A recent article on the Thought Catalog talked about the relationship between writing and mental illness that sparked quite a discussion. Our own Lynne Cantwell gave a very thoughtful and intelligent response here. For many of us, the most offensive paragraph (of several) in the original article was this:
The common theory for why writers are often depressed is rather basic: writers think a lot and people who think a lot tend to be unhappy. Add to that long periods of isolation and the high levels of narcissism that draws someone to a career like writing, and it seems obvious why they might not be the happiest bunch.
To my mind, this author made many ridiculous and unsubstantiated assumptions, but I’ll confine my response to two of them. Per his paragraph above,
People write because they are drawn to isolation.
People write because they are highly narcissistic.
A couple of my Facebook friends have linked to this blog post that more or less equates the writing life with mental illness. The author of the post starts out by mentioning the notoriously troubled relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda (who probably had some type of mood disorder), and goes on to name a number of other writers who have battled depression, among them Sylvia Plath. He then suggests that writers tend to be unhappy people because they “think a lot,” and also because of their “long periods of isolation and…high levels of narcissism.”
I’m not sure why, but it seems as if every writer I have ever known has been what I would call “damaged goods”. Those of you nodding your heads know what I’m talking about. You’ve probably noticed it when looking in the mirror. Writers are, for the most part, those people with social obstacles built in, like little ice-makers, in the freezer section of their brains.
Maybe it’s depression, maybe a weight problem, drinking, drugs, or some psychic pain born of an awful childhood. Your father didn’t appreciate you, Mom liked one of your siblings best and for some reason couldn’t remember your name a lot of the time. And now you’re the uneasy-looking guy or gal who can’t quite meet other people’s gazes head-on, with a twitch that started the day you found the family dog poisoned by the steak some nasty neighbor threw over the back fence to avenge his befouled lawn. You’re a writer, if you also happen to have the requisite desire to somehow right those scales, to make it all better through the stories you tell. Continue reading “Messages From The Land of Insecure Sidelong Glances by Tom Szollosi”