Writing in the Darkness of Depression

Disclaimer: This is quite a serious blog post. I make no apologies for this. Life can be rubbish and serious sometimes. You can’t always be funny. Some would say I never started. Normal attempts at humour will be resumed, or at least attempted, shortly.

Going through depression

For those that know me, you will have either heard, seen, or been, a bystander to the episodes of depression I have had over the last 20 years. Such a big number when you look at it like that. 20. Flipping. Years. My anger with depression always bubbles under the surface. But I am thankful for it too. Really.

There are many great mysteries in this world: death, life, the point of wasps, why Donald Trump convinces himself that syrup is a good idea,  Jeremy Hunt… The biggest mysteries in my life are how I’ve made it through depression and how on earth I managed to write in those times.

photo-36 copyAs you will have read in my previous post, ‘The Big Question’, the main character in the novel I’m writing unearths journals written in times of depression. This was no genius ‘lightbulb’ idea. That was me. I did that. I have journals full of outpourings of pain, agony, despair, love, hope and humour. I managed that, somehow, in times when if I’d had one of those kids’ achievement charts on my fridge, you would have given me a fair few gold stars just for brushing my teeth.

I can see now that there were reasons why I could, and did, write. Firstly, I have material now for my novel. Without all that my brain would have to work overtime rooting out memories. I have some amnesia gaps from times when I was depressed. It’s like your mind has so much to deal with, it protects you by deleting some information. That’s all fine and dandy for the truly crappy stuff, but it grieves your heart when you can’t remember that event with your best friend in much detail. Mind you, her memory is rubbish anyway so I could make anything up and get away with it. Am I lying BF?

Another reason why I wrote the journals is because I needed to get it out of my head. The stuff. The very messy stuff. I could barely look people in the eye or verbalise what was happening. I am so thankful that I could still write and read. The written word, without sounding worthy, saved me. I escaped into other writers’ worlds, which offered me refuge from the darkness of my own. I escaped into my own writing, which offered me a place to make sense of the darkness of my world.


Here’s a little light relief from all that ‘depression stuff’ for those feeling like giving up on reading this post. Do please stick with it. We can’t always hide from pain. You certainly can’t if you have depression. You can’t if someone close to you has it either. Unless you shut them away in a cupboard or under the stairs. Note: That was not advice. They will be beyond caring at the time, but may have issues with you once they have recovered and been released from the bunker.  

Confession time. My biggest fear in this world, after needles, swans, geese, moths and heights (I’m one messed up lady), is getting depressed again. Some days, when I feel my mood dropping or I’m really irritable, I get scared. I even have short periods of what you would categorise as ‘low level depression’. But it measures low on the depression richter scale. Soon all becomes good in the world once more (well as much as it can be). Crisis averted.

But the threat lingers of going off the scale and then some. I am reminded that I was once there and I could be again. I know my odds aren’t great. There have been too many long, severe depressions to be naive and think that part of my life could be completely over. I try to live life and leave it behind. On the whole I think I do a pretty good job. But there is a part of me, hidden in that place none of us dare to explore, that is waiting for the bomb to go off.

I try to keep myself as well as I can to ward off the detonation. I do mostly all the right things. I am savvy about this. You could give me a PhD in depression. But if ‘the big one’ comes, that will mean naff all. It will lie, cheat and steal from me.

Here is another, related fear. Now that I am writing and have discovered my identity,  I fear depression could snatch this away from me. If I can’t even get in the shower, how will I ever be motivated to write? Then I remember I have and I can. I wrote regularly in and through the darkness. I hope if that day comes, I will be able to do so again.

Writing about depression

I know it must seem perverse to be writing a novel based on a person’s depression, writing about their depression, written by a person who has had depression. But I ask, who better to do it? I am aware that every time I write of how this woman feels so crushingly lonely, I am susceptible to going back to that barren place. I know that when I detail her pain and suicidal thoughts, I transport myself back to the nothingness.

But here is the difference. I’m not depressed now and that, of course, is a major bonus. I am supported by an amazingly caring husband and an incredibly loyal best friend. Both have seen the very worst and are still here to tell the tale. My family understand much more about depression now, to their unfortunate cost. We don’t always get it right, but we try to work on the relationships that are there. I have a wider family now, through marriage, who are there for me too.

Welcome to my home

I hope and pray that if I was to slip back down into ‘The Pit’ whilst writing this novel that I will be saved by writing in darkness. The evidence is there and appears conclusive. I am alive. Words saved me. I cannot even begin to express how honoured and heartened I would be if one day my words save, encourage or enlighten someone else. That is why I am thankful that I have had depression. The gift is that of experience in words. That is where the light can be found.*

*I’ve learnt to appreciate darkness with little light. This is probably due to my weary and cash-strapped, laden with five kids, light switch warrior Dad. His frenetic switching off of lights, whilst touching the walls for safe passage to each room in the dark, was a constant source of amusement. I’m not laughing so much now. I’ve become my Dad. I regularly follow the trail of the lights my husband leaves on, grunting  and repeating Dad’s mantra, ‘It’s like bloody Blackpool illuminations in here.’ Darkness means cheaper bills. Gizmo knew what he was doing in avoiding the ‘Bright lights, bright lights’. The husband would probably state that many lights makes his wife turn into a Gremlin too.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

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