Friday, August 21, 2015

On Depression, Gaming, and Not Writing

My hair is starting to grow back. That's how I know things are turning around for me. I'm always a fan of talking about depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses, but I admit that, at the same time, it's been difficult for me to talk about this time in my life while I've been going through it.

Why? Mostly because it's exhausting. When I'm depressed, I don't want to do anything and I don't have the patience to sit there and tell someone I'm depressed and then have them try and fix me or ask me what triggered it or have them treat me tenderly when I just don't give a crap. It's wasted energy for them and me. At least while I'm in the thick of it.

But of course there was a trigger. Of course I want to be fixed. Of course I want to be loved. The problem is that with depression I just can't feel any of those things. That's the most insidious part, the part that people who haven't gone through significant depressions can't quite grasp. You're just numb. You think, "Oh, I should be feeling happy right now, so I better pretend that though I feel nothing." Or, "Oh, I should be mad, try being mad." "I probably should feel sad about this, but I literally do. not. care."

That's been my life since last November. Having no feelings.

It really all began when I realized that there was almost a 100% chance that I'd never be able to use my own name on a book again. That, due to my lackluster sales, I was already "washed up" as an author. As author Natalie Whipple. It took less than two years, really, though I tried so, so hard to pretend it wasn't happening in 2014…the year after I debuted. How quick the shine of authorhood can wear off. How swift the industry can declare you a failure. (And please, for the love, do not tell me it's not true and I'm amazing and all that crap. It only attempts to negate the feelings that were/are very real to me.)

I was mad. I was devastated. I was confused. And, ultimately, I was helpless to change any of it. I had tried—all the events and more books and pretending I was amazing and trying to sellsellsell. Maybe I could change it. Maybe I just wasn't working hard enough. Maybe…but no.

By October-ish of last year, I was spent in about every way. I'd used what little money I had to travel and market and indie publish. I used all of my creative power and killed the rest in this blitz of overworking myself. I used up all my feelings and hope and willpower. I had nothing left to give, so I cracked and broke and I didn't even care to pick up the pieces.

I tried to keep writing. Did NaNo. Did some contract work. But it only made things worse. I only broke into more pieces.

So I stopped writing. I ate a lot. Gained almost ten pounds. Slept at least 12 hours a day. I played my part at conferences, pretending that writing was still something I cared about and not something that had shattered me once again. I tried to keep my house and children cared for, but failed a lot. I started forgetting almost every conversation people attempted to have with me. I got shingles. That was fun.

And, I started gaming more. I've always gamed, but in this time when writing has become torture and not an escape, gaming has saved me. It's given me a place to go and hide, a place where I don't have to think about my life, a place where I can be safe while I work through all this shit. It's hard to explain to people who don't game, who think games are a waste, who don't understand what they mean to some people. But sometimes I think Guild Wars 2 saved my life. It kept me from going to uglier places, more dangerous thoughts. I got to meet people who didn't expect me to talk about writing and who didn't just see me as a writer.

Because it's really hard to be a writer who's not writing. The best I can equate it to is "being the single person in a room of married couples." Everyone's talking about how great marriage is, and what they're doing together, and their plans for their amazing future as an amazing adorable pukey couple. And you're single and kinda cool with it and you want to roll your eyes a lot.

But not only that, it's the questions and reactions. "So, what are you working on?"

Sweet murder, I hate that question right now. Because when I say, "Absolutely nothing." the reaction is exhausting. There's usually a pause. And then a "Oh, well…must be nice to be on a break." And there's this awkwardness in the air because what do we even talk about if it's not writing and books and publishing?

If I feel like really freaking out a debut author, I mention that I've even considered quitting and that my writing career is already shot two years in. You can see the fear in their eyes, the realization that maybe the same thing could happen to them. And then they run, run away as fast as possible. Probably because I have bad luck and they worry it might rub off on them. And, hey, it might. I don't blame them. No one wants to hear the kinds of things publishing has handed me. No one wants it to be them.

But my hair is growing back. I'm losing weight. I'm not sleeping all day and I'm finding meaning in things that aren't writing. My house is cleaner. My mind is waking up. Slowly, slowly, I'm starting to feel things again. The chill of fear. The heat of anger. The ache of sadness and the brightness of joy. And feeling…I have hopes that feeling will lead me back to writing.

At some point, at least.


  1. It's tough coming back from that state-of-mind, I know. I've been in a slump for awhile myself, and it's encouraging to realise how not-alone I am.

    Cyber hugs.

  2. Been there (not gaming, but my own way of coping & hanging on by my fingernails). This post is a gift to fellow sufferers, fellow writers, and especially to those who don't understand mental illness, specifically depression. Too many people think it means lots of crying. You articulated the reality heartbreakingly well.

