is a transition and a becoming into better human beings, whether via marriage,writing or the close proximity of other gentle human beings. I do hope that I shall one day lift the veil too. But for now I revel in my depression. It is like candy, sweet and melancholy. Being careful though as too much may cause something more than my tooth to ache.

bibliobibuli said...

oh boy. there's nothing sweet about depression. i'm not at all a depressed person by nature but when it hit me badly a few years back i was totally unprepared and found it terrifying. i wasn't sure if i would survive it.

now i can talk about it because i've left it far behind ... and i hope yes, that having gone through that makes me more understanding of other people who are depressed.

there are also different kinds of depression and i was depressed in response to circumstances. but there are some folks who suffer lifelong inc those with bipolar disorder, which is what plath and possibly sexton suffered from. there is a strong genetic element in this.

this depression test is the best way to find out if you are actually depressed. if you score highly on it, then get to a doctor at once! i didn't and i think i was really stupid.

my love and whatever support i can give to anyone who is going through a bad time with this.

katztales said...

Most of the writers I speak to suffer from serious depression at one time or another.

It strikes me about every few years but it's almost always reactive, i.e., a result of a serious life problem - usually not mine!

Last time I organised myself in such a way that I wouldn't have to leave the house more than once a week. Luckily I talked myself out of it.

Hard work helps. And cats help more. As do good friends who are willing to put up with a bit of oddness every now and again.

bibliobibuli said...

yes mine was reactive too.

you do have to do all you can to move consciously out of it. and work really does help. and cats oh yes!! and the friends ... well they were brilliant.

i think we really have to reach out to each other in times of need. (anyone need a hug?)

Drachen said...

Well, the mid-life crisis is supposed to hit me just about now, but I don't feel down at all.

You know what's good during a depression? Music! It's especially poignant and you feel every note! Music is totally different when you're feeling happy.

And so is writing.

Chet said...

Depression buster:

The above video will get you smiling in no time. Might bring some tears to your eyes, but not to worry - those will be tears of joy!

Baronhawk said...

I thought depression is the manna of which writers get their groove of feet? Having found my feet, so to speak during a casual study of 'The Lost Generation'... Hemingway and all the misfits. I almost ran away to Paris to join the ranks of the Great Un-inked.

Is it not depression that is the diving force which all writers sought to seek to fuel their writer's writ? Whilst avoiding of course the need to slit one's very wrists.

Is it not depression that is the nectar, wild and sweet. That gives the writer those bully lenses, with which to view the lists. And count the ways with which to curse or praise, the way that this whole world sits.

bibliobibuli said...

studies show that an awful high proportion of poets suffer clinical depression or bipolar disorder. something about poetry attracts 'em.

Anonymous said...

I'm always wondered if there's something in an artist's brain that gets triggered before its time; ie the extent of creativity artists are tapping into might be too much for our brains to cope with right now (perhaps our brains haven't evolved to deal with it yet) and this somehow causes depression etc.

Could be the reverse too, i suppose; that most artists are already depressed etc and this quality somehow allows them to be more creative.


Baronhawk said...

The chicken or the egg so to speak. What comes first? Depression or the artistic/creative streak.

Are writers/artiste/poets prone to depression or are people with depression/bipolarism tend to become writers/artiste/poets?

Yusuf Martin said...

Firstly thank you Sharon for posting this. Its time we started to discuss issues like these.

Secondly I should like to draw a distinction between unhappiness and depression, reactive or otherwise.

Feeling down, or unhappy is not depression. The blues is not depression.

Depression tends to be a creeping, all consuming, black hole to which there feels no end.

Depression is a state of utter hopeless and powerlessness. A blackness in the soul. It de-motivates even the most energetic, pulls them down into a pit of despair, anxiety and worthlessness.

I suffered a clinical reactive depression (twice). Reacting to a marriage going bad and a job I would rather not have been in.

I was lucky, I pulled through.

Damyanti said...

Yes, clinical depression is very different from a normal attack of the blues. For women, blues could be a result of the hormones, nothing external about it.

I too have noticed that most writers tend to be blue from time to time. But this could be because most writers are emotional people, who generally deal with characters and feelings.

Most creative activity uses the side of the brain attached to emotions rather than logic, so I guess it is natural that people under emotional stress would take to creative writing for relief, and creative writers would get involved in the emotions of the characters they create.

Anonymous said...

i took that test in that Bibliobibuli link and got 12 which means i'm not depressed.

and i agree with yusoff martin. there's a world of difference between feeling down and depression.i'm not depressed but i feel fucked a lot of times.


to baronhawk...please stop your drivel and write simply. you're making me depressed.

ah pong

Baronhawk said...

