Depression has been a part of my life for more than 20 of my 40 years. Half my life, really. Whether it’s been mild depression or serious bouts, depression is an unmistakable aspect of my being. I won’t, however, let depression define me. Not at all.
My personal life has been brutal lately. I don’t want to go into gory details about what’s taken place in my life over the past 12 months. This isn’t the time or place for me to reveal myself so openly, but I will acknowledge, and own up to, the facts: I’ve made some conscious choices in my life recently that have caused a lot of hurt for people that are near and dear to me, people I love. People I should have done a better part loving. And not hurting.
The past 12 months have been an emotional rollercoaster, a juggling act of emotions and thoughts and actions that I fear I’m not mentally equipped to handle properly. One refuge for me has been writing. The novel I’m currently working on – a pseudo fabulist fiction piece about a superhero who comes to the realization that he’s not so heroic – is sort of a mea culpa, an outlet for me to examine choices I’ve made in my life, and how those choices have formed who am I and what I want to do with my life. Writing has become greatly important, urgent, even. Forgive me for the hyperbole, but I get the sense that I’m writing as if my life depends on it.
During this period that’s been taking place in my life recently, I underwent a manic phase unlike any I’d ever undergone before in my life. Even though I was in a self-destructive mode (again, my apologies for not going into further detail here), my writing has never been better. My writing has never been more focused, more muscular. It became clear to me, finally, that after so many years of dabbling with the idea of being a writer, that I more than anything wanted to live the writer’s life.
For a four-month period, my writing was relentless. Ideas were forming quickly before my eyes. I found the words were simply pouring from my pen, and I felt no urge to self-edit. Even better, the Doubt Monster wasn’t rearing his ugly head anymore.
I felt like Bradley Cooper’s character in the film Limitless. What if a pill could unlock your brain’s potential for learning, for creativity? Mania was that pill, along with the circumstances that were driving my mania. The future, my future, was mapped out in front of me. I could see myself as a writer. Finally.
Fast-forward to this very moment, and my writing has sputtered. I’m no longer writing freehand. I’ve forced myself to outline my novel (a necessary evil, of course). I’m using Scrivener to help me organize. But the truth I’m dealing with right now is that the depression phase I’m going through right now is stiffing my creativity.
Or is it?
The depression phase has had a silver lining: I’ve been able to slow down and give greater thought into what I want my novel to read like. The first draft of the manuscript, forged during the emotional high of mania, is chock full of snappy dialogue and scenes I’ve written that were full of energy, concision, and clarity. But there was no real plot that connected everything together. It was as if mania was simply willing my story into life; how it all pieced together was of no concern. Funny enough, my novel’s making more sense to me, now that I’m in the midst of a depression that’s keeping me up at night and filling me with dread and anxiety.
I’d love to say the manic phase is the phase I’m desperately craving right now, if only to kick-start my writing again. But what I’m missing is the high. And that’s a stupid thing for me to be missing right now, because creativity will always come to function no matter what my mental state currently is. I made the mistake of confusing the “high” with creativity, when in fact I’ve sometimes been at my most creative when I’m at my lowest.
I’m learning to embrace my bipolarity. I’m learning to live with what either mania or depression will do for me, in terms of my creativity. I’m learning to understand the signs, and what those signs mean for me. And I’m learning that maybe, just maybe, my bipolar disorder will make me a better writer.