Antidepressants and Writing
On going up and down and down and up again. And again.
Congrats Barbara Tannenbaum on winning the Two Lines Press 2022 Subscription, including their first release of the year This Is Us Losing Count.
I took antidepressants for the first time before I cared at all about how it would impact my writing. I was listening to the advice of my mother, a therapist, who told me ‘you don’t have to be miserable while also going through a hard time’. That advice has helped me many times.
This isn’t a screed against the numbness brought on by antidepressants and how it squelches creativity. On the contrary, I find it quite difficult to write anything when I’m at the bottom of the well, unable to find the needle with which to sew myself whole. I’m just reflecting on the relationship between this one particular drug and my work. What I’ve learned about myself and antidepressants is that they make me capable of not sinking to the lowest depths of depression, but they also make it difficult to experience the highs that are so important right now. Sometimes you need to be numb, and sometimes you need to be able to feel emotions with your whole body and not just your head. Most recently, I’d gone a bit too long on the numb side, due to circumstances outside my control and which are too mundane to recap here.
I came across this piece from The New York Times a few years ago on how little data there is about long-term (i.e. years and years without stop) antidepressant use and withdrawal when trying to quit. I’ve always conceived of my own use of antidepressants as something that I need ‘just for right now’, ‘just this time’, and there’s always the hope that the next time will be the last time. I’m not sure where this conviction comes from. On this most recent revolution, I’m thinking that there must be a larger pattern to this cycle, and maybe I can try to read the waves.
I don’t think a writer needs to be depressed in order to produce good, meaningful work. But you do need to be willing to become tangled up, with and about others. The goal is not to slowly unravel or straighten so that we’re all holding hands, avoiding one another’s gaze. The goal is to stay knotted up, get even more knotted until we can feel the grip of our partners without seeing them, until we feel their presence tugging us deeper into the knot even if our eyes never meet.
And on the note of being collectively tangled up in grief and happiness, I have a new piece out in The Puritan about sea turtles and reptilian gender panic that takes an unusual narrative approach to the topic. I hope you enjoy it <3
What I’m Reading
The Desert by Brandon Shimoda. A mix of poetry and journal entries, Brandon’s willingness to stay in the uncomfortable spaces of sorrow is what draws me to his work, along with his dedication to the history of Japanese American incarceration in this country. His is a body of work in which you can feel the poet straining against his own propulsive force to continually return to the painful material, move through it toward meaning, return to daily routine, and do it all again.
Tin House is open for applications to its Fall Residencies. Deadline March 7.