Writing With and Through Depression

By January 20, 2015Writing about Writing

Whether it’s just the winter blues or a diagnosis of depression, the state of your mood can really affect the quality of a person’s writing and even the way in which they write.

When I was in high school, I began taking control of my depression, but there are still days where I’m not at my best. If those days happen to coincide with a deadline, it can really throw off my work. Over the years, I’ve developed a few methods of keeping up with my work while dealing with depression.

Go somewhere

My first step in writing a paper is usually sitting down with my laptop in my apartment, but when I’m not feeling my best, that can be counterproductive. Being in my apartment can keep me in that negative headspace where I feel like I can’t do anything but curl up in bed.

My suggestion if you feel the same way is to go somewhere with a different surrounding. I usually head to the library, but coffee shops can also work. Being in an environment different from my apartment makes me focus on the work I need to get done. I tend to be a homebody, so if anything, it gives me motivation to finish my assignment and head back home. The other plus is that there aren’t decorations that mean anything to me so I’m less likely to get distracted. The photo of coffee beans at Starbucks doesn’t hold the same memories to me as the collage of pictures of my friends that I have in my room.

Focus on one thing at a time

Depression and anxiety aren’t always unrelated, especially in college students. When you’re already feeling down, taking a look at all you have on your to-do list can feel devastating. Compartmentalizing really helps me because completing one small task feels like such an accomplishment. If you have a particularly challenging or dreadful paper to write, make your outline first. Once you have your outline, just write in your sentences one point at a time. Soon you’ll have a completed paper that you just need to reformat to look like an essay.

Now, this is going off the assumption that you are like me and leave your assignments to the last minute, but this can also work if you plan ahead. Work on one part of your paper each day. Research one topic at a time. Complete part of one section rather than a little bit of each. Tackling one topic at a time reduces the stress of the overall assignment.

Listen to whatever feels right

Sometimes when you’re sad, listening to sad music makes you feel better, sometimes upbeat music helps. If you like listening to music while you write, don’t deprive yourself of that. Whether you’re in the mood to listen to some upbeat pop like Taylor Swift, some indie-folk like Elliott Smith, or some old-school punk like the Clash, do it. Connecting to music is empowering, so listen to your jams before or while you type.

Some people can’t write while listening to music or there is no music that can fit how you’re feeling. If that’s the case, don’t push it. This idea is about your comfort. Take a few moments to decide what you think will help you get through writing.

Talk to your friends

If there’s someone you’re comfortable talking to them, tell them about what you’re going through. For me, keeping it in can distract me from what I need to do. Just telling someone I trust how I’m feeling can help me focus. It can be scary to admit you aren’t feeling the best, especially when there isn’t a definitive cause of why you’re down, but talking to someone can give you the encouragement to get your work done.

If you don’t feel comfortable discussing these topics with people you know, there are people and services that can help. If you’re a student at DePaul, check out the University Counseling Services . If you aren’t a student, you can use crisischat.org or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800)273-TALK to talk to people who are trained to deal with these topics.

Feeling down or having depression isn’t the greatest thing in the world. Some days you may struggle more than others, especially with the stress of a due date or deadline coming up, but there are ways you can get through it. If you use any of these methods or if you have some methods of your own that you find helpful, please leave your comments below!

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Liz Coughlin says:

    Thank you for this post, Shelley. I have shared this with others — you will have helped more people than you will know.

  • Lauren says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience and tips, Shelley! These are great ideas for working through what can be a major roadblock. I love to listen to music to motivate me too.

  • Bryndahl W. says:

    “Not feeling my best” is probably one of the most accurate ways to describe moments of depression or feeling blue. As someone who periodically feels “blah,” I found your verbiage to also be kind and healthy. Sometimes, part of the destructive cycle (for me at least) of feeling down is the inner critic whose vitriol increases feelings of “not my best.” This negative dialogue is less than helpful in promoting feeling better. For me, your word choice was a gentle reminder to speak kindly to oneself, especially if one is feeling down. Not that you necessarily set out to say as much; maybe I just needed to hear it. Either way, the message is timely and appreciated. I’ve never consciously associated difficulty with writing with my mood; therefore, your post gave me a new perspective on my writing behaviour. So, maybe the next time I’m really struggling with a writing assignment, instead of assuming it’s all operator error, I’ll remember to gauge how I’m feeling and make allowances accordingly.

  • Cynthia M. says:

    Beautifully written, Shelley! Thanks for addressing what many writers feel and encouraging them to know they’re not alone 🙂 This definitely inspired me!

  • Emily Power says:

    Thank you for giving this topic some presence. Especially at this cold and dark time of year, I think it’s really helpful to open up a conversation about how our moods and work attitudes are seasonally affected. I appreciate that you recommend approaches to dealing with these issues that involve being very patient with yourself. That’s probably a lesson on it’s own. I will keep your attitude and suggestions in mind when I face a particularly rough day this winter. Thank you again Shelley!

  • Rachel P. says:

    Thanks for this post, Shelley! As you point out, mental health can be somewhat of a taboo subject, but it needs to be talked about. And the point that it can affect productivity and schooling is a valid and important one. I’m so glad that you were willing to share your own experiences and provide some resources people may be able to turn to, if they’re struggling. Thank you!

  • Andrew D. says:

    This is a great post! I especially appreciate the acknowledgment that mental illness has more of a tendency to be a creative block, as opposed to the public’s view of turning someone into a “mad-genius.” During these down periods, it is very difficult to have the capacity to be creative, so I think the mention of getting outside is spot on.