    Hope things continue to turn up in that regard and that the joy of writing will find its way back into your life, in whatever form it needs to be. 💛

  3. Natalie, I hope you know I really admire you and think you're awesome! Thanks for opening up about this. I know exactly where you are coming from. After I moved to Indiana 4 years ago I got really depressed and stopped writing. For a long time I tried to pretend I was still part of that sphere and mindset, but I've come to accept that I'm not a writer anymore, and that's okay. I've found other hobbies I enjoy and that allow me to be creative and for now that's enough.

  4. Everything you said is what I've been going through all summer, Natalie. Gaming included. I've been meaning to tell my story and you articulated yours so well, I may have the courage to go through with it. I'm glad the silver lining is coming into view for you. :)

  5. Thank you for opening up about your depression. It's a hard thing to express and it's nice that it's becoming more open for people to talk about. I went through different stages of depression since December 2013 because my doctor decided to change my thyroid medication---without telling me. She kept asking if I was doing something different, when she was the one who did. In that time, my outlet was the show Parks and Recreation and sitting on the couch. I wrote two short stories in that time, but couldn't focus on work the way I wanted. I'm finally starting to feel like myself and it's amazing how the world opens up again. Being a writer is hard when coupled with depression and I wish you the best on whatever you decide for the future.

  6. I know this feeling so well. Sending you lots of love and commiseration. <3

  7. You are brave to write this and put it out there.

    I've been depressed before, after having a baby and moving to a place I hated. I stopped writing . I had to totally reexamine my self worth. I realized I didn't want to BE a writer. People (family and such) saw it as part of who I was--I did too. But it's not who I am. It's just something people do sometimes. I am a mother and a daughter of God--those things will never go away, but writing is temporary, impermanent, and not terribly important in the whole scheme of things.

    I can echo what Debbie said--I'm not a writer anymore and I have other hobbies and things are all right.

    It took me a long time to get that attitude.

    I felt like a complete failure after getting 100% rejection letters for three different novels I wrote. But I don't worry about it so much anymore. Publishing sucks, and I will continue to enjoy good books and talented authors without aspiring to be like that. Success is out of my control anyway, and failure was not my fault. I did my best.

    Also, Hyperbole and a Half has a good post about depression.

  8. I went through something similar when my Big Five publisher dropped me after one book. My outlet has been LEGO constructions. I have a huge town now. Sending hugs and best wishes.

  9. So much love. I've been struggling with my mental health recently, and I just want you to know that your openness and honesty has always made you one of my favorite authors. I wish you all the best.

  10. I've gone through some similar stuff in my life. Though I am not published, I know how depression cuts the emotion out of life and it has heavily affected my writing. Once someone told me: "do something else for a while. The writing will find you." It's not easy, but it did come back.


  11. Thank you for writing this. This is a truth for many writers.

  12. Thank you for writing with honesty. I am also struggling with depression and anxiety, and it has been crippling to me with my writing. I will be praying for you!

  13. Natalie, I am trying to hug you really hard with my thoughts. If you feel a strange psychic presence smothering you a little bit, that is me, sending you love and lots and lots of hugs.

  14. Love this post! Your strength is evident. Your words really are an inspiration.

  15. Living with depression myself, I can say first, that therapy helps enormously. And that among other things, when it's bad, one of the things it does to us is stifle any creative impulse we might have. I've had my share of black wall days too.

  16. Thanks for your honesty, Natalie. Everyone wants to talk about those that debut and hit lists and take off w/a shining career, but no one wants to be open about how hard it can be to be a mid-lister. You've always been open and I super appreciate it. Wishing you nothing but the best!

  17. First off, I love reading your blog for its raw honesty, pain, and practicality about writing. I sincerely thank you for taking time to share your insights and struggles with writing and life in general. While I probably have nothing to say that can change how you feel about your writing future (the modern publishing industry is an ever evolving jabberwocky, after all, who knows what is in store?!), I will say this about your past: don't forget to be dang proud of what you have accomplished so far! You deserve to be proud. I have been writing for 9 years now, and am lucky to have had an agent for the last several, and still still still my last 3 books have all failed to find a home yet. Sometimes I envy artists, who may display and share a canvas with the world, while my stories languish/live only in digital files right now, unseen, unspoken and largely unread. It is too easy to feel judged by others for having nothing visible to show for all my work, to feel taunted by the empty space on the bookshelf I thought, I once believed I could fill. Several of your stories, both traditional and self-published, have claimed such a space. Please know that your books, while maybe not multi-million dollar bestsellers, have touched strangers like me and given us better days. I'm just one person, but I hope my thanks for your ink brings you at least a thimble's worth of happiness. House of Ivy & Sorrow is one of my favorites! I wrote this poem to balm my bleeding ink when my first novel failed to find a home. Perhaps it will also help you find new words/ink to dream:

    After Midnight

    In the deepest hour of night
    I bury a once starlit thing--
    What dreams may teach me:
    Glass slippers break easily
    Leaving only shards.
    And yet . . .
    Cinderella's next step
    After midnight
    When the ball and all
    Her gossamer glories
    Were completely undone,
    That step was the most important.
    Barefoot in the dark,
    She made her choice
    To go on.
    “Must I write?”

