Writing with Depression: Mindfully, Intentionally, and Without Judgment

The words don’t flow. They can’t flow. At least… that’s the way it seems.

The mind seems to stagnate. If it does anything, it seems to just sit, and mock you.

Not sure why you ever thought anyone would want to listen to you, or read what you have to say, it taunts. I don’t know why you even try.

I sit and stare, my breath shaky. But then I start moving my fingers across the keyboard. My kitten flits about the room, and the water in the fish tank endlessly cycles as my poor little fantail fish wanders about, now the last of his friends. Kind of the way I feel, the words float into my mind. Grief and depression and anxiety do some horrible things to you, and it’s no wonder nobody sticks around long. That last thought enters into my mind, and I realize it’s a lie.

The people that matter have stuck around.

Keep writing, I tell myself.

Anxiety strikes. I have to be at work in a couple hours.

You just graduated from intensive outpatient therapy a couple weeks ago, girl. Why are you so depressed? You did some really hard work in that group, and you’ve come so far. So, why can’t you write right now? And why are you avoiding your novel — again? Why are you so anxious about everything in life? Seriously though, why can’t you write?

I am writing!

Look at me, I’m sitting here, writing!

Just not what I thought I’d write. But that’s okay.

Writing with Depression

Writing with depression can utterly fail…but only if you let it fail. You can let the darkness of your mind take down your writing, and let it doubt and mock you and completely shut you down. Eventually, if you let the doubt go too far, the depression has won, and you have stopped writing altogether.

But there’s another way. Even when you’re in the depths of depression, you can choose to write anyway — mindfully, intentionally, and without judgment.

Writing Mindfully

Mindfulness brings your awareness back to the present, to what’s happening now. You can write about everything going on around you, even if it seems like nothing is happening. I almost shut down, but then out of the corner of my eye, my kitten pounced and jolted my mind. My kitten and my little fish may not have been doing much, and the room is still and quiet besides the two of them, but they kept me writing and taught me a lesson. Choosing to be mindful at any moment in your life keeps you going, if only for one more moment — but that’s all you need. One more moment, one more word typed, and eventually, you have written something. It doesn’t really matter at that point what it was, but you wrote.

Writing Intentionally

Intention keeps you in your seat. No, intention gets you to your seat. Then it keeps the pen in your hand or your fingers moving across the keyboard. Even if it’s simply a stream of consciousness, you have set your intention to write, and dammit, you write.

It may seem as if you can’t do it. Even if the midst of it, your face may darken and your mind may resist you, but remember, you have chosen to keep writing. Even in the middle of a depressive episode, you can write.

Oh Please Don’t Judge It!

Oh my goodness, and I almost forgot —please, please, don’t let yourself judge it. We can be our own worst critics, and when we’re already down on ourselves in the midst of depression, we run the risk of crumpling the paper, deleting the document, and throwing the pen across the room even after we may have written something completely brilliant, all because we let ourselves judge our writing.

The mind is a beautiful thing, and because of that, even while you’re depressed, you can still produce beautiful work. Think about it — how many classic pieces of writing, art, and music have been produced in the throes of depression. If I ever doubt the beauty of a tormented mind, all I have to do is turn on Beethoven’s Egmont Overture.

In fact, I’m going to turn it on now. And I’m going to publish this even though it scares me. Because even though it scares me to send this out into the world, it may help someone else who is struggling to write while depressed. You never know, I tell myself. Don’t keep yourself from the world when you’re down, because you are still valuable, you are still good, and you can write something worthwhile.

You got this.

Katie Andrews Potter is an author, mother, educator, family historian…a storyteller. She writes through the lens of bipolar disorder and anxiety, of the creative life and the inner life. Her books include young adult historical fiction novels Going over Home and Going over Jordan, and When Mother Read Aloud, a children’s picture book based on the memoir of her great-great-great grandmother.