A while ago, I stumbled upon an interesting article by the novelist, Alex Preston Does Prozac help artists be creative? and reading it reminded me of my own experience of prescription drugs in my teens and twenties.
In his article, Alex Preston interviews a number of successful writers about their experience of taking anti-depressants and one thing that comes to light is that although the pills might help people to overcome blocks and inhibitions so that they can start writing again, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily producing very good work.
I first experienced depression as a young child and I was receiving treatment by the time I was twelve. Before I started taking the pills I had always thought of my extremes of emotion as being like the weather, some days dark and overcast, some bright and sunny. Sometimes, with a sense of dread, I could feel the storm clouds gathering; other times I could feel the dark clouds lifting away.
How I dealt with the darkness was through drawing, painting and writing poems. One time, I designed the cover of a poetry book which I called ‘Poems of the Darkness and the Light,’ and my teacher didn’t believe I had made the title up. As if children could not feel the darkness as well as the light.
My darkness and light were part of my nature, they were my micro-climate, and after I started taking anti-depressants I stopped feeling like me. It felt as if someone else was living my life, but doing a better job of it than I would have done in terms of passing exams and doing the work at university.
I stopped taking anti-depressants some ten years after I started, because when my older sister killed herself with prescription drugs it seemed clear to me that they weren’t any kind of cure at all. The withdrawal was terrible.
But in time, I started to write again. I learnt to flow with my own rhythm of highs and lows. It felt like the difference between trying to find your way in the dark within the narrow beam of a torch, then switching it off and waiting until your eyes acclimatise and gradually the dark is less dark, there are stars and glimmers, a faint smudge of hedges, a pale ribbon of road.
All these years later, I remember what it felt like to be numbed out of my own life on a diet of pills. If I hadn’t been shocked out of it by my sister’s suicide I probably would have stayed like that, and never discovered the fertile darkness, or come home to myself.
The Uses of Sorrow – by Mary Oliver
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.
My feelings about anti-depressants have come out of my personal experience and I’m sure other people will have very different views and stories. Have you ever taken anti-depressants? Did you feel they helped or hindered your creativity?
Matt Haig (Reasons to Stay Alive) has written a moving and thoughtful article about depression here. Like me, he believes there isn’t any one size fits all solution.
If you think you may be suffering from depression there’s a balanced guide that’s well worth reading here
You may also like to read Carolyn Hughes’ moving account of her own experience and treatment in The Hurt Healer