Back and Forth: Does Your Writing Suffer When You're Feeling Better?
By: Francesca Ferrauto
“Life swings like a pendulum, backward and forward, between pain and boredom.” -Arthur Schopenhauer
I’ve been stuck at home for a week, because there is something off with my body. Doctors take it very seriously when there’s something off with your body. Your body is the carefully balanced meat-based machine that carries your soul through life: it must be treated carefully. What’s been fascinating for me to realize throughout this week is that, though I’ve been struggling with depression for a year, maybe longer, no doctor has prescribed me a week of rest, medicine, and all that affiliated business.
Why is it that if the machine carrying my soul through life is slightly damaged, I get to stay in bed for a week, but when its special cargo, my very soul and essence, is wrinkled up and torn to shreds, nobody seems to care?
I did go to therapy, showing all the right signs. I was crying and shaking as I laid out all my deepest wounds on her desk in perfect order. The result of two “urgent” sessions was that I did indeed present some issues, but they have been, after so much time, now functionally integrated in my personality. In short, I presented no real threat to my well-being. The therapist advised me to take a break and come back for another session if I wanted to explore these issues further. But only if I wanted to; nothing urgent.
Have you ever heard such a laid back assessment from a cardiologist? Imagine that: “Yes ma’am, I can see you have a serious heart condition, but you seem to be dealing with it pretty well so, …good luck.”
To be fully honest, I’m no better than those doctors. Even when I was on the verge of a breakdown, I hadn’t taken time off from my stressful and unfulfilling job. Yet, now that my body was aching, I tended to my physical needs with a care that I have never shown my unearthly soul. This isn’t because I don’t give value to my mental health, but simply because I deem other things of a more urgent nature. Sometimes, it feels like two people took residence inside of me — the Über-frau and a wannabe penniless bohemian artist. While the first one is launched on the pathway of her successful career, the other one recites poetry on the street corner for “no money, only good deeds.” One decides where the body goes and the other is just a passenger in for a long silent ride: guess which one’s which.
If you relate to that particular feeling, I’m afraid I’ll have to pop your bubble. The truth is that, unless you have a Dissociation Identity Disorder, all the different opinions that you hear speak with the same voice, your voice. Metaphors aside, it is true that the more my soul was aching, the more I ran away from it. As a writer, I have a pretty big tell for when I am running from myself: I lose the words. The words for this specific writer represent the very reason of existence; they give purpose and meaning to an otherwise purposeless and meaningless journey. However, as a product of a middle-class family, brought up in a society where those like me are supposed to lead the epitome of a proper life, I wasn’t allowed to spend my whole day around words.
Let me be clear, though: it’s not because my parents don’t want me to pursue my passion; it’s just that, frankly, words don’t pay the bills. If my real passion was mechanical engineering, they’d be like: “By all means, please do spend your every-waking-hour with numbers and spreadsheets.” For the “likes of me”— meaning for all those who got good marks in school and grow up to be a well respected member of society — a good life equals productivity and financial stability. The “likes of me” have understood what society wants from them. Society has decided what success means, which talents better serve its needs and those who carry other talents can go find refuge among the other useless painters, poets, novelists, musicians, dancers, dreamers. If we were to pay credit to literature, we would need to believe that the artist — the dreamer— will always be at the margins, because if he or she ever became part of society, the very structure of artistry would weaken and perish.
And alas! There’s the rub.
For in order to write and become who I truly am, I have to accept that, despite my upbringing, I am indeed part of this minority, casting off the respectable person’s shoes. Should I wear this depression as a badge of honor then? Should I be proud of the solitude my craft confines me to? Should I forget that I am carried through life by an earthly coil that seeks comfort and affection? The answer lies somewhere in the infinite middle: I am more than what society had intended me to be and I am also more than what literature wants me to be. I am the artist, but I am also the person. I am the writer and the loving girlfriend, the reliable employee, the tender friend, and so many other things I will be that, even now, I cannot imagine.
I do not wish to make a martyr of myself and, as sweet and tempting as the metaphor of the eternally unhappy genius sounds, what I truly need is to find balance. As we all do. There is no eternal happiness nor unbeatable sorrow, there is only you. Choosing to drunkenly swing between the two until — for a brief moment — you’ll find the latter seems poetic, but my therapist strongly recommends against it.
Whatever has brought you to read this piece, whatever is that you are struggling with, remember that as unique and special as your journey might be, you are not alone in it. Please, do find comfort in the understanding that you do not own the universe, that you don’t control all that is going to happen to you, that you have no power to foresee the future. There is no need to worry over the choice you are about to make, because you will never know the path you did not choose. Hence, make your decisions with care, but do not lose sleep over them, not for too long at least.