Writing to Get Through Today’s Depression

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This is a revision of the first post I wrote for this blog. It came from a journal that I worked at daily for a time, and that experience convinced me that writing about depression was one way I could fight it more actively. I will be publishing revised versions of several early posts over the next few weeks.

Fear wakens with me this morning. I have no idea why. It’s part of a continuing descent I’ve been in for weeks now. After a few great days when I was blazing away at ideas about my projects, depression returned and has been building in its quiet way. But it is fear that is coming on now, and I know if I don’t try to get at this, it will turn to panic and keep me away from everything. Work is impossible when my mind is coming apart. I’ve spent two days at the office, three days at home each of the last three weeks. I’m barely getting the tasks completed to keep each project moving ahead. How commanding and cocksure I’m supposed to be – how implausibly shaky is the reality of my mind and heart.

At work yesterday I could feel the intention to get things done dissolving. My mind was so adrift that it had to work hard to recapture even the memory of whatever urgent task I was about to complete. Then on top of the total loss of drive and feeling and energy, a bare fear came down like sharp hail. This morning I’m feeling it start to return, but this is a new storm that could break up quickly. I’m still strong enough this early in the day to shelter from its full force. I can still tell it to stop. I’m certain that if I let it flow its own course, I will be gripped by a strong panic before long. And what can you do with that inside you? That gets suicidal very quickly because there is no place to run to, no defense that can be constructed through imagery or redirected thought patterns or any other defenses I’ve learned how to use.

The panic isn’t at all like the extreme fear I can feel in the presence of external danger. That fear is part of survival, perhaps the ultimate survival instinct to save yourself. The panic I feel is a shattered drive that points nowhere. It’s not a useful feeling connected to survival instincts. Instead It boils the mind, the feelings, intentions, energy into total confusion and directionless flight. I can’t think at all, much less come up with a destination where I can seek safety. That loss of even the possibility of refuge makes me more and more desperate. What’s left to me of my mind is searching, searching for something to hold onto, something to make it bearable for even a few minutes. How long can the body and brain sustain that destruction? I can’t imagine an end to the attack when I’m in the midst of it.

And yet there is something calming just writing down this little bit. Perhaps trying to describe the worst that could happen will help me keep it away. I’m lucky to have an early warning – that’s rare. Maybe I can avoid the worst of it today.

Do you have a way of catching fear and depression early enough to lessen the impact?

20 Responses to “Writing to Get Through Today’s Depression”

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  1. carolyn says:

    I have found this blog to be very helpful. Thank you so much for the comments.

  2. Kristin says:

    Reading your blog reminds me of an author i know. Angelica Harris is a domestic abuse survivor who has healed many of her own life’s struggles through writing.

    Check out her website and books because the two of you might be able to work together. http://www.angelicaharris.com

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m writing to you, John, not to comment on any particular one of your wonderful postings, but just to reach out to someone who won’t totally dismiss my state of mind. This state is one of fear, fear of depression. I’m not there yet. The medication I’m on is extremely good, and has held me, albeit wobbling (wonderful word stolen from another commenter – thank you!)through the ending of a relationship that meant the world to me, although it is not totally ended in that we still talk, email, see each other for various reasons. I’m not sure why I feel so threatened – the sinking-clutching feeling in my stomach which just grabs me at moments; the tears that are unfocussed on any specific; the effort of getting into the bath or cooking a meal; the failed effort to write – I who have lived since a child for ‘writing’ (entirely unpublished), cannot even pick up a pen and approach a page. Whatever, I feel so afraid of the abyss which I can see and which I’ve been in far too many times. Such a strange pre-depression stage, and – I have to say – less acutely painful since I put finger to keyboard to write this. That’s because I know, from your reactions to all those who comment on your blog postings, that you understand. Or at least will not tell me what a fool I am at the age of 69 to be suffering so much over a lost love.

    • john says:

      Hi, Anonymous –

      Age has nothing to do with it, as you well know. Grief at loss of a relationship is real and powerful at any time of life. I can understand the fear too – there is a kind of security and trust in a close bond, and when that is loosened or broken everything can seem adrift. It sounds like you’ve had recurring depression – that’s why you take medication? I can’t say I’ve been in a state of “pre-depression” – everything you mention sounds familiar to me as a phase of the real thing, though short of the worst depths that you’ve experienced.

