The Cliché of the Depressed Writer: It Ends Here

Laura Freymiller - Pyragraph
Photo by Anton.

We all know the stereotype, the pale young man, wrapped in a dark coat, hunched over a leather-bound notebook in the corner of a smoke-filled coffee shop, consumptive, romantic, depressive. The writer’s writer. Scribbler of poems. That to which we all aspire.

Which is, of course, a load of horse manure.

I will continue writing through my depression.

Even beyond this obvious stereotype, however, there is the common myth that to be a truly great writer, one must be depressed. Consider the list of great writers with depression or some other form of mental illness: DFW, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kurt Vonnegut and on and on and on.

Ignoring the fact that these “great writers” are also primarily white men (so maybe it’s just that all white men are depressed), there remains the even deeper truth that writing and depression do not go hand in hand, they are, in fact, mortal enemies.

I mentioned in an earlier post, the difficulty of writing while depressed, or should I say the impossibility. Depression causes the person in question to remove themselves from the world, to withdraw inwardly both physically and mentally. Writing is an outward expression meant to deepen the understanding of the world and to communicate with others. Depression is unoriginal to the extreme, often I am plagued by the same thought or thoughts for hours on end. Writing depends on creativity. Depression is in many ways the antithesis of what is required in creating written art.

I am not a writer because I am depressed. I am a writer in spite of being depressed.

But where did the false connection develop? In all likelihood, from a lack of understanding. If there’s one thing people don’t understand, it’s mental illness. And if there’s another, it’s the process of creative writing. So when an apparent pattern appeared, so too arose the idea of false causation.

Perhaps some people with depression are driven to express, to reach out and find a way to discuss their journey through the darkness. Perhaps some who write, living deep internal lives, tend towards depression. But the two are not inexorably linked.

I was writing before I was depressed and I will continue writing through my depression.

I am not the stereotypical writer, huddled in a smoke-filled corner. I am the writer dancing and singing and traveling in the light of day, experiencing life despite the depression. Writing to celebrate my life.

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