I took test.
Got 29, must be depressed.
Though, can't trust online test. Can't comply Ah Pong's request.
Writing drivel relieves my stress.

Pertinent question: Blues not = depression. But what of a series of unending blues that just won't end?

Anonymous said...

Yes, clinical depression is a whole other animal alrite. Unhappiness may be a natural state of being, but not clinical depression. I think there's definitely some chemical/hormonal/something-I've-never-heard-of imbalance that's causing clinical depression. Having friends who suffer from it (i think a lot of us either have this condition or know someone who has; the numbers are consistently growing larger), am hoping the cause will be identified within my lifetime, and something done to help those who are suffering from it. I'm not speaking of those (if any) who don't suffer, but those I know say that being clinically depressed is one of the most horrific states to be in when an attack hits. Nothing sweet about it at all. Fodder for inspiration once an attack's over maybe, but even that's debatable.

Yeah, it's the whole use of the 'emotion' side of the brain (left or right, i've forgotten) that made me think of what's being triggered in artists. Sharon's comment on studies concluding there's a higher number of poets with clinical depression is very interesting... wonder if any other studies have identified higher incidences in writers of general fiction, painters, etc (basically those who use the emotional side of their brain a bit more than the rest of the population)...


Damyanti said...

For those like in doubt about what really qualifies as depression, this link might help:

My view is, if you are feeling completely miserable pretty constantly for a prolonged period of time, it is much better to check it out than ignore it.

Writers may think depression is a hotbed for creativity, but true depression is too risky to just keep as a pet.

I lost my best friend in school to depression, when she was nineteen. We all realized later that we should have taken her misery much more seriously than we had.

Yusuf Martin said...

Depression is emphatically not a 'hotbed for creativity' but exactly the opposite. The memory of having had depression may be a spur to write, but the actual depression itself does what it says on the box - it depresses the mind, not enlivens.

Drachen said...

I did contemplate ending it all if I was still stuck in that damned tunnel by the time I hit 40. Is that considered depression?

bibliobibuli said...

Whitearrow - the best study is that done by kay Redfield Jamison who herself suffers from bipolar disorder - she actually took a long list of poets, writers, artists, composers who had severe depression and examined its effect on their art, and also tracked the way it worked through families. (can lend it to you) Plath's family is in there, and even based on the genetic inheritance, her son had a much higher than average chance of going the same way.

agree w Yusof and Damyanti - depression can be a fatal illness, don't mess about with it.

Drachen - yes! if you aren't better now, please go get help. there are ways you can pull yourself out of depression - as Drabble says in the article. but at the very least enlist help of friends and family.

BorneoExpatWriter said...

It's depressing just reading this! Divorce is tough to handle too (been there), losing your child (done that, but I got a lawyer and fought to get him back and after six months, ex and I found a happy solution for all three). Throughout that bitter time the only thing that helped me was writing a comedy, a screenplay. If I focused on trying to be funny (and shut out everything that was going horribly wrong at the time) it worked. I got through it. Also I don't drink and that probably helped the most! Depression and alcohol are a deadly combination. Far too many writers (and not just poets) end up killing themselves. Sounds like an occupational hazard. Nothing romantic about that. Just focus on your work, where you're going, not where you've been, and enjoy the process.
If you got the blues, sing about it, if your slipping into depression, stay away from the alcohol and the drugs or you could end up as another statistic. Instead, as advised above by so many others, get help. Not something to mess with, nor take lightly or even joke about. Good topic -- but depressing. So I'm signing out with a smile ;) and thinking happy thoughts about my children (sorry, no cat) so I can get back to work and remain focused on all the good things waiting for me in life...

Drachen said...

Thanks, Sharon. I'm okay. I've passed 40 and am waiting for that elusive mid-life crisis. :-)

Anonymous said...

Depression, I think, has very little to do with feeling sad. It's about not feeling at all. The days you wake up and you stare at the celing and think "what's the point of getting up?" that's depression.

The day you stare at the wall, desperately trying to marshall your thoughts, and you find that your mind doesn't work. It doesn't work. It's all helpless, it's all useless, you don't have a reason do anything so you might as well sit here and starve.

I think this test trivialises depression, it's not about enjoying things or not sleeping or anything like that. It's like a translucent blanket suddenly dropped over your brain. You can' anything, and it's an effort just to lift a hand, because it's all worthless and we're all going to die anyway so why should I care about anything?

That, I think, is depression.