A friend bought me a copy of the Joseph Heller classic, Catch 22, for my birthday. I had last read the book a good twenty years ago so this 50th anniversary collector’s edition was a God-sent. I had since put it away for when I need a serious pick-me-up read, and that need came up last week. As I looked through the chapter titles my excitement and anticipation kept rising. This is a state that difficult to explain to someone else but if you’ve never experienced it I can liken it to settling down to watch a live sport final, say tennis or soccer, which you ‘know’ your favourite is going to win. You are almost ready to celebrate in anticipation of the win.
Books do that to me sometimes. Looking at the chapter “The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice” had me giggling before I could even read the chapter. The only other activity that gives me the same amount and type of pleasure is discovering a piece of writing that I had completely forgotten I had written. Like going through your files and discovering an incomplete but very well-written article that makes you think “did I write that?” You feel like giving yourself a high-five. That’s why I love creative writing, but don’t be misled, there are emotional pitfalls in this process.
Don’t let anyone fool you. Creative writing is not for sissies. There are times when I’ve felt it must be easier to squeeze water out of a rock than it is to put down two coherent sentences on a piece of paper. Creative writing is hard business I tell you. Don’t laugh or sneer now, I believe I know what I’m talking about. Don’t believe me? Well you are entitled to your beliefs, even though I know they are wrong. But seriously though, I have been going through a rather serious patch of non-creativity if you want to call it that. But despair not dear reader, my muse has returned. But she’s a little pissed off and here’s why.
My non-creative patch was brought on by two things. The first is the simple matter of having fallen victim to crime. I have joined the long list of my fellow countrymen who have had the misfortune of losing both their tablet and laptop at the same time. Surely there is a category or list of people like that? Both gadgets, stolen. In the same bag. I refuse to be the only one to whom this has happened. I have to be part of some sort of category or list damn it!
I implore you not judge me when I tell you that the theft was probably a result of me having forgotten to lock the car. Yep, say it, I gave away my tablet and laptop. Like a dear friend said to me when I told them: “Why didn’t you lock your car dude, this is South Africa!” As you can imagine, without the tools to aid me in putting my thoughts down my creative ideas were dead in the water so to speak.
It’s as though the ideas refused to come simply because they knew I had no instrument to capture them with. My butt didn’t help matters either, it seemed to conspire with my brain by also refusing to sit itself down long enough for the creative juices to flow. As 2PAC said, it felt like it was just ‘me against the world’. I had ‘nothing to lose’ too because all that could be lost was lost already. So my non-creative patch continued unabated.
Here’s the strangest thing. You would think I would be totally broken by the loss of the actual gadgets themselves. No. Not even by the loss of information that I can never really recover. I can hear you whispering back-up, back-up. I will ok. I have learnt. I know I should have known better. You are missing the point though. Just bear with me as I share the real misery of losing those two gadgets.
It was actually the loss of the half-written and sometimes untitled ramblings that hurt the most. No I did not lose a finished novel that I’m worried someone might publish as their own.
I lost random thoughts, random musings that meant nothing to anyone but me. I lost two paragraphs in certain instances. Hell, it hurts losing even a single sentence if you’ve not used it in one way or another. Those two paragraphs or one sentence might never have progressed into anything suitable for public consumption but damn, they were my creative babies. I conceived them and made sure they took their place in that world of unpublished ideas that one day might be part of something bigger.
Some of the random thoughts and writings that I lost were complete thoughts and articles that I had decided against putting up on my blog. I do not cry for those ideas that had been published already. Those are there for everyone to see. I cry for those of my creative babies that have now simply moved from a position where anything was possible into that unfathomable vortex in cyberspace where abandoned creative babies go: into nothingness. That hurts. Those ideas were mine. There are days when I have wished that they’ll find their way into the hands of someone who will use them, even if it means just reading them or passing them off as their own. See, the biblical wisdom of Solomon taught me that if you love your baby you should be willing to have them continue their life even as someone else’s baby rather than have them die.
This loss of my creative babies has taught me about the uniqueness of every creative thought and idea that I put down. A creative baby is just as unique as a real life baby. I’m certain there are people who have sought to recapture a creative baby they’ve lost and have painfully discovered that it cannot be recreated, just like one cannot recreate a real-life baby. A creative baby is a product of a set of inputs that cannot be put together in the same manner again, these inputs form part of that creative baby’s DNA.
You would never dare suggest to Michael Jackson : “It’s ok that you lost Thriller, you can just right another one” or to Steven Spielberg: “There’s more where ET came from, losing that script is not so bad”. It is bad to lose ideas that you had created and birthed. It’s painful. Ok, so I’m not Michael Jackson or Spielberg, but my ideas are just as original as theirs were and I will mourn my creative babies just as much as they would have mourned theirs, had they had their scripts disappear or get stolen.
