I'm not depressed. I am emotionally challenged.
Actually. I'm grieving. And I have PTSD. And I'm depressed. It's a veritable Happy Meal of mental health diagnoses. No free toy included.
I make it sound funny (coping mechanism #1), but it feels like shit. A lot.
Writing and depression go together like ham and cheese apparently — not that I would know, as I eat neither ham nor cheese anymore. For me, they go together like tofu scramble and black beans, I guess. The internet says we are about eight times more likely to experience a depressive episode than our non-writerly peers. And there is a long list of famous writers who famously dealt with depression.
I would argue that all artists are probably a touch more vulnerable to mental health problems. Not because depression is a prerequisite of good art, but simply because many people who are drawn to the arts are drawn precisely because they are looking for outlets to process their deep feelings. But I say that cautiously, trying not to heap more coal on the manic artist/sad writer fire. Stereotypes rarely serve us.
While literature has a tendency to look back on its Hemingways and Plaths with a certain nostalgia, I'm not sure today's readers like their writers quite so melancholy. The reality is hardly romantic. And today's writers face a very different kind of publicity. Of course, I am referring to social media.
Updating a network of online sites every hour on the hour with whatever I am thinking, feeling, doing is something I am naturally averse to. Call it the introvert in me. But even more than that, it's that what I'm thinking, feeling, doing at any given moment is likely not worth posting about, either because it is too boring or too depressing. The point, I'm fairly certain, is not to go online and take a virtual dump on everyone's day. Which pushes me into a space of choosing obscurity or inauthenticity. Neither of which feels very good.
This constant push to keep yourself in front of everyone's eyes as an author can't be healthy, can it? And yet, we're all doing it. Because in order to be writers we need to sell books (or articles or freelance editing services or whatever puts food in your mouth). And in order to sell books people need to know we exist. And apparently in today's society the human attention span could fit on the tip of a needle. And so you must make your presence known every five point two five seconds. (Yes, I am aware this is probably not the correct way to write a decimal.)
But what do you do when that feels like dipping your raw nerve endings in gasoline and setting them on fire? What do you do if what you really need, for your own well being, is just to disconnect? What do you do if the time and energy it takes for you to think of something witty and charming to say in 280 characters is time and energy you do not have to spare?
My humble, honest opinion? You choose you.
Mental health must come first. Everyone in this country needs that tattooed behind their eyelids. You ignore your mental health at your own peril. Believe me, you have nothing without it. And all the likes and followers and book sales in the world will not make up for it once it's gone.
Social media, while great for staying connected with Aunt-Ellie-who-lives-four-states-away and seeing what your chiropractor's dog gets up to, is also a cesspool of comparison and fakery and toxic behavior most people would never attempt in person but feel protected and empowered enough to pull online. On the whole, it's benefit in your life is dubious at best.
But it can be navigated in a fashion that prioritizes your well being, which in some cases, may amount to not navigating it at all. And that's my first tip — always put your well being first. And if your ability to survive the emotional turbulence of the day depends on your not getting online, don't do it. Don't push yourself. Listen. All of Twitter's angst and Instagram's photoshopping will be there tomorrow. Give yourself permission to log off.
Which brings me to my next tip — third party platforms like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite and so on. You can often control what you want to see on those much easier, and you can schedule posts in advance. So if you wake up knowing it's going to be a shitstorm of a day, you can maybe spend thirty minutes that morning setting some things up to post at different times and then crawl back under the covers or whatever it is you need to do to get through it. I know scheduled posts are often criticized as coming off obvious or less genuine, but in a pinch, there's no reason not to take advantage of them. You're prioritizing yourself now, remember? Not your followers.
My third tip is to get acquainted with your mute button, or unfollow function, or whatever it is that allows you to filter and screen what comes through your feed and lands with a thud in front of your spidery, red-rimmed eyes. It's okay to silence someone who is loudly voicing all of their divisive opinions in your feed, or conversely, someone who is waving that glittery new book debut in your face. If comparing is your Achilles heel, and you can't see someone else's success without it triggering your own interior panic alarm, you can simply turn it off for a while. When you have those runaway fears under control again, you can leave your congrats in their comments.
And finally, my fourth tip is try being honest in your posts. Which is not to imply that you aren't being honest in the first place. I'm simply saying, if it hurts too much to put a smile on, then don't. Post about your feelings. Post about your struggles. Post helpful articles or links that promote mental health awareness. I have been so relieved to see other authors I admire share their journey with depression and anxiety and the publishing-beast-turn-pussycat-turn-beast-again. Because let's face it, there is a lot about being a writer that is Pegacorns shitting Skittles from a cotton-candy sky ... and there is a lot about being a writer that is like peering through a monocle made of Satan's arsehole. (But, I mean, you are wearing a monocle. So that's cool, right?)
It's an up and down experience. One minute you're watching all of your childhood fantasies inflate before your eyes, and the next you're left standing there empty-handed while someone takes a pin to each one of them. Or there's the in-between bit, where you're frantically puffing to keep those dreams afloat as you navigate a maze of sharp objects at every turn. If you didn't have mental health concerns before you got into this, you certainly might after.
I'm not really a social media expert, though out of necessity I know my way around most of it like every other person penning a book these days. But, if experience counts for anything, I might be an expert in surviving the kind of emotional fallout that can and does reach life-threatening lows. And so I wrote this post to add my voice to the chorus of other writers out there saying, Hey, it's okay. It absolutely does feel like a Slip N' Slide made of razor blades sometimes. You do you, man. It's okay to get off the ride from time to time. Or don a chainmail bodysuit before you buckle back in. And for those people who have a hard time giving themselves permission to prioritize their own needs. You officially have my permission to put yourself and your mental health first.
RESURRECTION GIRLS - Out Now!
Olivia stopped living the day her brother died. Three years ago, Robby toddled into the backyard pool and drowned. Olivia can no longer remember what it feels like to really be alive, until the Hallas women move in across the street. Kara, who is Olivia's age, has morbid fascinations—but Olivia's family has secrets of their own. The deeper Kara draws Olivia into the impulsive and seductive web of her world, the more Olivia finds herself confronting the unraveling of her family's connection to the land of the living.
"A raw, poignant, unflinching examination of grief and healing wrapped up in a compelling story." -CJ Redwine, New York Times Bestselling author of the RAVENSPIRE series
Subscribe to my newsletter for book, event, and blog updates + free stuff, witchy graphics, and you know, me or whatever. Subscribe to (very cool, not at all annoying) newsletter here: VERY COOL NOT AT ALL ANNOYING NEWSLETTER LINK.