So, my “Top Humor Writer” status has gone away since I started writing about my depression.
I know nobody physically clicked a button and took it away from me, it’s an algorithm based on views or claps or reads or something. But it’s a painful little reminder that my playful side — that pot-bellied little groundhog who normally likes to bathe in the sun and run around with her friends, who examines interesting objects and stuffs them into her cute little cheeks — got spooked and went underground some time ago. I haven’t been able to coax her back up in a while.
My first reaction when I saw that the tag had gone away was to get defensive. Hey. I’m being brave and vulnerable over here! I’m talking about something really difficult and you’re going to punish me, Medium? …Algorithm? …Universe?
But the thing is they’re right. I haven’t been funny lately. I’m a long way from the girl who wrote this piece —
— which gets revived every so often on someone else’s blog and earns me another 100 followers, all of whom then go to read more of my stuff, expecting more comedic/historical romps (of which there are, indeed, several), but end up stumbling instead on a grim piece about my cyclical depression and severe hormone imbalance and the panic attack I had in front of my parents that made me feel like I was sixteen years old again in the absolute worst way.
I write about that stuff because, when I’m in the midst of it, I can’t think about anything else. Writing about it helps me to make some sense out of it and put it in a format I understand.
I need there to be a point, you know? In much the same way that a religious person might filter their suffering through the context of, How is this going to get me into “the good place” in the end?, I put my own suffering through the context of, How is this going to give me a story worth telling in the end?
But there’s more going on. I’ve been blocked for a while now, and not in the way you might be thinking.
Jacob Krueger, with his podcast, Write Your Screenplay (which is *chef’s kiss* excellent for any writers, not just screenwriters), recently released a two-part series of episodes on the topic of writer’s block. He talked about there being two kinds:
- The kind in which you have no clue what to write or how to start writing.
- The kind in which you are writing, but you’re not connecting with your writing. It seems flat, clichéd, boring, not quite right.
I’ve been dealing with that second one for a while, and I know that it’s directly related to my depression. When you’re depressed, the only voices you can hear in your head are the limiting ones. Actually, they’re not just limiting. They’re downright cruel.
Let’s go back to the groundhog analogy.
You try to coax that creative little beast out of her hole by saying,“Ok, something about this piece isn’t working. How can we play with it?”
But you accidentally say,
“This isn’t working. It’s never gonna be ready. You’re probably not cut out to be a writer and you should probably try doing something else, not that you’re gonna be any good at that either.”
And the groundhog, understandably, ducks back down, shaking like the vulnerable little rodent writer she is.
You try to say,
“This piece is weird. Look at us being unique!”
But you accidentally say,
“This piece is weird. There’s no platform for this. You’re seriously going to put all your time and effort into something with zero commercial appeal? Why can’t you be more like your peers? Look at how much more successful they are than you. You’re not above rules. You’re not special.”
Jesus, this is going really poorly. You take a deep breath and you try to say,
“This is a really big topic you’re taking on. The research is gonna be super fun and interesting!”
But you accidentally say, like a goddamn predator,
“This is a really big topic you’re taking on. You’re definitely gonna offend somebody with this. Stay in your lane, would you? You look like an ignorant asshole. …Don’t ask me what your lane is, that’s your job to know!”
Did this inner-predator cause the depression or is it a result? I ask myself that all the time. Truth is, it’s a mix.
Down in the hole, it’s totally dark, enclosed, safe. There’s zero stimulation, which is both good and bad. You can’t get eaten, but you also can’t be inspired. You’re not gonna find ancient Egyptian statues down in a hole.
Or… you will, actually. It happens all the time. But you know what I mean.
If you stay down there too long, you get hungry and weak. You forget what it’s like to play. You get kind of a warped idea of what you can and can’t handle out there in the world because you’re not testing yourself.
Every single sound outside your hole becomes a potential predator because you won’t let yourself pop up and take a look at what’s really going on out there.
Here’s what’s really going on — yes, there are legitimate predators out there. Maybe you’ve dealt with them before. Maybe you have horrific memories that continue to haunt you. But this particular predator…? The one who’s been super mean every time you try to come up for some air?
She doesn’t actually have any teeth.
She can say mean things but she can’t actually enunciate very well, which ends up sounding pretty ridiculous. And she can kinda gum at you, but she can’t draw blood unless you stick around and let her gum you for, like, a really, really long time.
You’ve gotta step past her and go do what groundhogs do best. And I’m not talking about predicting the weather or trapping Bill Murray in a meta nightmare movie. I’m talking about this: