Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writing Withdrawal

More on the subject of fast slides into depression. Mine, reported below yesterday, came on Night 5 of a much-needed vacation. It's better today and, full disclosure: probably the main reason is an adjustment in the medication I take for my touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder, no doubt mixed with some tendency to the blues.

With that said, other things are also helping. And other causes besides my chemistry are at fault. 1.Doing without the outlet of writing and producing (other than these daily posts) is also much to blame. As is 2.some business tension. 3.The freeing up of time by not working creates a space for all kinds of things to arise and unfold.

I've pulled together A LIST OF TACTICS for dealing with these times that right many of us go through. These come from my experience and observation, the helpful replies yesterday from Billie and Debra, my doctor, my psychologist-husband, and my reading. ("All the king's horses and all the king's men.")

The List:

*Read Dr. Seuss's My Many-Colored Days
*Do some small helpful thing for someone. See The Healing Power of Doing Good.
*Go to a movie.
*Vent to a friend.
*Hang out with a friend.
*Avoid delicate transactions.
*Eat chocolate (unless this will lead to a binge and feeling worse.)
*Sit it out.
*Consider the possibility that useful creative stuff is stirring; jot down any little epiphanies...or big ones.
*Remind yourself that the mood will pass.
*Do a relaxation exercise.
*Cut yourself some slack.
*Ask someone to do some small immediate favor for you.
*Do some reckless art...without regard to result.
*Spread mulch.
*Make love.
*Don't chop wood or vegetables.
*Make something (a cake mix? string Christmas tree beads?) This one comes from Julia Cameron of The Artist's Way)
*Organize one drawer of stuff.
*Read an utterly absorbing novel.
*Clean one dirty object.
*Do some never-see-the-light writing or drawing.
*Avoid alcohol and any personal-danger behaviors.
*Delay decisions, if possible.
*Call your doc.
*Take a nap.

WHAT I DID, in addition to more meds, is:
*complain to friends, including my husband and my doctor,
*go to see George Clooney in Michael Clayton
*get deeply involved in someone else's novel (Michael Ondaatje's)
*write blog posts
*jot down my little epiphanies, including this charming bit of distorted thinking:
when I feel bad, I'm a shameful failure, because if I'd played my cards right in life I'd have no reason to feel bad.

Probably it's good I uncovered that little doozie. Since it doesn't quite hold up in light of consciousness. That discovery alone may have been worth the trip. In any event, Humpty Dumpty is, for the moment, pretty much together again.

I welcome any other ideas you could add to the LIFT-DEPRESSION TACTICS lIST. Thanks.

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Debra W said...


I love the list that you compiled! I am going to make a copy of it, so that I will be able to refer to it on blue days.

I know that medication can be effective, but unfortunately, it can take a little while for the brain to adjust to the new levels, so I think that it is important to have other options in the tool box. I, too, take a med for depression, which also helps to combat the physical pain that I endure. It helps, but on its own, it is never enough for me. It is always helpful to find out what other people do to make themselves feel better. I am glad to hear that you called your doctor, because that is something that I often forget to do. Seems pretty obvious, yet, sometimes the obvious is one of the last things that we remember to do.

I was thinking about this a bit more, and another thing that works for me, sometimes, is to look for someone who gives me positive feedback and who makes me validated, and let them know how I am feeling. Hearing an objective reason as to why you are important to someone else, can be very healing when you are feeling down. I do really like your idea about doing something helpful for somebody else. That is something that can boost my mood, from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. It is an immediate serotonin lift.

I am glad that you are feeling better. It is so important to be proactive, because depression has a way of feeding on itself. There are times when we all feel that we shouldn't be feeling bad because we aren't entitled to. Our lives are too blessed, too fulfilling, too privileged. This simply is not true. Whether we have chemical disorders, or are just having a rough time, we are all entitled to our bad moods. And by the way, I think you are wonderful, Peggy!

billie said...

My main thing is to go hang out with the horses and/or ride. It is pretty much impossible to stay depressed when I'm with them. Oddly, mucking stalls is a great zen practice as well.

I have also been known to take a paradoxical approach, but I don't recommend this unless you know yourself and your probable reaction pretty well:

I exacerbate it. Play sad music, let my mind wander to the distorted thoughts instead of avoiding them, really roll around in the muck of feeling blah and bad. For me, likely b/c of my stubborn streak, doing this almost always jolts me out of it, b/c I start arguing with my distorted thinking self and become determined to win by ending the slump.

Disclaimer: although I suspect I have a touch of cyclothymic d/o, I'm not on any meds and am fairly capable these days of staying well w/in the guard rails with this kind of thing.

One thing I highly recommend to everyone is exercise. Whatever appeals, but get the endorphins pumping. It makes a HUGE difference in stability of mood.

aaron said...

This is a great list and a great resource! I think so many writers, especially on the days when either we aren't getting words down or we are blocked, are prone to depression.

For me exercise is key - I do tai chi and kung fu. Even 5 or 10 minutes of practice in my dining room is a great tonic for an oncoming depression. I guess I'd add that for me the martial arts (the way I study them) are closely related to zen buddhism, so this falls into a kind of prayer or meditation too, which has been great for me.

I also think that there's value in controlling what you can so that you don't feel like you have to control it all! Meaning, have a little chocolate, decide to take a nap, turn off the computer, walk for ten minutes...when I am actively engaged with making choices, I'm in much better shape.

Jane Andrews said...


Putting your frustrations and depression on your blog and inviting comments and alternative strategies is excellent.

I have a very good friend that I call sometimes and say, "I need you to tell me good things right now. I need you to say sincere nice things about me." I called her last night. She took a deep breath and began, "You are a good mother, you are a generous person, you are funny..." It helps to remind me that my entire identity is not dependent on writing and publishing. It's important, but not the only metric for placing value on a life. Also, it reminded me that I have wonderful friends who love me.

Sometimes I read "comfort books". P. G. Wodehouse, Thurber, Anne LaMott, and others who either make me laugh or move me, or both.

I listen to Lightnin' Hopkins sing the blues.

I mentally plan a trip that I may or may not ever take.

Napping, if not abused, is great.

If other exercise seems to be too much effort, walking is good.

Just sitting in the outdoors and paying attention can help.

I am OCD in the sense that I worry a lot, not in the sense that I have to wash my hands all the time. Anything that makes me laugh helps break the spell of obsessive fretting.

If you are alone in the house, you can sing your problems like an opera and it will start to sound so ridiculous and stupid, you may just decide to snap out of it.

Anonymous said...

I've got some things to add to the list :)

- Stand near a window or other sunny spot for ten minutes.
- Visit with the nearest four-legged friend... the unconditional love of an animal always helps
- Drink two big glasses of water to help flush out any toxins
- write a list of ten things you are happy about or that you love
- Try doing a "Mona Lisa smile", it helps trigger an endorphine release without making you fake a smile
- Give yourself ten to fifteen minutes to really vent the sadness. Let yourself be weepy, listen to something sad, be dramatic. When that time is up, devote the rest of that hour to re-focusing on something positive or neutral.

Peggy said...

These are terrific ideas, Debra, Billie, Aaron, Jane, and Anonymous.

I thank you all for going to the trouble to contribute. I've also gotten some other ideas from shy people who emailed instead. I'll post a summary of all the new ones.

I must say, singing an opera version of my problems is an immediate upper.

So was going back to writing. I spent 5 hours writing a little essay with no assignment, something I felt like writing. Maybe the best solution for me is: keep writing.

Peggy said...

And thanks for personal encouragement. It's also a definite perk-up.