Your Writing or Your Life

May 15, 2018 § 49 Comments


Business card drawing of skyscrapers by Hugh MacLeod, saying "Before I die I will leave a body of work behind. It will cost me everything."

Business-card drawing by Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void

I spent two years writing an anonymous sex blog five days a week. I told people daily blogging was great for a writer, that if I missed a day, readers emailed ‘are you OK?’. It was the most consistently I have ever written in my life. It was 100% truth all the time, scorched-earth truth, and by the end of two years I wasn’t sure if I was doing risky, stupid things to have something to write about, or if I was writing this material as an excuse to do risky, stupid things. Either way I was compelled.

I survived. My marriage did not. My long-term affair didn’t, either. I quit blogging and started a memoir. I thought the moments of risk and danger and sheer, unadulterated crazy would make a great memoir, and the friend-writers I entrusted with my secrets believed that, too.

An agent shopped the book for a year. Editors liked the voice but hated the story or vice versa. I wondered if the agent wasn’t powerful enough to sell the book. At a conference, a noted writer was intrigued by my subject matter and asked to see the manuscript, so I thought I’d pick a couple pages for reading night.

I flipped through.

Boring.

Porn.

Boring.

Horrible.

The book had been written in a haze of untreated depression and grey sadness soaked every page. No wonder it never sold. It sucked. Even I didn’t want to read it ever again. I definitely didn’t want to waste my “I’ll read your manuscript” favor on it.

In 2013, I was performing a one-woman show in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The show had been a hit ten years before—now I was giving away tickets to homeless people to get butts in seats. I drove home after shows thinking, Why not just twitch the wheel and go right off that bridge? and That tree looks solid enough.

I told my then-boyfriend I was pretty sure I was depressed, I hadn’t been to therapy in a few years, and I thought I should see a doctor.

He said, “I guess I’ll have to read online about it. When people say they’re ‘depressed’ I always think, Come on, pull your socks up!”

I said, “I am the world’s champion sock puller-upper and this is more than I can handle.”

It had taken fifteen years to (grudgingly, desperately) decide my creativity wasn’t worth my life, because I was more afraid of pills than I was of depression. More afraid I’d “flatten out” my feelings, be unable to access them on the page, than I was of my own death.

I’ve heard other people say that, too. What if I lose my highs? What if I can’t feel anything anymore? What if I medicate the art right out of myself? In a Facebook group, someone asks for a friend—anti-depressants have sapped her ability to write. Before I can formulate an answer that’s direct but kind, a qualified nurse responds: if so, it’s the wrong medication. Another writer chimes in: there’s probably a barrier that isn’t the pills, and that’s worth examining with a writing coach or in therapy.

I got lucky. Wellbutrin was the right pill and it worked within a couple of weeks. I still cried at cute online videos. I still pulsed with joy at a student’s achievement, still wanted to have sex. I still wrote, still found scorched-earth truth. What changed was the edge of sorrow; the greasy black water of dread receded. Sadness was sadness instead of no-one will ever love you you are not worth loving. Anger was mental frustration and pain instead of my screaming, out-of-control body pulsing with fury.

I will probably take medication the rest of my life. After moving to a permanently sunny climate and marrying a man I adore, my career on track and writing going well, I tried tapering off. But fewer pills meant bursts of irrational rage, the dread licking at my feet again. My doctor asked, “Would you tell a diabetic they have a good life so it’s time to quit insulin?”

She’s right.

Depression and bipolar disorders poison us, make us think we can’t do anything and we have to do it all alone. That overdramatic nights and grey, dull days are survivable, other people have real problems. That medication is for the weak—mental illness should be overcome by force of will.

I owe it to my work to take my pills. I can’t speak for anyone else. The type of medication make a difference, and many people try several to find one that works. A supportive doctor makes a difference. Insurance and the accompanying peace of mind make a difference.

My mental health supports both my writing and the ability to share and sell my work. After being self-revelatory for years as a blogger and performer, I can tell my experience without embarrassment. This is not true for everyone. I’ve seen the shame barrier stop people from seeking out a doctor, or shopping around if the first doctor is unsupportive.

But if you’re on the edge of the dock with the dread licking your toes, take an inventory. How is this feeling helping your work? How is it hurting? If it’s been with you more than a year, positive thinking hasn’t fixed it. It might be time to try something else. Maybe it’s not a wall to break through but a burden to put down.

Maybe you can have your creativity and your life.

 

______________________________________________

Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. She’ll teach turning your personal life into a memoir people actually want to read at the Cedar Ridge Writers Series in New Jersey (NYC-area) June 10th.

 

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§ 49 Responses to Your Writing or Your Life

  • Relax... says:

    Glad to hear that you (and your talent) escaped all that. 🙂

  • I agree 100%. Thank you for writing this.

  • You’re so fully human, God rejoices!

  • Debbie Hagan says:

    Bipolar disorder sucks. My son has it. Glad you found something that works.

  • I love this so much! Thank you for your honesty. A really powerful piece. I’ll be thinking about this one all day.

  • AmyLeigh says:

    This is so beautiful and truth-filled. I love reading everything you write for those two reasons.

  • Gee. Producing a creative blog post five times a week is something that I can only dream of. And having sex five times a week something that I can’t. But I take on board your suggestion of pills. Though the result may still be just an unattended one-man show.

    Seriously though …. you are obviously very talented. I think you will be fine. And lest you think I am uncaring of your pain I assure you otherwise. The black dog follows me everywhere.
    Respectfully
    B

  • T H says:

    Such love for this post! I’ve also felt the impulse to “twitch the wheel.” Your words are sharp and comforting. I feel so lucky to be able to work with you. You’re a gift.

