One of the big challenges for me in learning to be a writer outside the world of academe is that I suffer from depression. I gather I’m supposed to say I ‘live with’ it. But bollocks to that. Anyone who’s had it knows that suffering is exactly what you do. Of course it’s not there all the time. I’ve known grace periods of even a few years’ duration. But it returns, sometimes when you least expect it, and always when it’s bloody unwelcome.
Writing is something I am doing to help manage my depression. It’s a bit pat to say writing can be as good as, or better than, therapy, but certainly that’s sometimes been the case for me. I’ve produced a few for-friends’-eyes-only poems that fit that bill. And all the events of the last few years that have contributed to the present episode will doubtless find their way into my writing in some way, and to some extent. My life experience as a whole has often been infused with depression, and that has necessarily shaped my outlook in a range of ways, and not just at the time of a low period.
But that’s not really what I mean by saying I write to help manage the illness. In fact, writing has become the fulcrum of a new way of living – hopefully without the need for a 9 to 5 job, and in a way that maximises creativity while reducing stress to the minimum. I realised that in order to stay well, I needed to change my life, and maximise my time to do the right things to support my mental health. Out with the M25 (and extremely good riddance); in with the coastal small town where I now live. Out with a responsible job and a decent salary; in with living off my savings and the small sums I receive in benefits, until such time as my writing makes any money. Out with 12 hour days; in with time to go to the gym, walk the dog, and write in the short bursts of a few hours I can sustain. Hurrah.
But there, of course, is the rub. Doubtless you, dear reader, have seen it already: being your own boss generates stresses of its own. And in this way of living and working, there’s no sick pay or sick leave to cover me when I get ill. Learning to do something new can be tricky if your mental health is shaky, yet here I am doing exactly that. And of course writing is an essentially creative process; in particularly bad lows, there is nothing less likely for a depressed person than to be creative.
Being open about this is not my way of currying sympathy; I’m grateful for that when it’s offered, of course, but to do that would be manipulative. Rather, it’s a means for me to alleviate stress. Having put this inconvenient truth about myself out there, I feel more resolute in delivering only what I can deliver, working only when I can work, and attempting only what I can feasibly attempt. That doesn’t mean I expect an easy ride. My work will still need to be good for it to be published, if it ever is, and rightly so. But it does mean that I won’t be producing umpteen volumes a year, or tomes of War and Peace length.
So this writing lark is a calculated risk, a gamble, a throw of the dice because things couldn’t stay as they were; may the odds be ever in my favour, and, if you come across my writings, may you cast an appreciative eye on what you see there.