Is it just a myth that writers tend to be prone to fits of melancholia? (And yes, I’ve always wanted to write that in a sentence—fits of melancholia. Just lovely. So much more romantic a term than depression.)
The link between writers and depression, though still controversial, has been well documented. The question is, does writing make one prone to depression or are depressed persons more likely to become writers? I know that young women in the princess sports, (figure skating, gymnastics and ballet,) are more likely than the average person to develop eating disorders, but is that because the sport does it to them or is it because the very qualities needed to become successful in the sport—focus, discipline, drive and control—are the same traits present in many young women who develop eating disorders? Are the qualities that make a writer—the ability to spend large chunks of time in isolation, the tendency to live inside your own head, high levels of empathy—evident in many people prone to depression?
It’s sort of like the chicken or the egg thing.
In reality, it’s probably a bit of both. Writing can be lonely and isolating. Writers generally do possess high levels of empathy—it’s what helps create living breathing characters, after all. But empathy in a world filled with suffering can be overwhelming. Writing as a profession draws a lot of criticism and rejection. It’s rather like the fashion industry. Models go out on calls, put their looks on display and are told, “Nope, not what we’re looking for, you don’t get the job.” What they hear is, “Not good enough.” Writers send out a manuscript or a book, (AKA OUR HEART), and are told, “It’s just not my cup of tea, sorry.” What we hear is, “YOU SUCK.” Then when the novel or article goes public, you get many people slamming your heart, I mean writing.
That’s depressing shiz, right there.
The list of great writers who suffered from mental illness is long; Poe, (pictured), Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Plath, Twain, Tennessee Williams… the list goes on and on.
A wonderful article by Cody Delistraty catalogues a study done by Andreas Fink at the University of Graz in Austria. The study found a relationship between the ability to come up with an idea and the inability to suppress the precuneus while thinking. According to Delistraty, The precuneus is the area of the brain that shows the highest levels of activation during times of rest and has been linked to self-consciousness and memory retrieval.
Delistraty writes, “For most people, this area of the brain only lights up at restful times when one is not focusing on work or even daily tasks. For writers and creatives, however, it seems to be constantly activated. Fink’s hypothesis is that the most creative people are continually making associations between the external world and their internal experiences and memories. They cannot focus on one thing quite like the average person. Essentially, their stream of ideas is always running — the tap does not shut off — and, as a result, creative people show schizophrenic, borderline manic-depressive tendencies. Really, that’s no hyperbole. Fink found that this inability to suppress the precuneus is seen most dominantly in two types of people: creatives and psychosis patients.”
Well, that makes me feel better.
This link fascinates me. I’m not an expert in mental health or mental illness, but I have done research on the subject and for the next month will share strategies that I have learned that will help writers maintain their mental health. But I am also including a disclaimer… if you have had suicidal thoughts or have thought about harming yourself or others, please, please call for help.
Next up in the series, Fighting for Peace of Mind