Depression, Anxiety and the Creative Writer

Creative writers often jokingly refer to the strangeness of the writing experience in terms of a mental illness. Multiple personalities (Characters that talk back? Say, whaaat?), obsessive behavior, the “tortured artist” stereotype, all the feels, etc.

But there’s a darker underbelly beneath all the joking.

The sensitive, artistic personality types who tend to express their deep thoughts and feelings through writing often trend toward depression and anxiety. 

This is by no means true of all writers and artists (thankfully!), and the scientific community is divided on whether a link actually exists. However, I’ve certainly seen anecdotal evidence of many creative writers struggling, not to mention dealing with anxiety and depression myself.

Creative writers look at the world a different way. They feel things others don’t feel, and often feel them much more deeply than the rest of the population. Writers (especially of the speculative genres) often feel torn between two worlds: the world of their imagination, full of magic and possibility, and the harsh reality of the world in which they live. They can often feel alone and misunderstood.

It’s this marvelous, imaginative quality that creates such engaging and heart-felt stories that impact people and cultures for generations. Yet, this same quality can isolate a creative writer from the very people whose hearts they are touching. 

If this is you, don’t despair. You are not alone.

You are wonderful. You are creative. You are inspirational. Your story has meaning and purpose. Remember, even the most wonderful, memorable stories have dark moments.

If this is you, we are here for you. I’m not afraid to speak for myself, and speak for the creative writer community: you are not alone. It’s easy to become discouraged, disheartened, or isolated. But there’s good news. You have hope, and the power to walk strong no matter if your path is light, dark, or a nice dappled in-between.

Are you ready? Here are a few tips that have helped me.

  1. Practice self-care. I’m convinced the starving artist stereotype came about because one to many creatives got caught up in a project and forgot to eat. Take care of yourself. Eat well. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Use calming techniques like meditation and yoga to de-stress.
  2. Practice community. Spend time with people who refresh and encourage you. Recently, I spent eight hours talking with my best friend at a coffeeshop about life, business, and our personal struggles. It was so unbelievably refreshing. Take the time, even if you don’t feel like you have it. Even if there aren’t local writers groups near you, get plugged into an online community. Twitter hashtags like #ontheporch can be great for connecting with other writers. Sometimes there’s nothing like talking with someone who truly understands the struggles of a writer’s life.
  3. Give to others. The reality of anxiety and depression is that it’s very easy to become inward-focused. But healing and hope never comes from within us. Invest in someone else. Send an encouraging note. Help them around the house. Not only does it make someone else’s day bright, but serving others out of your own dark place lends perspective.
  4. Seek help. There is no shame in asking for help. It is the mark of a mature person when they recognize their need and reach out. For me, an important part of my daily routine is Bible study and going to church. Spending time with Jesus reminds me that I don’t have to control everything. Friends and family members who have struggled with depression and anxiety, even to the point of suicide, finally found healing when they reached out for professional help, as well as taking the steps mentioned above. There can be physiological reasons for the way you feel.
  5. Remember it’s a journey. Every person has both easy days and hard days, but I believe we can choose to have a good day, regardless. Some days will come easy. Some will be incredibly hard. What matters is how we respond. Do we choose to feel sorry for ourselves, or do we choose to make someone else’s life better? Do we give up, or do we choose to take the next step, and the next?

If you know someone who is struggling with depression and/or anxiety, or some other form of mental illness, reach out. If you find yourself in a dark place, seek help. Why?

The world needs your story. All of it. Not just the words you write, but also the story you live. 

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Cayman Thorn says:

    It’s definitely a struggle. Sometimes more than others. You give great advice as to how to deal with this. Running and sharing has been good for me. It took me a LONG time to finally share this stuff with someone other than my therapist though.

    Thank you for this post.

    1. Karis Waters says:

      Thank you! I hope it was an encouragement to you!

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