  • Sorry. I just realised how trite that was. No sleep. No excuse. But sorry.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      No apologies needed 🙂 I hear you on the black dog, and I still have to be careful about sleeping, eating, and not getting to a lonely place (rather than just being physically alone which I adore).

      The frustrating part about the show was it was a revival, and the previous tour had been a sold-out smash! Live and learn…

  • I wish you well, Allison, you must know I do.

  • Rebecca says:

    I think I very much needed to hear this today. Thank you, Allison.

  • ninagaby says:

    This is one I share with my patients! Fabulous. Thank you.

  • rachaelhanel says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I hope people who need to hear this message will take this in. I haven’t had a personal experience like this, and my response usually has been the same as your 2013 boyfriend’s. But on Friday my very favorite singer, Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit, died by suicide. I wonder if he felt the same — that his creativity would be zapped if he took pills (and perhaps he was on pills, I don’t know, but if he was they weren’t the right ones). That incident, and now your post, is making me much more aware of how mental illness affects creative types.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I’m sorry to hear about losing Scott Hutchison, and thanks for thinking about it – it’s hard, even on the inside, to not just say to myself “If you were stronger/better you’d just get over this, you’re only wallowing because you’re weak.”

  • bethfinke says:

    I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 7 years old and curse the disease far more often than I embrace it. That said, I credit my chronic illness for helping me understand friends and family members who suffer from depression, and why drugs are often necessary to control it. The two chronic illnesses are similar in odd ways: living well with each requires a balance of exercise, healthy eating, and medication. So easy to get off-balance, but what a wonderful feeling to bounce back. Glad you’re here, Alison.

    _____

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Thanks 🙂 And yes! I think we underestimate how much depression treatment is a blend, not just “well if I find the right fix it’ll be better.”

  • Such a crystal-clear point. The writing is terrific, as always AND this is a true and much-needed message.

  • Sara Dovre Wudali says:

    Thank you for this today, Allison.

  • clpauwels says:

    I read this early today, and I can’t get it out of my mind.

    I wrote a response, finally, then deleted it because it’s too raw, too open.

    I’m glad you’ve found relief.

  • I’ve been on Lexapro since 2000 and love it. I am a happier, healthier me, without being( what you so wonderfully call) right up to that greasy edge of black water. But it is hard to keep the well meaning naysayers at bay: those who think it’s ” healthier ” to be “pill-less.” I, too have used the diabetes metaphor, and although it sinks in to some, others still don’t get it. I did try to taper off, only twice to be tossed right back into the black water. I’ll be on antidepressants the rest of my life, too, but you know what? There are a lot worse drugs to be addicted to.Thank you for posting this, my dear friend, you are as brave as you are SMART.

  • Debbie Westheimer says:

    Thanks for breaking down a wall, talking about mental illness. I manage bi-polar (don’t approve of this word as it gives the impression there are only 2 possibilities of mood expression) with a conventional pharmaceutical and a homeopathic constitutional remedy. It is only with this support that I can do all the other things I know I need to do to take good care of myself: eat well. get more than 6 hours of sleep, meditation, some kind of movement, read and journal.

  • tamgirl66 says:

    This was a great post! I used to think that taking medication would sap the writer juice.Thanks for sharing this.

    On Tue, May 15, 2018 at 7:22 AM, BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog wrote:

    > Allison K Williams posted: ” I spent two years writing an anonymous sex > blog five days a week. I told people daily blogging was great for a writer, > that if I missed a day, readers emailed ‘are you OK?’. It was the most > consistently I have ever written in my life. It was 100% trut” >

  • Quite interesting… My mind is being whispered here!

  • nnolums says:

    Yeah that’s nice

  • Priscilla F Bourgoine says:

    Thank you for this brave piece, Allison. I’ve practiced as a clinical social worker for over 34 years. (And I’m a writer.) Too many times stigma stifles people’s seeking help. No doubt your piece will spread hope and save others from despair.

  • deemallon says:

    I’ve taken Wellbutrin for years. The crap about losing your edge is, well, crap. Glad you didn’t drive off that bridge!

  • Wow, it’s about me. I think. I hope — I’m just starting this journey. I mean started about half a year ago, but only now I have the energy to really start doing something with my life. Nevermind.

    Thank you. 🙂

  • echaudhary says:

    Hi Allison, It’s a beautifully written blog. but I beg to differ. I’m in no position to say your approach isn’t correct or what would be it’s impact in longer term, but I would urge you to give meditation a shot. There are several spiritual groups out there (Art of Living, Inner Engineering, Osho, etc.) with their own followings but I wouldn’t suggest following a particular person as much as I’d say try to read about the concepts and really build your own understanding. So much of our mental issues are our own creations – like a constant mental diarrhea. I’ve been there and I see now how the mind just plays with us. Please please give meditation a try- and hey there are absolutely no side effects 🙂

  • Hi Allison, thank you for sharing your experience; you are brave, and I admire you. I don’t suffer from depression, but my older son does. I have read a lot about the subject but nothing has really helped me see the problem from my son’s perspective like your post did.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I’m glad it’s useful, and I hope your son is finding whatever he needs in the way of treatment/management. ❤

  • […] via Your Writing or Your Life — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • Moa says:

    Thank you!

  • lgood67334 says:

    Writing this took courage. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Morgan Baker says:

    Thank you!

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