A few years ago, when I began on antidepressants that worked for me, I went through a transitional period from being mentally unwell, with O.C.D and depression, to being mentally healthy – in that neither of these illness dominated my life anymore.
Being on medication allowed me to gain control over the anxiety and depression, but it didn’t ‘cure me’ magically. I still needed to adjust the way I saw the world to this slightly altered, less debilitating, perception of things the medication awarded me.
Off the medication, the O.C.D in particular would make me feel trapped in cycles of thought. I felt compelled to follow strict daily routines and was stuck in my ways. Not only did I repeat actions, I would repeat life patterns and find myself in the same situation over and again. I felt too anxious to embrace uncertainty and take risks and as a result, I never took on many of the challenges necessary to building a life.
My shrink would say that what we were attempting to do was ‘unclog the works’, meaning allow my brain to develop, learn and adjust.
The most beneficial thing the medication did for me, was that it allowed me to start socialising again. One thing I discovered in socialising was that a lot of the emotional needs I was hoping to seek from becoming a writer, were actually ones I was better off seeking from other people.
I always thought, insanely in my opinion, that if I didn’t get published my life wouldn’t be worth living. I’d pegged this as the ‘fix’ to everything in my life. Once I got published, everything would be perfect.
Getting published, means you get a lot of praise, which is easy to buy into. Telling myself that I was ‘talented’ or ‘gifted’, meant that even if I exercised potentially damaging actions – sleeping too much, isolating myself, drinking when I was feeling anxious, stopping my medication against medical advice – as long as I wrote novels I could tell myself it was simply the uniqueness of my ‘genius’.
By reaching out socially to others, I quickly felt accepted and loved even without any novels published. A lot of the things I’d fantasized would happen after I got published – such as being able to talk confidently with others and feeling accepted and validated for who I was – happened when I started socialising.
In realising that my happiness would always depend on the people in my life, becoming a writer became far less of an imperative. As a result, writing felt less romantic, but became more enjoyable and in my opinion, my work became more readable.
Before I began on the medication, I wrote all day, but un-readable stories. And I didn’t read enough, a deep regret, because I found it hard to concentrate. So, I never progressed with the craft.
Being on medication, awarded me the simple ability of being able to sit and enjoy a book. And as a result, the quality of my writing improved dramatically. It was at this time, that I reflected on the way in which I’d been romanticizing my mental illness in the past, in that I’d always seen my anxiety disorder as ‘necessary’ to me being a writer.
I’ve since discovered that this is quite a widely held notion. Even my shrink, whom I possibly idealise a bit much, once said that my anxiety made me suffer, but it also made me creative. Although, I know he could have just been reflecting my own thoughts back to me.
It’s difficult to say why I feel compelled to write. And, like many things, just because there’s a question doesn’t mean there’s an answer.
However, one thing I can say with certainty, is that my mental illness does not contribute positively to my fiction in any way. Anxiety and depression, for me, feel very different to thinking creatively. Writing, in the past, has certainly helped me manage my anxiety and depression. But, being anxious and depressed isn’t the reason I wrote.
I know this, because even though now my anxiety and depression is at a manageable level, I write more than ever. In my opinion, I write better than ever. And, most importantly, I enjoy it more than ever.