Writing Through Depression


I’m flat-on-my-back depressed right now. The election’s disheartening and terrifying, yeah, but at the end of the day, this isn’t even the kind of depression that’s about anything. It’s less sad, more empty. Maybe it’s because I took my meds inconsistently. Maybe it’s just a bad phase of a cycle.

I sleep til noon, or at least stay in bed until then. I can’t get out of bed because being in the waking world makes me extra conscious of how little I’m doing. But I stay up late at night because it feels wrong to go to sleep unfulfilled and unaccomplished. Or I’m up late because I can’t physically manage to sleep.

I feel unproductive and like I’m already wasting my day if I wake up much past 10, but I’ve been in this uncomfortable rhythm for weeks now. It resists correction. I was up all night before Short Run, but that wasn’t enough to get me to sleep any earlier the next night.

Even with my extensive experience with depression, it took me weeks to remember that dysfunctional sleep is a symptom of depression, not just my personal failure. I can blame myself a little less knowing it’s not just my lack of self-control, but there are still so many things that feel like my fault.

I know my sleep habits are bad. Like, all of them. I don’t drink coffee at times that are absolutely over the line, but I drink probably too much at dubious times. I use electronics before bed. I don’t use my bed just for sleep. I use my bed for as many tasks and as much of the time as I can. With lots of supportive but soft pillows, a foam mattress topper, sheets, blankets, comforters, it’s by far the most comfortable spot in the house. That matters for my chronically ill body.

I’ve tried to adjust, mainly by getting up earlier and by spending less time in bed, but I just can’t. I’m not in a position to make things any harder for myself, even if it might make other things easier. Shorting myself sleep makes my head and body achier and my digestive system more unsettled. Most time spent out of bed is spent slouching and wondering why I’m not in bed.

I’ve been reading more lately. I finally figured out a way to make that work. At 4:00 this morning, I was reading another writer’s work and envying their effective use of metaphor. Metaphor feels so beyond me right now. Literature, art, feels beyond me right now. I don’t have the energy for abstraction or craft.

I simultaneously feel like I have more to say than I’ll ever have time to write and like I can’t say anything in a way worth saying. This is what I have to remember: I can’t write like abled writers. I can’t write like disabled writers who are doing better than or even just differently from me. I can’t write like I can when I’m less depressed.

But I can write. I can write like my depressed self, and it’s ok if my depression colors my writing. Actually, hearing this in my head, I think I sound like my usual self. Still, it’s ok that my writing process is depressed. It’s ok that I’m writing this on 6 a.m. insomnia, sitting up in bed after hours of trying to fall asleep to old episodes of Good Eats, hours of anxiety about how much I’m not doing. It’s better than forcing myself to write somewhere other than bed, and it’s certainly better than lying in bed but not ever writing.

I’m waiting to be so tired I can’t help but fall asleep. I’m waiting for this episode to pass. But I can’t wait until this is over to write. I’m enough in my depression, and so is my writing as a process and a product.

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