      I hope you can get through this before long. Feel free to write here any time.

      My very best to you –

      John

  4. Alison Bergblom Johnson says:

    I love your blog and I’m so glad I’ve found it. As a person with a psychiatric disability and an award-winning writer who teaches, I’ve focused mostly on ways to write literature about mental illness as opposed to how to write to heal. Of course these two aims are not necessarily at cross purposes, as is obvious in your posts.

    • Kris says:

      Hi John, It’s hard to believe we aren’t alone, but we are; how many of us are stuck behind closed doors in the dark wondering will anyone help me. I can’t look at myself in a mirror or look at a photo because it’s written all over my face. I’m 29 now and I’ve had it for at least 10 years, I see the potential I ‘can’t’ tap into and it destroys me a little more every day. I’ve backed myself into a corner and I’m slowly starting to lose ‘hope’, 10 years and nothing has changed

      • John Folk-Williams says:

        Hi, Kris –

        I can relate so painfully well to that feeling of not wanting to look at a picture or in the mirror. I think the only way out is stop believing what your own mind tells you about yourself and the possibility of change. I spent a lot of years stuck in the dark “wondering will anyone help me.” No one could help me because I wouldn’t let them, and no form of help could work because I believed deeply that it could never work. The only starting point was knowing that I was depressed, that is, having enough detachment that I could separate illness talking from me talking. Gradually, I put more distance between me and It and could start taking seriously the idea that help I had been using mechanically might actually do some good. I wish I had had access to all the ideas and therapies that are now available about 30 years ago – but I have to focus on the present and what I can do. This post was the first one I wrote, and it really was the beginning of a years’ long process of change for the better. So I restarted myself with writing. There were many times over the last several decades when I really wanted to stop trying, but there was always some little spark left. It can be hard to find, but it’s there. My best to you —

        John

  5. John – I also am looking forward to an exchange of ideas. In that vein, I’ve just written a post about reasons to tell your story besides to heal. I’ve focused mostly on aesthetic and political reasons. Looking forward to your reaction.

    Alison

  6. Reading this post mirrors the way I have felt so many times in the past few years.

    I can feel depression coming on in such a physical sense. It is like an approaching storm. The air becomes tight, and it feels like a blanket starts to cover my soul. I even feel heavy physically and feel the darkness descend.

    It is difficult to get out of it.

  7. John D says:

    Dano – Thank you – what beautiful imagery you use! I love the idea of a system of underwater caves. Maybe you’ll do a post on your blog about that. You’ve certainly got me thinking! I’m glad you’re back – but I’ve been remiss too and have a lot of catching up to do. All the best to you in this new year.

  8. Dearest John,

    I have been remiss in visiting you. So I have missed also your poetic truth.

    You write so clearly, which your repost shows to be your talent. You are a verbal master, wrapping words around emotions and drowning feelings into their appropriate watery graves.

    As a certified cave diver, I am happy to gear up and swim within the systems of caves that John has mapped out.

    When I surface, I’ll head for the boat. She will guide me into the new waters of John’s mind.

  9. John D says:

    Sapna – Wobbling is a good word to describe what happens. The unexpected things are a subject for another post. Thank you for getting me thinking about that!

  10. Sapna [email protected] says:

    I know what you mean in those lines you have written and what you have not written……fear is something that gets you mind to play wobbling and unexpected things do occure

  11. John D says:

    Sallie Ann – I’m going through similar issues about no longer being able to function in the routines of the work world. The best book I’ve read on this, though it doesn’t cover what kind of work to try, is Julie Fast’s Getting It Done When You’re Depressed. She lists a lot of techniques, but the best part is the description of how she managed to write her book (it’s one of several) despite depression. Maybe that could give you some ideas. I’ll also be writing a lot more about this while I’m figuring it out myself. Thanks for coming by – hope we can talk again!

    Melinda – Journals and notebooks have often been a solace and salvation. Except in the most extreme states, I’ve managed to get something written down, and it’s always a healing experience. I’m glad we share that. I’ve had some good experience lately too with changing thought patterns – though, as you say, that’s not as easy as it sounds. I love your visualization – that’s one I’ll try to work with.

    Thanks so much for your kind words – that means a lot coming from a fine writer like you. I’m behind too in getting back to my favorite blogs, but I’ll be there soon.