There are thoughts I captured during the depths and darkness of depression. A state I would never wish to recreate but was part of the creative process. Those creative babies are gone, forever.
It’s been a while since I blogged on depression, not because I’m rid of the scourge but because it can feel obsessive, plus the condition itself keeps “telling” you not to bother the good people out there, your depression is your own problem. So before putting a single word down on my reflections on depression, I have to fight off that disconcerting feeling that I’m being ‘too much’, that I must shut up and curl up in my little corner and deal with my issues. But I’ve learnt that depression thrives on your backing off. It’s happy when you beat yourself up before anybody else does, and you back off. Before backing off into that little corner I sometimes manage to put down a thought or two. These thoughts cannot be recreated. And now some gadget thief just took off with them.
So you see, my tears are not about the gadgets. They are not about the contacts, or even pictures that the thief got. No, they are about my creative babies. Babies who cannot be recreated.
You’ve probably forgotten that I told you my non-creative patch was aided and abetted by two things. The first of which was the theft of the gadgets. The second one is the depression that you’ve just read about. Worry not, my muse is still on festive steroids so she refuses to allow me to bore you with stories of darkness. So I will not tell you about the whirlwind I’ve just been through or even whether I have come out of it.
But here’s the thing. It was this non-creative patch that got me thinking that the depression itself, although a source of some dark creative thoughts, it is a huge stumbling block to the development of a creative routine which is necessary to ensuring that creative babies are nurtured to a point of growing up and fulfilling their purpose in the world of full-grown creative writing.
So whilst I mourn the premature death of my creative babies in the hands of unsympathetic gadget thieves, I also celebrate that this unfortunate non-creative patch brought on by depression and crime has put my future creative babies on a trajectory totally different to the one that saw my other creative babies melt into nothingness.
I look forward to seeing my future creative babies mature and take their place of pride amongst other creative babies in the world, in my blog and hopefully media with better readership. I look forward to nursing and maturing them not only for my own gratification but also for the benefit of those that believe in the old African saying “It takes a village to raise a child”. I want my next creative children to be nurtured by villages, not just me, lest they fall victim to more gadget thieves.
Again, I assert, Creative writing is not for sissies. You must be prepared for the loss of your creative babies, and not let the pain and haziness resulting from the loss stop you from dreaming big for your yet-to-be-conceived creative babies.
One of the most gratifying things about writing is going through your unpolished creative ideas and come across one that just sparks a creative streak. That’s where the pain come from. That I cannot get the chance to go through those thoughts, ideas and paragraphs again in search of that spark that is so necessary when non-creativity rears its ugly head.
Life is funny. Not the ha-ha-ha comical kind of funny but the funny you don’t always want. Funny because just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, something happens that quickly dispels all notions of you having mastered this ‘life’ thing. It brings you down to earth, sometimes rather rudely so. And in comes the ‘stay-positive’ brigade, ‘if you conceive it you can achieve it’. Really? I’m just kidding, you can achieve it, but still life is funny like that.
I’ve shared with you about my ongoing personal battle with clinical depression, how I have made great strides in challenging and overcoming the illness, as well as activities I’ve now taken up that I could not previously pursue because of depression. Although I believe I’ve got a handle on it now, every now and then the heaviness of mood that goes with the condition comes on despite the medication. And these subdued moods have the effect of convincing you that it’s nothing to write home about. It’ll wear off soon, just stay with it. But I think it is something to write home about because if not dealt with, it can lead to other darker things.
There are difficulties though. Some of these I’m only learning now. Because I want my battle against depression to succeed, I’ve found I want to appear well to other people, all the time. Relaying my true mental state to others seems very much like pity-seeking behavior which I personally want to avoid at all costs. But I’ve also found that if I’m going to portray a true reflection of my search for a workable balance I need to let you know that even on treatment there are days or periods of time when I don’t want ‘to mix with people’, when I wish for some mental silence. There are times, like now, when I wish I could be away from my everyday life. This is difficult to explain to people but it is exactly how it feels.
“Tell no lies, claim no easy victories”, Amilcar Cabral said in the context of a national revolution but I’ve found this applies equally well in a battle that has the potential for a relapse. Such is depression. I have chosen to be open about the effects of the condition on my ability to carry out my daily activities and I was just thinking the other day that I would not be totally honest if I only gave you the stories of success and exclude the battles I’m still fighting. These battles are important because all too often I’ve been discouraged from trying out new adventures because the condition convinced me I cannot reach the standards already set by other survivors. I recently heard a radio talk show host refer to a celebrity depression sufferer as the poster girl for depression. I just got the sense that although that sounded like a compliment, it’s not a mantle that would rest easily on the shoulders of one still learning how to deal with the condition.
