When You Can’t Write

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

They say there’s no such thing as writer’s block, that it’s just an excuse. Normally, I agree with that. Writer’s block can be worked through. It might feel impossible, but there are ways to do it. Some of these include: pushing yourself to write anyway, taking a break to work on something else that is creative, getting up and moving for a little while.

But then there’s depression.

It’s a consuming emptiness that stifles your ability to do anything, never mind face the blank page. Sometimes it manifests as self-doubt. Other times it’s a drowning grief.

And you can’t just push through it.

It’s not that simple.

This poses a serious problem when deadlines are looming and you’re too restless to sit still and string together a single sentence. Depression, for me, removes all desire to do anything. Just getting dressed becomes an insurmountable task. I can’t even decide what to wear—and I’m probably not even leaving the house. So I just stay in pajamas. I do nothing.

So how do you write when you are depressed?

I can only tell you what works for me. You may have to experiment until you find a system that works for you. And honestly, the same tools don’t always do the job for me. It’s a work in progress.

  • Don’t force it. It’s incredibly frustrating to face the page without being able to lay down a single word. Be gentle to yourself. You are sick; depression is very similar to having asthma. It is chronic and makes you more susceptible. You wouldn’t give someone with asthma flack for not being able to run during allergy season. Give yourself the same room.
  • Focus on what you can do. Accept that, right now, writing is not going to happen. Find something else that you can do. For example, when depression hits and I can’t write, I channel myself into marketing. It may take me five times longer to write a blog post or make a teaser than usual, but these are things that get me out of my head a bit while still being productive.
  • Get help. At one point, I was seeing my therapist every week—sometimes twice in the same seven-day period, depending on how I was doing. When I notice that my writing is suffering, I know that it’s time to go back to that weekly schedule. A therapist can help you work through the depression if it’s situational or ride it out if it’s a chemical imbalance. She can even help you tell the difference between the two. (I have a chemical imbalance, but get even more depressed when life gets sassy.) She will remind you of the tools at your disposal to help yourself.
  • Adjust your medication. Not everyone does well on medication for depression. (I have a hard time with it, myself.) If you are already on medication and suddenly feeling depressed, check in with your doctor, as the drugs may be having an adverse effect. (Please note that I am not a healthcare professional and that you are responsible for your own health. Always use medication under the supervision of a professional.) My latest bout of depression was probably because of the antidepressant I was on. Three days after stopping it under the guidance of my APRN, I felt much better—not out of the woods yet, but better. Your medication may need to be increased, decreased, or accompanied by something else. If you are not taking medication and find that you are struggling even with therapy, it may be time to explore that option. Talk with your healthcare team to determine what is best for you.
  • Write in a journal. It sounds crazy: “I can’t write, so how can I write in a journal?” But some days, keeping the pen moving is all that keeps me sane. I don’t usually re-read this stream of consciousness writing. The purpose is to get out of your head while keeping the habit of using the written word. Some of the things you write may be incredibly negative. Be sure to balance that out with some things that are going well for you. You may even use positive affirmations—strong statements of positivity, such as “I am strong” and “I will get through this.”
  • Ride it out. Depression, like everything else, is not permanent. It may come and go, and may affect your life quite heavily. But each episode is only temporary. “This too shall pass.” Remember that things will get better. Give yourself the head space to let it be. Sometimes the only way to get through depression is just to accept that it’s there. I tend to kick and scream, and that almost always gets me nowhere. When I can let go of my initial reaction to fight it, I find that the depression still hurts—but I’m no longer at war with myself. I baby myself, treating myself in little ways: tea, long hot baths, reading my favorites, and immersing myself in movies.

How do you deal with depression when you’re on a schedule? Leave a comment and share your tips with me!

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Elizabeth Barone

Elizabeth Barone is an American novelist who writes contemporary romance and suspense starring strong belles who chose a different path. Her debut novel Sade on the Wall was a quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. She is the author of the South of Forever series and several other books. When not writing, Elizabeth is very busy getting her latest fix of Yankee Candle, spicy Doritos chips, or whatever TV show she’s currently binging. Elizabeth lives in northwestern Connecticut with her husband, a feisty little cat, and too many books.

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