Insight | A writer’s take on coping with depression

Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.” Anais Nin.

We hear of famous writers and creative minds who struggled with depression and loneliness. There appears to be a link between the need to immerse oneself in a fictional world, with the need to isolate oneself and write alone; a purpose-built personal studio, sound-proofed, and completely devoid of the outer world.

Are we left with the sadness of this lonely, hermetic life, which allows creativity to flow, because we are impossible to live with? Or are writers and artists self-saboteurs who utterly desire isolation and personal freedom; willing to destroy personal relationships to ensure the continuation of their art?

Depression is an isolating condition. The desire to interact and participate in the world around us diminishes to the point where it is easier to stay at home, alone. Even for those in relationships, or who have lots of people around them, they may well feel completely alone.

For the writer, time spent conversing in the real world – away from invented worlds – is time wasted. But time alone writing can make relationships flounder. Is it possible to be empathetic,  and an important part of a relationship, when any distraction from the task of writing can be perceived by the writer as negative? It is certainly possible, but for those suffering with depression this can take on another level.

“How is one to settle on the subtleties of a fictional character when choosing a t-shirt and shorts to wear takes an hour?”

While writing my first novel, The Confessional, I took myself away to Nerja in southern Spain to focus solely on my endeavour. I felt that this was a necessary part of the process, and enjoyed leaving everything behind, to write, and write alone. There was something deep within me that required that isolation. In order to write there was a need to focus on that job alone, unburdening my mind of a story seeking ink.

My depression exacerbates this in a number of ways, and the same is true of anyone who writes while battling the condition. It takes concentration and focus to commit the broad outline of a story to the page and produce a novel. For example, it is difficult to write at length when it is hard to remember details of the story already laid down. When the irritability and restlessness is so bad, sitting still to write or type becomes an incredible chore. How is one to settle on the subtleties of a fictional character when choosing a t-shirt and shorts to wear takes an hour ?

I thought of Samuel Beckett and J.M. Synge during my isolation. Beckett had lived in Paris as a solitary individual, whose body of work focused on the darker areas of life, on alienation and hopelessness. So reclusive was he, that even the award of Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 could not encourage his attendance. Synge was another writer who spent time in Paris; estranged from his family he was left to his own devices. And just as it was in the past, today isolation and depression are issues for writers. Marian Keyes made her battle with depression public in 2010.

Being isolated in a foreign land meant fewer responsibilities for these writers. Like Synge, in my isolation I enjoyed walking the countryside alone, content with my own company.

“Depression is absolute turmoil. The condition can wax and wane, or reappear for no reason, without warning, and take hold in an instant.”

For the writer – indeed for anyone – learning to live with and manage depression is vitally important. A number of years ago I believed it was something I could beat, get over, and leave behind. But a large degree of acceptance and understanding has taken place and I realise that it is something I will be managing on an on-going basis.

Learning to live with and manage depression can help people follow their passions, while continuing to battle. I have trained myself to see what some might consider minor achievements as successes. There is a sticker beside my coffee mugs that says “well done on getting out of bed today”.

I also try to talk about my depression as much as possible. Depression hates being talked about, but whether with a professional therapist or my family, I tell them how I’m feeling as much as possible, while still allowing myself the days when I don’t want to contact anyone. There is hope in this management; hope to live a great life, and to do things which on bad days seem impossible. With the publication of my book The Confessional earlier this year I proved this to myself. You can do that too.

Depression is absolute turmoil. The condition can wax and wane, or reappear for no reason, without warning, and take hold in an instant. Every day can be a battle, and for some that battle becomes too much. Indeed, there is plenty which can impede an aspiring writer. In my case depression is just another one to fight each day.


Peter Boyd is an Irish writer and author of the novel The Confessional, which can be found at Peter currently lives in Dublin and blogs at