Poster boys and girls exude all that is positive about their chosen brand. The wide smile, the confident ‘I’m-in-charge-and-I-know-it’ look, that’s hardly what a depression survivor would want to convey. Whilst a poster girl or boy would give the message that ‘depression can be beaten’, I personally think it would be more important to convey the message that yes it can be beaten, but the victory will not always be poster-boy/girl material. Sometimes, despite the medication, the heaviness will come. The urge for social withdrawal, the self-doubt and the irrational fears will present themselves.
When the feeling that I’m on edge comes, I don’t fight against myself like I used to in the past. That, I have discovered, is the most futile of all human exercises, because you can never win a battle against yourself. Indeed, history is littered with stories of men and women who took on themselves and ended up in the gutter, defeated, high, drunk, broken down or even more scary, just going through life in ‘quiet desperation’. When the darkness threatens, I try to order my thoughts. Sometimes just a to-do list for the day or week reduces the unnecessary anxiety that comes with feeling ‘disorganized’. Remember, it’s not that the disorganization is real, no. It’s just an unsettling feeling of impending doom. So ‘ordering my thoughts’ helps me in taking it one day at a time. The darkness comes with a feeling that tomorrow will be just as dark, yet, from experience I know tomorrow can be totally different depending on how I deal with today.
The heavy moods can sometimes be lifted by a change in focus. This is tricky, I’ve found. It’s easy to change what you choose to focus on but your surroundings won’t necessarily change with you. These unchanging surroundings can defeat your well-meaning efforts to change your mind’s focus. A personal example. This might sound a little bit weird but it’s true. Just after graduating varsity I went through a long-ish job hunt. About a year to be exact. At the time I had no knowledge of clinical depression at all or even that I suffered from it. I took every job rejection letter that came very personally, especially in cases where I felt I had done enough to secure the job.
One rejection letter took me to the edge, and I thought this it, no more of this stuff. I had taken to opening these letters in the bathroom as I ran the bath water, so by the time I started bathing I was pretty down(I can’t really remember why I chose the bathroom but I guess it had to do with the need to handle rejection alone, a sure sign of depression). I eventually got a job, a good one at that. What I didn’t know was that my association of rejection with running the bath water would stay with me for a long time. There are times even today, fifteen years later, when I catch myself lost in thought as I take a bath, focused on the negative that’s to come. Exactly the same thought processes that I used to go through with every rejection letter. I’ve had to actually take a conscious approach to taking a bath, hard to believe I know, but it’s true.
I have chosen to change that association by kneeling down and praying before baths. This is easier to do when things are going ok, but when the darkness threatens, my being sometimes wishes to just wallow in the heaviness. It’s what I did for years so even though it’s not a good thing to do, it’s what my subconscious knows to be me, so if I don’t pay attention it’s what I end up doing, giving in to the melancholy moods.
Another trick that I’ve learnt is to do my pick-me-up activity. Years of depression can leave you with a very thin catalogue of activities that you enjoy that can lift your mood. Sometimes, even those can be ‘perverted’ to defeat their purpose. One thing I thank God for always is my love for reading. I read everything, newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, fiction , non-fiction, the lot. I never noticed it before but often-times, when depressed, I would look for comfort in a book. Sadly, your brain is not very discerning when you are depressed, so even this pick-me-up activity could end up enhancing the depression if you happened to be reading dark material. The idea is to choose a pick-me-up that actually works for you. Movies, TV and other media might help temporarily but I find you are not always in a position to do any of them, especially if you work.
I guess what I’m conveying to you is that this battle against this sometimes diabolical and debilitating illness is not always straight forward. I’ve debunked the notion of “happy pills” in my own life because although I’ve found anti-depression medication to be absolutely necessary in my case, they don’t make you “depression-proof” as my clinical psychologist likes to say. I find they serve to give you a fighting chance where you previously thought you had none. They serve to give you a better shock-absorption system, allowing you a longer and more considered reaction time where you would have previously gone straight in to the pits of depression, sometimes with no discernible way out. But “happy pills”? I don’t think so. You, as a person, remain solely responsible for injecting the “happy” into your pills, or life.
I was heartened by a certain response I got to the blog post “That Was Then”. Where I thought I had not necessarily conveyed what I had set out to do, a response came that a reader was encouraged to think about ways of dealing with their continuous “foul moods”. That’s the magic of reading and writing for me, sharing thoughts that until you put down on paper were your private preserve. Thank you for reading mine.