It’s a well-known historical fact – creative people, writers particularly, are really good at addictions.
Amphetamines, prescription drugs, opium, alcohol.
Life have compiled a whole album of “Famous Literary Drunks Or Addicts” – there are some surprising addictions up there such as Louisa May Alcott’s addiction to opium, though typhoid-related-fever is a decent excuse.
I can’t say I was surprised by this. I know addiction and creativity go hand-in-hand. Many creative people seem to have that “something-to-get-away-from” in common. Perhaps this is why so many of us find ourselves in reading, and deal with ourselves better in writing. Or drinking. Or substance abuse. They’re all just ways to crawl away from the dark places.
Over the last weekend at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, on a panel titled “Going To A Dark Place”, writer Joel Magarey talked about his OCD. I left that room really encouraged by the fact that this man has written a book that deals so candidly with something that’s so stigmatised and crippling. To look your demons in the face like that, and not be afraid to put it out there, is amazing. It should also be noted that the OCD is not all Joel’s book is about. It doesn’t take over.
Lisa Dempster’s “Neon Pilgrim” confronts her depression. Henry Rollins’ “Black Coffee Blues” talks about depression, making it dark but essentially toothless. Even J.K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” has dealt with depression in her children’s books, and she is not ashamed to tell people.
The list of writers with depression or other mental illness is endless, but mostly we never find out about it. And when we do it’s an “Oh. Who’d have known?” situation. It’s certainly more okay to put these kind of things out there now, but I don’t think we should underestimate the strength of people who do.
I’m constantly chased by anxiety. And when I hide in the toilets now there’s that poster on the back of the door staring at me, letting me know that “Anxiety Is Paralysing” (thanks Lady, I get it!) and I curse that bitch while I try to breathe like I have normally sized lungs.
I think the key to dealing with the “dark” parts of ourselves is to accept them. Work around them.
Turn the darkness into something productive.
02/06/2010 at 6:31 am
Nice post, Samwise!
There’s also a theory that male writers tend to be booze-hounds or drug fiends because it re-establishes a sense of masculinity for them in a profession which is often considered to be a bit – well – feminine.
02/06/2010 at 6:36 am
…and what’s your excuse, Mish?
For the same token, there’s just as many off-the-wall drug/alcohol abusers that are women. Really. Perhaps they’re trying to tap into their masculinity. I certainly am.
02/06/2010 at 8:47 am
Now now… let’s have a little less of the ad hominem, shall we?
02/06/2010 at 9:29 am
but it’s so fun! And you know you want to engage, haha.
02/06/2010 at 8:08 am
Yes, I too have seen that poster on the back of the toilet wall but rather being comforted I am haunted by it, the thought of “shit i’m going have bouts of anxiety for the rest of my life?” But yeh it can be dealt with, take the good with the bad and instead lets have socially accepted addictitions like chocolate and facebook. 🙂
02/06/2010 at 8:33 am
Coffee is my big one. And fatty savoury food.
02/06/2010 at 6:59 pm
I loved, loved, LOVED this post. My friend and I were discussing how many authors commit suicide and why. I think part of it is that a writer needs to feel things more deeply in order to express their ideas accurately on the page. Whether the issues are there and the person chooses to write, or the solitude of living in a made-up world perhaps exacerbates the issues, I don’t know. But I dug this post.
03/06/2010 at 9:07 am
Author Jeff Bradley’s piece on the topic, Never real and always true: on depression and creativity is well worth a read.
I’m not usually a commenter: does that qualify as link spam? I hope not.
03/06/2010 at 10:24 am
not at all, Tully. If it were a link to your blog and had nothing to do with the post, then I’d be slightly miffed. This is intersting though, actually a really good read. Thanks!
03/06/2010 at 10:49 am
I tend to deal with anxiety and all that. Writing, if you’re not open about your weaknesses and illnesses, can be a way of expressing it without just saying it straight out.
The dark themes session was definitely my favourite.
03/06/2010 at 10:55 am
Thanks Ben… I know you tackle a lot of the stuff that pisses you off by writing, and I have to admire that. I think that’s really the key.
That session was great, huh? I think I love Joel Magarey now.
03/06/2010 at 11:11 am
Yeah, what pisses me off tends to be the thrust of my writing, though I’ve been trying to mix in the inspiring and hope amongst the darkness – like fighting back. Was going to ask a similar question on the panel.
I think I liked all the panellists. And they were all so different. I’ve heard Jeff Sparrow before, but he’s always a pleasure to watch.
03/06/2010 at 11:13 am
I certainly found Jeff Sparrow much more accessible than I thought I would – usually politics is a bit over my head, but he really bought it down to earth. Very easy to listen to.
03/06/2010 at 11:16 am
He tends to speak a different to academic type politicos huh?