Depression isn't a writing aid


I see it quoted all the time. "They wrote their best music on drugs," they say, or "They don't have anything good to write about these days, they're in a happy place now."

I used to think it was true, too. I would lock myself away for hours on end with a notepad and a worn-out biro, trying desperately to turn my negative energy into something positive. I wrote a lot of songs that were strikingly honest - full of minor chords and bold statements. My vocals littered my melodies with hints of the pain I was going through. 

I began to almost crave the feeling. I chose, sometimes, to wallow in that place as I tried to fool myself that it would help to let it all out. A future without a constant cloud hanging over me was difficult to imagine, let alone to accept. 

Like many other people living with mental illness and it's aftermath today, I was lucky enough to survive and begin to see that brighter future. My journey has involved many rocky patches, which i've documented before. My changing diagnoses, the challenging therapy and rehabilitation, and perhaps most notably, the SSRIs.

I'd heard so many things about anti-depressants, especially in the creative community. So many songs growing up referenced these mythical 'happy pills' that were said to make a person numb and devoid of personality to the point where they became nothing more than a robot going through the motions. I suppose the stigma has been fuelled in many ways by the ease of which anyone can get a prescription for such a medication, simply by crying in a doctor's waiting room (which i've done a lot). The length of waiting lists and the agonising referral time for mental health patients has had a large part to play in this. What would you do if you were a doctor? Give someone some medication that might help, or send them away with nothing? It's true, not everyone needs medication and often counselling or an appropriate talking therapy can be far more effective. That doesn't mean to say, though, that any of these people taking medication are robots.

The side-effects of anti-depressants can be horrendous. It's to be expected I suppose, when you're taking something that literally messes with your head (but in a good way most of the time). I felt like an alien for more weeks than I can count, but I got through it in the end. Like any medication, it can take a while to find a type that suits your body and your needs. 

I worried like crazy that this medication would take away my creative flare. I'd become convinced, somehow, that my creativity and writing skills were not down to my years of dedication and countless hours of practice, but rather a highly distressing and unpleasant illness in my brain. If I saw the world like everyone else, how would I ever create anything new or interesting? 

I realise now, when that cloud occasionally returns, that depression is the furthest thing from a writing aid. It's a hindrance and a vicious monster eating away at my work. I used to lock myself away for so many hours purely because it took so long to create. To exit the room with anything worth keeping. When the cloud is here, I sit down and I can't decide on which chord to play first, or which subject to write about. I hate every plugin I have and I hate myself for being a rubbish musician. I sit for so long trying to figure out why it's just not happening. Some days, I manage to break through that wall and make music. But more often than not, i'll become so frustrated that I leave it for another day when the cloud has drifted away.

On a good day, I can create two or three new ideas. I can come up with lyrics and melodies that make me smile from ear to ear, and experimental settings that make my synths sound like water droplets (as used in this one!) Being in a good place doesn't mean you can't write anything powerful or thought-provoking, either. In fact, a stable mental state allows you to detach yourself from difficult emotions whilst maintaining a connection to the subject matter. If I were to compare one ballad I wrote depressed with another I wrote feeling fine, I know which one would most likely contain a better structure and more coherent lyrics!

I never want to welcome the return of that cloud. It doesn't help anyone.