Depression and writers. How true it is. We seem to go hand in hand. We're joined at the sterum, closer than lovers. Whether we're genetically predisposed to depression or not, I think the writing life seems, well...inauthentic, without occasional periods of the deep, deep blues, the Mood Indigos.
We feel morally bound to brood, because that's what 'serious' writers do. We live by our wits, and sometimes live too close to the poverty level. And so we isolate, which deepens the blues. We envy the thriller-writers who rake in big royalties. Sometimes we hate them. We stop feeling attractive and lose our lovers, even our spouses. We become loners because socializing, even conversation, has become an endurance test. Oh, enough.
We chose this life. No one drafted us. Let's jolly up and admit we LOVE this writing-thing. When we are creating, our juices are flowing, our brains are kicked into high gear...don't you feel the rush? It's like a snort of cocaine. Two snorts. Doesn't your heart palpitate, and your very follicles sizzle? Mine do. There is nothing that compares to it. Isn't that worth occasional depression? (I'm not talking about clinical depression. That is more serious and calls for medical supervision.)
Perhaps the next time the 'blues' descend, we might want to sit back, take a breath and compare someone else's life. I guarantee you, afterwards you'll feel extremely blessed. You will feel grateful. I'm talking about the life of Roald Dahl. A genius who wrote thrilling and absurd and fabulous books for children. Remember 'Willy Wonka?' 'James and The Giant Peach?' Or 'The Sound Machine?' (In which a man could hear plants screaming.) Or how about 'The BFG,' the giant who went around at night, blowing dreams through a tube into kid's bedrooms. Dahl was a brilliant storyteller, a magician. His books are still read around the world in many languages.
He made $$millions from his books, and died 20 years ago. Finally, his personal history, his private life, was made public. It was horrendous. Absolutely grisly. His father, as a child, had his arm amputated thanks to a drunk doctor. At three, Dahl's older sister died, and shortly after, his one-armed father died. Several years later, still only a boy, Dahl's nose was completely severed from his face in a car accident. A near-sighted doctor sewed it back on. Slightly off-center.
In WWII Dahl joined the RAF, became a pilot, and crashed on his first official day of flying, in the Libyan Desert. His skull was fractured, spine broken, his face burned, his poor nose driven back into his face. Stoked by the heat, his plane's machine-guns started shooting at him. Miraculously, he managed to survive the crash, was somehow patched-up, fought others battles, and survived the war. Then he was diagnosed with cancer. (Are you still with me?) During treatment, his doctors recommended he have all his teeth pulled. Who knows why? So, he did. Dahl was only twenty-one!
After the war, he began writing stories to ward off depression. Thus began his illustrious and lifelong career. Then he married and had children. His 4 month-old son was hit by a taxi, shattering his skull. The child survived, but damaged. Two years later, Dahl's 7 year-old daughter contracted measles and died of a brain inflammation. Then his 39 year-old wife, the actress Patricia Neal, suffered an aneuryism and fell into a coma for weeks. He coached her through months and years of grueling rehabilitation.
All his life he suffered pain from his war wounds. And all the while, he wrote. He wrote magical and fabulous stories for children, that they still quote from as adults. Of course, Dahl was notoriously impatient and rude to people (can you blame him?) He picked fights at book parties, slugged editors, sold out friends, repeatedly and publicly insulted his still-rehabilitating wife. In the end he proved to be a racist, an anti-semite, an all-around stinker. No one liked him. No one. But he never stopped writing. I think writing was how he had survived his life.
Perhaps its best to forget the man, and remember the genius. But when we writers are feeling depressed, unloved, unpraised, it might be worth another look at Dahl's horrendous, nearly inconceivable life of tragedy. By comparison, I think most of us are lucky.
So let's gather our inspirations and energies - our mitochondria, and centrioles, and genomes, all those marvelous ecosystems that contain and define each of us - say a little mantra of thanks for what we have, and then get back to work.
Happy Writing and Imua! (Press On, no matter what.)