On Writing, Depression, and Gaining Control
The first time I sat in my soon-to-be counselor's office, she asked me, "Why are you here?"
Why was I there? Was it because I couldn't stop crying? Was it because I couldn't rise from bed? Or, when I managed to go to class I fled halfway through, professor and classmates staring, to have my panic attack in the girls' room? Yeah, I guess it was all those things. But what I said was, "I'm losing control."
That's what depression felt like--an overwhelming sense that my life was no longer in my hands. It didn't matter that it still was; what mattered was that it felt like it wasn't. My counselor suggested I keep a journal and spend fifteen minutes every day just on me. I don't know why I didn't think she knew what she was talking about, but I chose to ignore her advice. Writing couldn't possibly help. Writing was too much like what I had to do for my English classes. It was too much like the cause of my stress. Eking my own way, I eventually achieved some semblance of mental health recovery. It was hard. It took a long time.
Ten years later, I found myself losing control again. The stress of working full time at a highly demanding job, while keeping house and being a wife and mother had finally gotten to me. I discovered the universe really didn't care about me, and I set about proving it. I started with little things. If I didn't clean the bathroom for three months, would the universe notice? It didn't. And soon the little things became bigger. If I don't eat today, will the universe care?
It was great (sarcasm). I lost 15 pounds. And I got sick. I mean Really. Sick. One night, when no one was puzzling over why I couldn't roll my eyes without pain (because, still the universe hadn't noticed the only thing I ate in the last three days was coffee) and it seemed the only one to care was the one-year-old hovering by my side wondering why Mommy couldn't play, I had a really intense dream about a bioluminescent world.
That dream became my novel.
My novel certainly didn't happen overnight, but the promise I made myself did. I would regain control through writing.
I was able to shape my characters into the pieces of me I wished I could be. Celia was the part of me who wished she could balance emotions with intellect. Sylvia was the self-sufficient girl who wished someone would take care of her. Even my main male character remained nameless because there were parts of himself he just wanted to hide and forget. Me too.
Writing gave me power over all of that. And slowly, I regained control. Writing made me feel human again. Writing was the me I got to focus on. It was my universe, and it was a universe that I could *make* care about me. Once I made that universe care about me, the real one started to care too.
That's the beauty of being a writer. There are a million things in the world you can't control, but you can control your writing. Your characters don't need to make the same mistakes you did--or maybe they do. At the risk of sounding hokey, your conflicts can become their triumphs. Yeah, your characters will be conflicted, but now you have control over what happens to them. Punish them. Reward them. Make them laugh, love, and sing. Do everything you need to do to them to regain yourself. By molding them and bending them, and letting them mold and bend you, you can fit together the pieces that don't normally work out the way you want them to in real life.
Writing is about taking control over the losing of control. Writing is about shaping destiny, even if it's a fictitious one.
That's a beautifully intimate and powerful thing.
I'm genuinely curious. Why do you write?