Or How Did I Get HereDepression is a funny thing. (Funny weird, not funny haha.) It hits you at the weirdest times, coming and going when it can do the most damage. This post is kind of a continuation of several conversations I’ve had about the old Black Dog, depression, on this blog.
I’ve been struggling with bouts of depression since I was ten, which anyone who knows me will recognise correlates to the first major emotional crisis in my life. Before that, my life was pretty much sunshine and rainbows, with the occasional Night Terrors to keep things interesting. Standard upper middle class nobody living in Sydney. There was a lot of shit going on in the background that my tender little heart was shielded from. My mum was that battered shield.
When the darkness hits, writing becomes like swimming through molasses and it’s a chore just to make it through the day’s necessities, let alone drag the words, kicking and screaming from my head. Not that I don’t write all the time, mostly poetry, lyrics and scribbles in one of the many notebooks I have on the go at any given time. These include dialog, scene ideas and mind-maps, all of which become useful once the Black Dog gets his teeth out of my arse.
My advice to writers who struggle with the deep dark blues is don’t edit your work when you’re down there. Editing whilst suffering depression is dangerous and you’re just as likely to burn every copy in existence. Been there, done that. Back in the 8o’s, I destroyed every copy of Parallel, 125,000 words worth, burning the paper copies and literally blowing up the floppy disks with fireworks. (Yes I’m that old!)
Luckily, I couldn’t destroy the copy in my head. Memories are more persistent than a digital format and more than twenty years later I rewrote it. (It’s in rewrites at the moment.)
More than a decade after burning the novel, I began to write again. The first thing I wrote was a rock musical called Tug Of War, all about the inner voices that pull us from side to side. The words seemed to flow, bursting from my heart and splashing onto the pages, the melodies filling my head, though I have precisely zero musical ability, the tunes still rattle around in my skull today. Whatever it is that drives my passion to create pictures with words, it was in full flight. Songs of love and loss, doubt and guilt, it all appeared effortlessly, perfectly expressing all I wanted to say about the redemption of reaching out to each other, and the tragedy of isolation.
At the time I was part of a church and the script had a strong Christian theme, however the deeper theme was depression and struggle against those accusing voices in your head “Useless, hopeless, different”.
Soon after completing the script, the church imploded and Tug Of War, the musical, was shelved. Depressing as this was, it paled in the face of the existential crisis that followed. The upheaval which followed the theological micro-wars saw myself and my family ignored by both factions, at a time where I was having a nervous breakdown and my wife was having to live with me.
Of both factions it can be said, “You can tell a tree by its fruit.” I’ve struggled to find a church ever since. It taught me to take every person at face value, once I dealt with the initial separation anxiety. I saw that everyone had their own shit to deal with and when push came to shove, most people are doing the best that they can with the equipment life’s given them. I don’t judge people. I’ve learned that the road in life everyone takes is dependant on a million little things and thousands of big things that teach us all how to survive in the world we know.
After that, I rediscovered my love of the Australian bush, and it was during this time I began to grow up.
So another decade goes by and while struggling with the usual demons, I fight back the depression and begin writing Parallel again. Twenty something years on and I still remember the whole thing. I finish the first, very rough draft in three years while working a day job and learning to re-enter society as a productive member. I joined a writers’ group, Vision Writers. I submitted the first couple of chapters to what is now affectionately referred to as, The Bitter Sweet Table of Judgement. They didn’t hate it, the 8 other authors giving advice and corrections, pages came back covered in red marks and comments. In that moment I learned more than I had in the decades of writing before.
So now, more than ten years after joining Vision, 45 years since I banged out my first story on my sister’s toy typewriter, where am I on the whole epic 55 year journey in this meat chariot.
Well, the writing’s improved, though the crippling fear of rejection is still a constant struggle. Over the years I’ve managed to hide it’s more inconvenient effects, more or less. This would, of course, not be possible without my wife and partner of 30 years, Julie who has seen me at my very worst and yet miraculously still says I love you.
I’ve written a sci-fi novel and nearly completed the 5 novella rewrite of the whole Parallel series, (about 270,000 words). I’m having fun writing a travel blog called Travels With An Old Fart, where I get to practise the lost Australian art of Telling A Yarn. I write of my adventures and misadventures, travelling around Australia with my patient wife and caravan in tow. I’m mostly happy, in between wrestling with the old black dog, and I’m getting help with training the bitch.
So as for those writers, or anyone struggling with depression, my advice boils down to this. Let people in. Find your person. They’re out there.
For everyone else, look out for each other and treat strangers as though one day, you might be friends.
Black Dog Institute has lots of resources if you want to know more.
Lastly, if you can’t cope or just need a chance to vent, contact someone like
· Lifeline 13 11 14
· Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
· Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
· MensLine 1300 78 99 78
Alternatively, or additionally, find you’re people.
Also, if you feel like this might help someone else, why not share it on one of the links, below.