You’re depressed. Or you’ve been depressed and you’re grappling with where
that experience fits into your internal image of your life. Have you ever felt the urge to write or tell the story of your illness? I have – the pain and pressure in my chest and throat, the utter hopelessness, the certainty that the bleakness that haunted me would never, ever lift. Many people seem to share this desire to get their story of depression out, whether it’s by writing a letter or a memoir, or by creating a notebook of poetry.
I teach a creative writing class for people with mood disorders meeting at Stanford University, where the Psychiatry Department is kind enough to lend us a conference room. I’ve led this weekly class for eight years now, during and after my own recovery from severe bipolar disorder – mostly its stifling depressions.
Now I’m writing a book with the working title, Illuminating Words: The Power of Writing to Ease Depression. It draws on my writing experiences and those of my students, as well as those of well-known authors who have coped with depression through memoir, poetry and fiction – and it reports on exciting scientific research that proves that writing can have dramatic effects on the body and the psyche. It’s the first guidebook to writing specifically designed for people with depression. It’s sensitive to their issues, including medicines and side effects, stigma, and rebuilding a damaged life.
I earned my Ph.D. in biology at Stanford in 1991. During grad school, I also started writing about science and medicine for the Stanford News Service, the San Jose Mercury News, and other publications, and I was awarded a science writing internship at Newsweek. When I finished my degree, I worked as a writer for the science journal Nature, and later developed, edited and wrote for numerous college science textbooks. However, the depression that had begun in grad school changed and worsened considerably, leading to a bipolar diagnosis and eventually to being unable to work a regular job. Still, I wrote and wrote -- essays, poetry, a book-length memoir of my illness. I studied writing in classes and workshops, and I taught my creative writing class for others with depression or bipolar disorder. Now I'm back! (Thanks to still taking lots of medicines and getting experimental magnetic treatments (TMS) every few months. I'll tell you about those later too.)
I believe writing has been key to my recovery, and I hope it will be helpful to you too. I invite you to explore writing as described in this blog as an adjunct to your medical treatment. In addition to discussing mental health issues, I'll regularly post writing techniques and offer writing exercises you can try, whether you're facing a difficult life transition or a full-blown depression.
Let me know what you think!