Columns > Published on April 19th, 2018

Giving Yourself Permission to Break: Writing Through Depression

In a funky piece of life irony, this article is about writing even while depressed. That's not the ironic part, the irony comes from the fact that it was due approximately three days before I sat down to write it, and the reason I didn't write it on time is because I was going through a very, very bad depressive episode, one that resulted in sobbing so hard my whole body ached, and lying in bed staring at the ceiling, unable to accomplish anything.

I put this article on my to-do list for three days. I stared at that to-do list for all three days, thinking, I've got to do this. I need to do this. This has to be done. And for three days, I rolled over and closed my eyes and just breathed. 

Sometimes that's how it happens. Depression is one of those things that you can't fully control. You can do everything in your power to mitigate its effects, including medication, therapy, exercise, good diet, and practicing all the self-care in the world, and sometimes the illness will just overwhelm you. It takes over your mind but also your body. 

It's hard to be creative if you're stressed, anxious, depressed, if your brain is overcome with panic and fear and despair.

According to the book world of Twitter that I am a part of, writing and publishing are jobs that are uniquely suited to drive you up a wall. And because writing is an art, and we as a society are disinclined to put our money where our mouth is and actually pay for art (that's a whole other rant, though), writers put in a whole lot of work, and it's nonstop, and it's exhausting.

Our society is also one that prizes busyness and productivity over everything else. We're hard-pressed to allow someone time off if it's a physical ailment — and by "hard-pressed" I mean, no, seriously, we have the worst time letting people take a break.

We stigmatize disability, and we extra stigmatize mental illness. 

So taking time off for your mental health? It's really hard. I once was honest with a boss that my hospitalization was for a psychiatric illness, not a physical one, and...let's just say it didn't go over well. Any understanding they'd had immediately flew out the window.

What I'm saying is: our society is such that we do not forgive time off for anything, including and sometimes especially mental illness. 

And yet it's often necessary. Not just because our brain literally requires it, but if you're a writer, it's extra important because your creativity requires time and space to breathe. 

It's hard to be creative if you're stressed, anxious, depressed, if your brain is overcome with panic and fear and despair. How are you supposed to write, to tell stories, to possibly give a message of hope, if your mind is consumed with how much things suck?

So give yourself a break. Tell yourself it's okay, that you have permission to rest. Recharge. Go for a walk and listen to great music or an inspiring podcast; or read a book or watch a fun TV show; meet up with friends for drinks or dinner. Do something that will bring you joy and restore some of your spirit.

It's okay to not be okay. You have to do what you can to maintain your health, so that you can stay alive and keep sharing your stories. Because you know what? They matter. They really, really do.

About the author

Karis Rogerson is a mid-20s aspiring author who lives in Brooklyn and works at a cafe—so totally that person they warn you about when you declare your English major. In addition to embracing the cliched nature of her life, she spends her days reading, binge-watching cop shows (Olivia Benson is her favorite character) and fangirling about all things literary, New York and selfie-related. You can find her other writing on her website and maybe someday you’ll be able to buy her novels.

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