I have to write.
Let me just say that and put it out there, because some people I am sure we see that as an odd thing to say, but I have to write. It’s an imperative, a drive, and addiction. I can’t explain it clearer than that. It is not a choice, not really, not as such. I have to write.
If, as is probably the case, you’re not afflicted in this way yourself, then I am sure it will seem a strangely melodramatic statement. After all, this is writing we are talking about, it’s not a drug, not like nicotine, or caffeine, or alcohol or heroin (three of which I have been addicted to at one point or other in my life). When I have tried to explain this need to people, one or two have made the odd salient point like this…
‘It is not a chemically driven dependency, it’s simply a choice, after all, you chose to write, or not to write…’
Which is, on one level at least, perfectly true. Except it’s not, it never has been, and those who tell me this are missing out the most important thing about addiction… Addiction to anything is ultimately a matter of the mind. A physical addiction to drugs is only half the problem with drug addiction, otherwise, when someone kicks a habit and gets cleaned up, they would never run the risk of slip back to old habits. There is a reason AA hands out chips for sobriety. There is a reason why an alcoholic remains an alcoholic their whole life, even if they don’t touch a drink for decades. Chemical dependency may be a physical effect, but addiction is much more than just a chemical dependency.
So when I say I need to write and explain it is an imperative born of an addictive personality, that is exactly what I mean by the word ‘need’. It is a drive, a compulsion, a dependency upon which my state of mind rests. Sometimes it is a soft drive, sometimes it is no more than a tingle at the back of my mind, other times it is an absolute need, an absolute imperative. I need to focus my brain, to release the pressure, to let my mind run free, and if that sounds weird, well I never claimed to not be a little odd once in a while…
To be clear, however, I don’t need readers (oh I like them, want them, love them and love people reading my various witterings, but I don’t need them) I don’t need validation of my writing, or praise for it or to sell lots books, all these things would be and are nice but none of them is the actually the reason I write. I write because what I need, actually need is to write, and I have known this for a long time. Here then is a truth, somewhat simplified, but born of experience.
Writing does not make me happy, but not writing makes me sad.
When I’m not writing, and here I mean not writing at all rather than not doing so at a given point in time, then I slowly roll downhill towards the borders of depression. Not writing may not depress me in of itself, but it puts me in a place where depression can take hold of me if other factors fall into place. Depression is not being sad btw, that is an often made mistake, being happy or sad has little to do with clinical depression, which is why I said the above statement was somewhat simplified.
Lets just put it plainly when I am not writing I am on the road to depression. The need, the inner drive I have, which makes me for want of another word ‘need’ to write is an imperative I cannot escape. Its also an imperative I have no desire to escape, for I know full well from where it comes. Indeed, why would I wish to escape from the thing which is my escape…
When I was a teenager, a gawky, awkward, too clever by half, difficult and misfit of a teenager, I struggled with the world. And yes, that’s what all teenagers do to one extent or another, but I struggled more than most. Struggled to the point I considered leaving it more than once. Struggled with a depression that raged undiagnosed from my early teens to my mid-twenties, and this was the mid 80’s, the approach the world took to depression was somewhat less sympathetic at the time. I learned to self-medicate, the way most teenagers do. But I also learned the best self-medication for me was to write. Somehow, losing myself in a world of my imagination for an hour or two, hammering words out on my dad’s old typewriter while I played the sisters of mercy on the record player took me away from myself. Or perhaps it truer to say it took me to myself, my real self, the one that was not so awkward, gawky and confused. Writing became my medication, my escape and my release. Melodramatic as it may seem if I had not turned to writing I suspect I would not be here now writing this, and not because I was not a writer… Because there was always an alternative way to escape. The one from which there is no coming back…
As I grew older and slightly less awkward, the imperative to write stayed with me. It long since ceased to be about escape and my writing is far more complex and different from those immature scribblings of yesteryear. But the drive to write remains, not just as a coping mechanism, but as part of me, a dependency I have built, which given the alternatives I could have chosen is at least a creative force within my life. A good imperative, a desire and need that makes me better than I would otherwise be. But it remains a need.
I have to write…
Why then am I telling you all this my eclectic bunch of blog readers and anyone who stumbles over this along the way? Well its mental health awareness week, in the middle of mental health awareness month, and my need to write is much to do with my mental health, or to be more exact maintaining my good mental health. I don’t write an awful lot on the subject of depression. Writing may be my therapy of choice, but it is personal therapy, a mechanism that works for me that no clinician ever prescribed. I don’t need to write about my lifelong struggle with depression (and I am not currently under the influence of that old black dog.) But I have written about depression a few times in the past, and if by writing this and dropping links to my previous post on the subject I succeed only in helping one person in some small way come to terms with, or raising their awareness of, the disease of depression by a microscopic amount then its an exercise of worth. Writing is my way to fight my demons, talking to someone, which I never did, is probably a better place to start, and having a general conversation about depression is something we all need to do sometimes…
Previous posts related to this subject…
Depression and talking about it
Darkest fears: behind the masks
Instead of coffee, I write in the morning.
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yes! exactly! finally, i’ve found a kindred spirit. my friends always think it odd that i’m always writing something in the notes section of my phone — from long paragraphs to short musings — even during class, i’m constantly fiddling with words, and i can never really explain why i feel the need to type out every single epiphany or major emotion that hits me
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Yes, get exactly where you are coming from. Doing my creative work is my meaning and purpose in life, which it took me a good while to figure out. Without it I get depression pretty easily, because life without creative projects is so flat and too shallow for me. So this phrase of yours ”Writing does not make me happy, but not writing makes me sad” is certainly true for me too.
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