June 14 – Writing My Way Through Depression

by Judy Alter

Usually I’m flattered when someone asks, “So what are you writing?” These days I hate to be asked, because the answer is “Nothing right now.” I don’t need to add that I’ve been too depressed to come up with a new idea that I’m enthusiastic about. I think the Lord has been sending me a message that says, “Slow down. Not now.” Seems to be the mantra of my life. My brother was just here, and as I struggled to undo all the Velcro and take off the cumbersome boot so he could look at my foot, he’d say, “Slow down. You’re retired now.”

I know the classic signs of depression and recognize them in myself—I want to sleep all the time, and I have no interest in food. What has been a life raft to hold on to (besides my loving daughter and supportive family) is that I’m a writer. I am always happy at my desk and computer, and I will always have something to draw me out of myself so that I don’t focus on how miserable I feel.

If you think I’m going to write about how cathartic writing is, letting me release pent-up emotions, that’s not where I’m going. My career as a writer help me in a different way. It gave me things to do—writing my almost-daily blog, writing guest blogs, marketing for my new book, The Gilded Cage.

I belong to professional writing groups—Sisters in Crime, their subgroup the Guppies, Story Circle network—and have computer duties in two of them that I must keep up with. In addition, those groups have given me a whole circle of contacts—keeping up with email probably takes me a minimum of an hour a day—but I love the exchanges of information, news, and, yes, gossip. I read blogs that interest me, and follow two mystery lists—Dorothy L. and Murder Must Advertise.

And then there’s Facebook. I am not, as is so fashionable, one who dismisses Facebook at worthless. I enjoy it and get both amusement and education from it. No, I don’t read every word of every post that it shows me, nor do I seek out the timelines of individual friends. But I spend a lot of time on Facebook. Depression brings with it a certain inertia, and I found it increasingly hard to pull myself from Facebook—or my computer.

And finally there is reading. Susan Wittig Albert, good friend and well know author, insists that reading is part of our work. I think a lot of people, including writers, tend to feel a bit guilty when they read. I do—but I have a built-in guilt factor. In fact, I’ve kept so busy with all the details of my career—and all that sleeping—that I haven’t done much reading. I have two books to read for a competition and one 30-page manuscript to critique.

I’m still rolling around the house on my walker and sleeping in that clumsy boot, but I’m working hard to pull myself out of depression—and writing helps. If I had retired without anything to do, I think this might have pushed me over the edge. Many retirees I know have some passion—one weaves, a couple garden, another cooks. Writing is my passion, and I’m fortunate.

A native of CAboutJudyhicago, Judy Alter lives in Texas but never lost her love for the Windy City and its lake, and that love led her to write The Gilded Cage, a historical novel set in Chicago’s Gilded Age, the late nineteenth century.

Alter is the author of over 70 books, fiction and nonfiction, adult and young-adult, including fictional biographies Libbie (Elizabeth Bacon Custer); Jessie (Jessie Benton Frémont); Cherokee Rose (Lucille Mulhall, first rodeo girl roper); and Sundance, Butch and Me (Etta Place). Today she writes contemporary cozy mysteries in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; she is also the author the stand-alone, The Perfect Coed. Judy’s books are available through Amazon.

Retired as director of TCU Press, she is the single parent of four children and the grandmother of seven. She lives in Fort Worth, Texas with her Bordoodle Sophie.



12 responses to “June 14 – Writing My Way Through Depression

  1. I am also retired and having a struggle with depression. Just can’t write now. Not sure why I am still on the planet.

    • Oh, you’re still on the planet for lots of good reasons. Yes, you can write. As I tell people a lot, try free writing if nothing else. Just get words on paper. It will build from there.

  2. In many ways, I could have written this post. If I could get myself to write. It seems depression is almost rampant these days and, in my case, has lasted well over two years. I’ve been here before, only worse, so I recognize the symptoms, but that doesn’t explain how or why I’m here. I only know – hope and believe – that given time, it will resolve. I’ve used medications before and only got side effects, not help, Writing used to help but now I can’t even depend on doing that. I have hopes for us all, though, no matter how numerous we may be. Nothing lasts forever.

    • Two years is a long time. Have you sought help? It maybe more than you can write your way out of. No sense being miserable forever.

  3. I’ve been waiting for writing momentum for about a year now. I waste away the hours playing games on line, but know if I continue to read–good books and bad books, magazine stories, whatever–inspiration will come at some point. I take things one day at a time. Sorry to hear you’re struggling, and having a boot on certainly doesn’t help things.

  4. I, too, suffer from this malady, although it’s been much worse in the past. I can’t take anti-depressants, and just learned I can’t even take anti-anxiety meds (without destroying my short term memory). My husband’s anxiety sparks mine lately. But my daughter found a probiotic, of all things, that seems to be helping. (Mood Probiotic from Innovix, if you’re interested.) Life is hard. Maybe you should take notes and write some noir. I hope this dissipates for you. Really do!

    • Marilyn, I found, as the blog says, writing rather than games really helped. Try free writing, a letter to an imaginary friend, anything that makes you write.

    • Kaye, thanks for the good wishes. I’m much better than I was when I wrote that–I know now what can and can’t be done about my foot, and I see the world more positively.

  5. I tell myself that a lot–nothing lasts forever, not even depression or anxiety. As for writing, sit down at the computer and free write–if its gibberish. It’s a start.

    • Judy, I want to be upbeat and say something inspiring – can’t – very depressed as well. However, I must tell you that just reading that wanting to sleep is part of it, inertia is part of it, many things you wrote made me know -yes, this is depression and we will get through it, Thank you for helping me know that I am not alone in all these things I feel.

  6. Just think about the hundreds or thousands of people you’ve helped along the way. Your advice and tips on writing and publishing have fueled many writers. I took your your course at TCU and was motivated to give it a shot. I’m not famous but am so thankful that you shared so many great tips. I reviewed my notes recently and still appreciate the numerous lessons that I learned. Cheese (full-fat) helps mental functioning and is known to alleviate depression. Omega 3 fats are most beneficial. You have certainly made a difference in my writing life!

    • Thanks, Babs. I’m gratified to know I made a difference. During this period of enforced at-homeness, I’m eating lots of cottage cheese. Depression has fled, and I’m a happy camper again.

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