Friday, October 02, 2009

Depression vs. Book Brain

I've got a follow-up to yesterday's post about depression vs. Book Brain in writers and how to deal with the writers in your life (or yourself). One of my blog readers reminded me that, as I so often say, everyone's different, so some writers may still be productive while depressed, which means that's not always a clue to the difference between Book Brain and depression. This reader, who is a trained suicide crisis line counselor, offered these warning signs of depression:

Personal hygiene may suffer

Person admits to feelings of hopelessness (and not just about what he or she is writing)

Affect changes, appears listless, lethargic, not very animated with the possible exception of talking about writing--the depressed writer can cling to writing as the one sign that they're OK or have worth.

May be less inclined to submit writing (and risk rejection while emotionally fragile)or have anyone read their writing at this time

Loss of interest in things they normally make time for even when writing (their favorite show)

Content of writing takes a darker turn

Level of organization slips below usual for a writing period, environment deteriorates, may be more absent-minded and have difficulty focusing on conversations or remembering appointments--again, worse than usual when writing a lot

Warning signs of suicidal depression

Any of the above plus--

Writing output suddenly stops or increases dramatically (as if person is trying to finish the work before acting or has given up on doing so)

Giving away personal items or treasured books

Doesn't talk much about the future--as if he or she won't be there

Personal hygiene takes an additional dive

Conversely, person suddenly becomes very cheerful and wants to spend time with you, talking as if she or he hadn't a care in the world (because your friend has decided to act)

***the only way to know is to ASK***

It's a myth that you will give someone the idea of suicide by talking to them about it. A depressed person has already had the thoughts, most likely. But there's such a taboo that he or she may not be the one to bring it up.

Ask point blank: "It seems to me like you're feeling depressed. Have you been thinking about killing yourself?"

If the answer is yes, the information on this page will be very helpful:

Their page FOR people who are suicidal is also helpful:

Just from looking at that list, I would say that although there are some similarities to a big creative spurt (what I call Book Brain) and depression, there are crucial differences. I'm generally pretty cheerful, and not just about the book, when I have Book Brain. My mental focus is on the book, but I generally feel like life is going well. Although I mentioned a loss of interest in other things, it's really more of a hierarchy of interest. I may not be as interested in other things as I am in the book, but I haven't lost interest in those other things. I guess it's a lot like getting invited to do something you'd enjoy when you've already made plans to do something else you enjoy -- except those other plans are with imaginary people. Non-writers may have a hard time understanding this, but those plans with imaginary people are just as valid and committed as any plans made with real people. If you're going to make it as a writer, you have to set priorities, and that may mean giving up things you'd like to do -- and when the work is going really well, that doesn't feel like a sacrifice. It's exciting to sit down at the computer or notebook and see things unfold. That's something else non-writers often have trouble with, the idea that you'd prefer staying home and writing to doing something with them.

As in the list above, I still enjoy my favorite shows. I know that sometimes non-writer friends get irked when I can make time to watch TV but I don't want to go out, but there's a difference. If you're an introvert, going out can be draining, so there's not only the time to get ready to leave the house, transit time, and the time doing whatever you do, but then there's some recovery time afterward to recharge. When I take time to watch TV, I can just watch the show (usually with a notebook on my lap for brainstorming the next scene) and then get right back to work. I still read when I'm writing, but perhaps not as much, and often whatever I'm reading pales next to what I'm writing.

For more on writing and depression, here's a conversation among writers about depression:
Kiwiburger: Writing and Depression

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