Occupational Hazards  Part 2

When people say ‘I get depressed’, I think about how inaccurate that expression is.

They didn’t go out there to some Mental Ailments Marketplace and say, “Umm, I think I’ll get myself some of that depression, oh, is it two for the price of one day today? Wonderful, throw in some of that anxiety too!”

They did not get depression. Depression got to them, slowly and stealthily, like some creeping assassin. This is the other occupational hazard of being a writer. You spend too long alone with your thoughts and they become your only companions, the sort of friends who repeat the same old tedious tales, the sort who you only tolerate because you’re stuck with them.

Most writers deal with these unwelcome visitors, these tenacious mental intrusions. Sonya Hartnett’s work would not have its exquisite melancholy without her understanding of the condition. The great John Marsden would have never been able to create such deep, stoic teenagers. I read a touching interview with John Green – funny, witty John Green – who worried that his depression might impact not on his writing, but on impending fatherhood.

What I think is happening as writers is that we are using our senses all the time, at such a high frequency, that eventually and naturally, our edges blunt. Your sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing need a chance to recover, or they become numb. In Buddhism there is a sixth sense, the mind, which ties all your other senses together. If you keep agitating your mind – which is essentially, what writing is all about – and never give it rest, then of course it’s going to break down. This is not unnatural. You’ve just got to lay the tool down and rest.

Those unwelcome bleak visitors eventually leave if you let them. If you keep paying them more attention than they’re worth they’ll bring friends and gate-crash. But if you are patient and stop listening to well-intentioned people who offer unsolicited clichés of positive-thinking, it will pass. (I think people who are hell-bent on positive-thinking as a cure-all have an unhealthy relationship to suffering: they cannot stand to see it at all costs. This speaks more to their lack of empathy than to your ability to cope.) You can be down, and still have the insight to hope.

Anyhow, eventually hue by hue, sound by sound, taste by taste, feeling by feeling, the world comes seeping back in all its technicolour glory. And oh, what a miracle it is – you see everything as if you’ve ever seen it before. You look at a school mug on your table and wonder who designed its perfect shape and logo, you feel gratitude for the teacher who gave it to you from the public school who woke up at 6am to bake brownies for your visit. You listen to music and feel like the 12 year old Michael Jackson is in your living room. You look at your husband and feel so grateful that he is so constant and calm, and you know that you do not need to share your pain for it to be halved. You hear a dog bark outside and it makes your heart roar with thankfulness.

The ordinary becomes extraordinary again, and you are back to writing.

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