Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Depression Is Hard to Write About

Bonnie is about a lot of things--swimming, survivor's guilt, first love, forgiveness--but in my heart of hearts, she's always been about major depression. I started writing her almost a year and a half ago, so at first, my characterization was based on memories that were more than ten years old. But as I've experienced a few more low points over this last year, I've realized how much I got wrong. And how much I sensationalized.

The truth is, I'm the Mr. Rogers of depressed people. I've never attempted suicide (though I have contemplated it), I've never felt compelled to cut or inflict pain on myself, and my depression is brought on by relatively mild life events. Maybe I'm a wimp--actually, I strongly suspect it--and just can't handle the normal ups and downs that other people take in stride, but for better or for worse, this is how MY depression feels, and I accept that.

I think we writers have a penchant for puffery. We're always mining for conflict in our stories, so I guess it would make sense that we occasionally feel compelled to hunt for conflict in real life. For that reason, I sometimes feel guilty for claiming to be depressed, like I'm not depressed ENOUGH. Like my depression isn't real if I'm not a danger to myself or others AT THIS VERY MOMENT.

But as one of my critique partners oh-so-accurately put it, even moderate major depression can be deadly, and moderate major depression is what a lot of us seem to have. We know how to cover up our symptoms and put on a brave face. On our best days, we even seem normal and happy. But underneath it all is a steady stream of negativity that, if left unchecked, can come back to bite--or even kill--us.

Which I why I think this story is so important--and why I want to get it right. I'm not there yet, but as long as I don't give up, I think I can get there someday.

What is it they're always saying about art imitating life? :)


Mara Rae said...

My struggle with writing about depression (or in this case social anxiety disorder, which is often linked to depression - I've had both) is making the character likeable. It seems almost petty, but if she isn't likeable, no one will want to read the novel. Reading about depression can be, well, depressing. And I agree with your CP about moderate major depression being "enough." It's a quick slide into deeper depression, and it's a good thing that you aren't there! That doesn't mean you don't understand depression at its core. Okay enough rambling - just wanted you to know you're not alone!

Andrea said...

Hi Krista. You are not a wimp. Keep your chin up and keep writing. You are very talented - I wouldn't follow your blog if you weren't. One of my favorite passages from the Bible (and I don't even know where it's found) is "Be still, and know that I am God." I've always found comfort in that passage as I go through the ups and downs in life. I think it helps to remember there's Someone out there way bigger than us or anything on earth. He has a plan and is looking out for us, even if it's not always easy for us to see clearly or understand. Here's wishing you happiness in your writing journey. Keep writing from your heart and you won't go wrong.

Dana Edwards said...

I know it's been said often that creative people are more prone to have depression.

Is it because they tend to participate in more activities that can involve rejection?

Or is it because they often ask "what if this were to happen?" And the what if tends to be something awful? (But also makes for a really good story.)

Or maybe because they are so in touch with their feelings, or lack of feeling?

Maybe it's none of these things.
I don't really know. But what I do know is that the writers in this writing community share a kinship with and concern for each other so much that when one hurts we all wish we could help alleviate that friend's hurting.

DMcWild said...

I think you are a wonderful caring person who gives writers an opportunity to learn and grow on their journey to achieving their goals.

Sometimes when you give so much to other people you forget to give to yourself. Take the time to breath and enjoy life and everything you have accomplished.

I also know from experience that sometimes it's easy to be sad and hard to be happy. But knowing this gives me the courage and strength to work on being happy all the time.

What's wonderful is soon it no longer takes effort to be happy it become a habit.

You have good friends and family who care about you and a strong community that you have built that care.

Thinking of you,

Maria said...

Going back to that place, those dark, depressing emotions, proves you are anything but a wimp. It takes real strength to write such a story. Thank you for doing so and educating others by doing so.

Heather said...

I agree with Maria. It says a lot about you that you are able to go back to the difficult place and it takes a strong person to write that story.

Karen Clayton said...

I agree with Andrea. Your writing is beautiful and powerful. I also like her Bilicial quote and will have to add it to my collection. Wising you all the best with your latest project and in life. Not only do you have so many people walking along side you, I know that God is there too.

Ryan said...

Thank you for opening up in this honest post. For me and my wife, we've found it best not to look at her MDD as something to hate or get rid of, but as a customized trial to bring her closer to God. Of course we still do all we can with meds and trying to alleviate her stress, but when it comes down to it, her depression keeps her eyes turned upward, and also brings us closer together as a couple.
We look forward to the day when all will be fixed, but until then...*whistles the tune to "Carry On*
Oh, and didn't you LOVE Elder Holland's talk in conference? My wife cried through the whole thing.

Karen Clayton said...

To Ryan - what a great husband. Wish more people could be that supportive!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thank you for your comment, Mara Rae. It's nice to know that there are people out there who relate. Interestingly, my main character doesn't have depression; her older sister and good friend do. It's actually been helpful to write from her perspective, as it's given me a new appreciation for my husband and mother, who have always stood with me on the front lines of my depression, helping me weather the storm.

I love that scripture, Andrea. Thank you for reminding me. That is one good thing about feeling this way--it really shows me the value of stillness.

Yeah, Dana, I've wondered why creative people seem so much more prone to mental illness. Maybe those areas in the brain are somehow related? I don't know...

Such sage advice, Don. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. I am so lucky to have the support of so many friends and family.

You're very kind, Maria. I hope I can do this story and these characters as much justice as they deserve.

Thank you, Heather. I don't know if you're right, but I sure hope you are.

You're so right, Karen--God is there, and He cares about us more than we can comprehend.

What a wonderful attitude, Ryan. I've taken to thinking of my depression as this little troll who lives in the corner of my house and occasionally throws a temper tantrum, but I think your metaphor is much better:) (And I loved Elder Holland's talk as well. It's going to make talking about depression and other mental illnesses in the Church so much easier.)

I agree, Karen! :)

Jessie Oliveros said...

One of my dearest friends has bipolar disorder. While my own experience with anxiety hasn't been near as difficult as her experience with bipolar...I've found we can talk about both our struggles, unlike we can talk to other people. Does that make sense? While one is more severe than the other, I think the moment when your brain takes over your senses if pretty universal between mental disorders--no matter how "moderate."

And I third Elder Holland's talk. It was excellent!

Anonymous said...

I could've written exactly the same thing about the depression I have had. It's uncanny and reassuring to hear someone say the same things.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

It does make sense, Jessie. It's all about relating. I finally worked up the courage to tell my visiting teachers that I've been struggling (Elder Holland's talk was a nice intro), and while I could tell one of them got it, I could also tell the other didn't. Empathy is a powerful thing, and it's impossible to fake.

Right there with you, Anon. Right there with you.

Myrna Foster said...

And that Anonymous comment is why Bonnie is so important.


Krista Van Dolzer said...

Oh, Myrna, I'm kind of losing it. I'm always a wreck by this point in a revision, but since this story means so much to me--since I want so badly to get it RIGHT--it's ten times worse. Honey Bear tells me I don't have to put so much pressure on myself, that there's no reason to rush, and while the logical part of my brain understands that, the other part just can't get it. *sighs*