Writers & Depression: Battling the Holiday Blues


Sylvia Plath (Wikipedia)

With the holidays here also arrives an increase in depression for many people. Writers? Depressed?

We’ve all heard about it.  Creative genius and depression seem to go hand in hand with many. I know. I suffered depression for many years. And the holidays come with their own heavy, gray veil to be pushed aside.

And we know them. Writers who committed suicide.

Sylvia Plath. Virginia Woolf. Anne Sexton. Hunter S. Thompson. Ernest Hemingway.

Why? In the case of Hemingway four other immediate family members also committed suicide. Was it then a hereditary disease? Read a fascinating interview with Hemingway in the Paris Review by George Plimpton to peek inside his mind as a writer.

When asked what kind of training a writer needed Hemingway responded with… “Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.”

Harsh words. We don’t need the hanging though. We lash ourselves enough as writers. Genes aren’t everything though.

Look at the day in the life of a writer….
Alone. With your own thoughts. Inside. Sitting for long periods. Writing drivel one day, genius the next. On a roller coaster of doubts about self worth tied to your work. It is personal, this business of writing. Waiting for validation you are any good. For years. And years. And years.

I’m adopted and recently found out my natural father killed himself. He didn’t die by car accident as I had been told. The “car accident” included plugging up the tail pipe to suffocate by carbon monoxide parked outside a church. This scares me. Is there such a thing as a suicide gene? Did Hemingway have it? Will my son have it?

I don’t know. But I have to believe we can overcome it. I hope.

Health magazine lists writers as one of the top 10 professions to have depression. This may be true, but I also think we are living in a time where we  have the best chance of not being depressed as writers.

Why do I think this?

Because we are in a time now where we are connected to one another more. As authors today we hear that it’s critical to have an author platform. We need to blog, be on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, attend writer conferences. We are now not so alone in our writer world. We are connected. And I have found even online interactions lead to in-person meet-ups, and that’s where we can find the camaraderie that can keep the blues away. Some times. Not always.

Maybe with our connecting more the writer depression rate will go down. Maybe we’ll be replaced on the top 10 jobs to be depressed with plumbers? They work alone in dark places too, right?

I fed into the belief for years that if I let go of my depression I would be letting go of my creativity. In discovering the opposite my writing has flourished. I am the most content in years and the most productive in my writing. I just finished writing my fifth book and starting a sixth. All sorrow-sober.  That’s in a four-year span, while working part time as a freelancer and managing a family.

My mom, was not the creative type nor could she understand my sadness. She was tough Depression-era farm girl stock. She would say “Just get up and go do something!” That was her fix. Simple but it works for me now. When I find sorrow weighing me down for no reason I do just that. I get up and leave it behind me. It usually works. I know I have too much at stake to lose.

If depressions reigns its ugly head I push it away with positive things. I don’t want that dragon to come back. Its fire only destroys now, it doesn’t breathe life as I once thought.

My Depression Ward Off List
Get outside every day.
Exercise every other day at least.
Connect with people. Even if I don’t feel like it. A 5 minute chat with an old friend can do amazing things to the brain.
Do something. Anything. Go to a new store. Drive to a park and walk. Cook!
Write a list of all the good things in your life and re-visit it regularly.
Get off the computer and do something physical with a friend or family member – play a board game, go biking.
Wait. It will pass, hopefully.
Do NOT feed the dragon. Dragons hurt us.

I know sometimes these actions need to be forced. I know some people need medication to help them live. Having a battle plan helps.

As a writer, do you battle depression or just get the holiday blues? How do you fight it off?

4 thoughts on “Writers & Depression: Battling the Holiday Blues

  • Alan Finn

    Great post, Donna. It’s one I can definitely relate to, having recently joined the ranks of full-time writers. I thought the first week of my new life was going to be exciting and productive. Instead, it was frighteningly lonely. By Wednesday, I headed to the local Barnes & Noble, just to be around people again. Thankfully, I’ve gotten better, but it illustrates just how isolated writers can sometimes feel, especially if the words aren’t flowing as well as they should. I’ve already tried many of your tips, and they work!

    • Donna Galanti Post author

      Hi Alan, thanks for sharing! Yes, I can relate to that isolated all alone feeling when I’m home days on end writing. I actually have a wonderful group of women writers I meet with each week at a local Wegman’s Cafe. We write all day, share advice and stories, give support, and eat lunch. It started out as one or two folks and have grown to eight of us. It’s a bright spot in my week to socialize and feel a part of a community. Glad to know you have an action plan too!

    • Donna Galanti Post author

      Catherine, yes, I think having a plan of attack can help. I’m currently under contract for a book due to my publisher 12/30 so have that added stress this holiday season and so utilizing all my tips here – and remembering to not stress out on my family because without them I wouldn’t have such great support!

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