    One other thing – I apologize for the cross-outs that appear in your comment. That’s a weird thing about this blog, and I haven’t been able to figure it out. I’m moving this to a new platform soon to get away from this and other bugs.

    • carolyn says:

      Where would we be without journals to take our feelings and thoughts to? It is a lifeline for me. I especially enjoy shopping for the ones that are “just right” and make me feel a lift from just looking at them. Journaling is an excellent 911 response to depressive moods that swing up and down at various times during the day. I am presently coming down off my antidepressant drugs in hopes to leave them behind. The times when I think I “have to” cause panic and then I remember that I have chosen to do this and it can take as long as it has to. It doesn’t have to be done overnight. So far that has helped me a lot. In my situation, I find that a faith in Yah and that He is helping me has been a HUGE support. I know I could never deal with this on my own. With Him walking beside me I am never alone. My thanks to all who comment here because helping each other it what it is all about.

  12. John D says:

    Merely Me – Thank you! It is amazing to go back in time, and I’m glad I have the very sporadic notebooks that I’ve kept. Reading in detail about the same problems a dozen years ago reminds me how deep they go. As to later that day, the writing did help me avoid the panic, but I was still not functioning too well. However, on days like that I’m grateful to be able to do anything.

    I’m late getting back to your blog, but I’ll be there soon!

    Alison – Thank you for coming by and for your kind words. I’ve just been looking at your site and would like to read more of your work – I’ll get into your blog right away. I hope we can start an exchange of ideas about writing and healing – looking forward to it!

    Eileen – I’m sorry that work is such a struggle, but I know exactly what you mean. And you’re right that the work world mostly doesn’t give you time to get well before starting in on a project. I love your idea of focusing in 10 or 20 minute chunks to a timer. When my mind is going in a hundred directions, 10 minutes of focus is a total blessing. Thank you!

  13. Melinda says:

    John,

    I love your blog also–there have been times that I have been deeply and clinically depressed–times when I felt that I could no longer bear the thought of living another day and throughout it all, I journaled. I think that writing to overcome depression is one way of coping with it–because it allows us to dissect our feelings. I would often read my journals and learn insight into my own fragile state. I hope you can as well.

    Overcoming depression is something that is so intensely personal to each of us. What I try to do is to stop the negative thought patterns from forming (and I admit that this is easier said than done) but over time–we can reframe our thoughts. I try to visualize a negative thought–just as it is leaving my brain, then recapture it, and change its formation so that it reflects my own personal strength. I believe you also have a great deal of inner strength my friend.

    As always, your writing just blows me away. I have been so extrmeley busy lately I haven’t had as much time as I would like to catch up with my favorite blogs. I am glad I stopped by today.

    Melinda

  14. I too am glad that I’ve found this blog. I’ve never blogged before, so all is new for me.
    Depression “runs” in the family, and I’m late coming to it. I’m usually very centered and focused; however, I’m having trouble focusing since I stopped working. I was right to stop, but I’ve been at loose ends. People should be warned about the real effects of no longer being a part of the work force. Before someone recommends just getting a job, people quit for very good reasons, in my case health reasons. So another job is not the answer even if someone would hire me. So I am open to suggestions, as long as it doesn’t involve 9 to 5 and a boss at minimum wage.
    I have toyed with the notion of writing which I too have taught. So I may try this blog to see how it goes.

  15. Eileen says:

    Phew! I really identify with your struggles with work and depression. I remember when I was working in the corporate world, having a bad day with depression, and trying to focus. It was almost impossible. My mind was swirling, as you describe so well…How can you try and write a manual when you feel like you may be dying? It’s actually logical to not focus on the task at hand and try and feel better first. But the world of work doesn’t work like that of course.

    Currently I’m freelancing and it’s still a struggle to focus. I sometimes set a timer for ten minutes, and just focus for ten minute chunks. That’s better than nothing, and 20 ten minute chunks do add up…

    Also, I tend to feel worse in the mornings and so I know that if I can function somehow until afternoon, things will seem better then.

    All the best to you.

  16. Merely Me says:

    wow…truly amazing. isn’t it something to go back in time and revisit writings especially about mood. i find the same themes coming up over and over again in my writings. so what happened later that day? do you remember? i am very glad you began sharing your experiences here.

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