Friday, August 29, 2014

Viewpoint: Writing and Clinical Depression

This post is in response to one I read earlier this week by Chuck Wendig, a brilliant post in which Chuck replied to one of his readers about whether her depression made her less of a writer (or not a writer at all) because of how it sometimes hindered her creativity and productivity.

Here's Chuck's post, including the woman's original question. I encourage you to read it.

I was really touched by Chuck's post and the way he responded to the woman, and I just wanted to add my two cents to the conversation.

I'm a writer, and I've been diagnosed with clinical depression, an anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fibromyalgia syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and chronic myofascial pain syndrome, among other things.

I can empathize with the woman who wrote to Chuck. Some days, I get out of bed and sit down at my desk and stare at a blank document on my computer screen, and I can't get words to formulate themselves in my head because of "fibro fog" or because of the loss of concentration and focus that can occur with depression.

Sometimes, I have a really good morning where I can focus and be productive and get a lot written, and I'm excited about that. Then, I often have to take the rest of the day off because I've exhausted my reserves.

It's easy to slip into the trap of wondering, Since I can't maintain a routine, and sometimes I don't get more than five or ten words written down before I have to call it a day, does that make me less of a writer?

The answer, gently but firmly, is no, it does not.

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Joni Eareckson Tada, founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, is not less of a person, artist, author, and ministry activist because she's paralyzed from the neck down. In fact, it's because of her condition that she has become such a paradigmatic figure in motivational speaking and conferences around the world, working tirelessly on behalf of others with disabilities.

She's spent years channeling her paralysis --- something that might have debilitated her completely --- into the inspiration and motivation to reach out to others.

I read one of her books several months ago. Joni has bad days. Sometimes, she has horrendous days when she can't get out of bed or get anything done. Somehow, she's come to terms with her limitations, accepts that she needs to be patient and gentle with herself, and determines to move forward when she has a better day.

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I close with a personal story to illustrate the point further.

My sisters, people gifted in ways that I am definitely not, spend hours on a weekly basis volunteering and working closely with students with autism, from high-functioning levels to severe levels. In conversation with them recently, I asked about their "autistic kids."

Kate and Margaret looked at me and said gently, "It's 'kids with autism.' Or 'kids who have an autism disorder.' They're kids, people, human beings first. The autism doesn't define them."

My sisters are correct.

In the same way, our health conditions, disabilities, inabilities, and limitations do not have to define us. The woman who wrote to Chuck is not a "depressed writer." She is a writer, a human being worthy of honor and validation, first and foremost, who happens to battle depression.

Own your identity as a human being first. You are not your health conditions or weaknesses.

I'm a writer, blogger, poet, book reviewer, freelance editor and proofreader, reader, sister, friend, daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin, floral designer, webmaster, musician, human being. None of my health conditions can change any of that or define me differently.

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What is it that you face that makes you question your identity? Diagnoses, disorders, chronic conditions? Past abuse, substance abuse, doubt, fear, anger issues? Family tension, troubled upbringing, neglect, abandonment? How do you define yourself?

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