Like a black wool hood, depression slips down on me. The blackness precludes thought, and the wool adds to fogginess. Clear thinking becomes addled, a dreadful feeling results in non-action, self- loathing is omnipresent, and any writing is impossible. Melancholia, derived from the Greek phrase melaina chole meaning ‘black bile’, is known as the first description of depression by Hippocrates 24 centuries ago. Black. Black. Black.

When I am grappling with my depression, dread rules my thoughts. Retreating to my bed is the most I can do. There, dread continues, but eventually I sleep. Sleep is a safe haven. A particularly cruel characteristic of depression is its dog-chasing-its-tail cycle: Sleeping and inaction cause self-loathing, which, in turn, aids and abets a withdrawal from the world: more sleeping. Paul Verlaine, 19th century French poet wrote “A vast black sleepfalls over my lifesleep, all hopesleep, all desire.”

A depressive and suicide, Sylvia Plath recorded in a journal: “Very depressed today. Unable to write a thing. Menacing gods. I feel outcast on a cold star, unable to feel anything but an awful helpless numbness.”

Almost cliche, depressed writers are myriad: Arthur Rimbaud, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Rainer Marie Rilke, Virginia Woolf, David Foster Wallace, James Baldwin, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson. Yet their depressions were not cliche but dangerously real: Of this list of 15, seven committed suicde.

Before awarding Best Screenplay for a film at the 2014 Oscars ceremony, Robert DeNiro offered his own thoughts: “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

Many have asked, “Is there a correlation between creativity and depression?” Because of my own experience, I would have to answer ‘no’. Yet there are studies that say ‘yes’. One such study examined data on 1.2 million Swedish citizens over a 40-year period and found that people in creative careers were more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder than those in other professions. They also found that writers were 121% more likely to suffer from depression, and about 50% more likely to take their own lives than the public overall. Then still other findings can only proffer a meek ‘maybe’. Christa Taylor’s paper Creativity and Mood Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis reports results from a study that comprised three distinct research approaches, all of which suggested that though some correlations appear there is limited empirical data.

Rilke wrote: “If my devils are to leave me, I’m afraid my angels will take flight as well.”

If one can say that there is anything good about depression, then I would propose that when it lifts, gratitude replaces it. And, for me, gratitude’s positivity leads me back to the keyboard. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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