Friday, July 3, 2015

The Neurosis of Writing

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning and came across a post by Anne Rice referring to an article from The Writing Life, Writing and Mental Health. Now I've seen this type of study before, some scientific whatever claiming that creative people--in particular, writers--are often prone to various forms of mental illness (depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.). I've never been one to lump people into convenient categories, but in this case I feel there is some merit to the idea. I can't speak for the masses, but I know for as long as I can remember, I have felt out of step with the rest of the world.

They say you don't know you're crazy if you are, so who's to say what I'm feeling is normal or some form of actual neurosis? And for that matter, what is normal? I have no idea. I know what's normal for me. I know that I often walk around with a narrator in my head, as if I'm a third party to my own life. I have conversations, both mental and verbal, with people who aren't there, and while I can say they're simply characters from my creations, the truth is, that's not always the case. I have alter egos living inside, personalities far more interesting than anything I could hope to assume in real life. Most never make it into any of my literary creations; they were never meant to. Does the fact that they haven't yet manifested in reality mean I'm not, clinically speaking, schizo? Who's to say? Maybe everyone has them.

Maybe not.

I've suffered from some form of depression most of my life. Not that I would readily call it that. Sometimes it's like a quiet hum in the background, a comforting whisper telling me that all of this doesn't really matter. Sometimes, like now, it's a hand reaching out from the ether, stripping back and exposing the raw pain of reality, forcing me to retreat to the warm safety of my apathetic cocoon. Those who have never suffered from depression can't identify with that sentiment. Those who have...well, you know who you are. I'd save you a seat, but I prefer to suffer alone. I'd say it's the writer in me, but really, how would I know since I've never known anything else?

As I said, I can't speak for other writers, but the fact that someone has deemed it important enough to study must mean there's some kind of common trait we all share. And when I say writers, I mean creators of fiction--those who breathe life into the demons of their imagination. For one, like any form of exploration, we have to be able to navigate and chronicle what lies beneath the surface of said imagination. It's not all sunshine and happy endings. There are dark corners and flashes of brilliance there, fragments of nightmares, heartache, suffering, true joy, and angst so deep it makes your teeth hurt just to think of it. And you have to be brave enough to wade in and tap that well to bring forth something that rings authentic. Something that speaks to that subconscious bullshit meter we all possess and tells it: this is the real deal. This person knows. This person has gone there so I don't have to. Has dipped a toe in the crazy pool and shaken the words onto the page where everyone else can experience them from the safety of their own reality.

Oh yeah, it's that. And it's more than that. Most would never consider that this person who dropped these words onto the page actually lives there, has given it an address, maybe even keeps a post office box in the neighborhood. Like a cop who, of necessity, becomes numb to the atrocities of human life, the writer has to find a way to function in the face of that core knowledge. The neurosis of playing empathy against omnipotence, of being both creator and destroyer, wears on a soul. It separates you from the herd, tosses you back on the fringes, outside looking in, because that's the only way you can truly observe.

If all this sounds slightly manic, that's because it is. Writers know this. We live with it. Are we crazy? Neurotic? Depressed? Schizophrenic? Bi-polar? I honestly couldn't say. I don't have a convenient label for what I am other than Writer. Take it for what you will.