    I must.

    *L1 paraphrased and L16 taken from: Rilke, Maria Rainer. (1903). “Letters to a Young Poet.” TinyLetter.

    1. This comment is a gift, as much to Natalie as to me, it feels. Thank you.

  18. Just going to leave a tiny pebble here... for hope.

  19. Thank you for being so open and honest with this. Pretending things are fine, and have been fine, only keeps things emotionally dark. Hopefully shining this light helps you, as well as others in similar situations.

  20. Hugs, Natalie. I have been thinking of you and wishing you the best--health and happiness.

  21. I appreciate that you shared this so honestly. Thanks.

  22. Natalie, as ever, I am so grateful and so impressed by your willingness to share these parts of your life with us. I wish I were half so bold. Thank you, truly, for giving voice to the silent, secret difficulties that so many of us face. And please know that you have our support -- my support -- whenever and however you need it. <3

  23. Your post reminded me of when I realized that I wouldn't ever be a professional musician. I was bitter for a good 10 years before I had a reawakening. Now I can enjoy music again. Best wishes. Love, Igitur

  24. Know that I love the things you have created, and whether or not you create anything else in that same format, those things are still good in my eyes.

    You don't know me (I think I've only ever commented here a couple of times, although I've read countless posts and followed for years) but my best hopes go out to you, that you will be Okay, no matter what happens next, and know that I am glad that your heart is getting lighter.

  25. Hi, thank you for sharing a bit of your life, its like reading my own life, somehow trying to find a steady foothold here is insane.

  26. Being an author really can suck firfore a lot of people. And I wish it wasn't li ke that. And I hope one day it changes. I do a lot of gaming anyway but I certainly do more when I'm not writing for whatever reason. sometimes I feel guilty about it but most of the tune time u I don't. I try to just let myself do what I do.
    Anyway, I'm a big believer in nothing lasting forever so I'm glad to see that maybe things are turning around for you again.

  27. I am so glad you are coming out of this. Yay for hair growth! Seriously, I can relate to 90% of what you've shared here. I just have to remind myself what Dory says: Just keep swimming.

  28. Wishing you all the best. Thank you for your honesty.

  29. Aw, Natalie. Hugs to you, my fellow anime nerd. I'm glad you have gaming. I got myself through a super rough patch by playing Tomodachi Life--such a silly game but it cheered me up when I could barely think straight. You're certainly not alone. I had a real reckoning with failure last year. I'm still writing, but I think it's also really really okay to not to do that for a while. I always ask my writer friends what they're working on because I want them to know I care about what they're doing and I want to hear about it...but what I really care about is them, as people, not just as writers. I think just about everyone in this business must also think about quitting or taking a break sometimes.

  30. From what I've read about traditional publishing (from writers with decades of trad publishing under their belts) is that it sucks! It unambiguously and unequivocally sucks! I believe them. I think the way NY publishing does business is often totally insane and that they treat writers badly at best. I can't imagine having to deal with the publishing world's nonsense! I know that sounds harsh but it's the truth. I think taking a break is a wonderful decision! You have other options in life and publishing just isn't that damned important. It just isn't. There are all kinds of things that you can do, so many things to think about and so many ways to be. Maybe you can begin to explore them now, a little at a time.

  31. As always, I so admire how open you are about all of this. So many people have no idea how numbing and life-sucking depression is. I know too well how it is to pretend and keep pushing and keep putting on the face of happy and productive, and I know how, despite how many times you hear "fake it until you make it" that doesn't help. I'm so happy you were able to find an outlet in gaming to keep you afloat during the hardest times.

    I adore you, and I adore your books. I wish that were enough to change the reality of your crappy publishing situation, but I know it's not. So keep taking care of yourself the best you can, whatever that looks like.

  32. I go through this periodically pretty much the same and WOW is the mmo that has saved me from the worst of myself, with breaks for other games and so forth. It's a natural part of the creative process that sometimes you're fired up and going, and sometimes you need to completely stop and recharge. When all your tools in the box can't fix it the trouble can easily be a lack of fuel and playing games, reading - doing anything you enjoy - is a great way to recharge, so I don't think they should ever be viewed as negative things (unless you're so immersed your real life no longer exists of course). Publishing is an industry which is going through a huge sea change in which the stakes feel very high and nobody has a clue how to navigate. As a result horrific things go on as people struggle for a feeling of control - though it feels horribly personal, don't take any of that stuff personally. Easier said than done.

    Breaks are cool. Second lives are great holidays. Being a writer is forever, nobody can take it, but unless you're JK ROwling best not look for the extrinsic rewards. Focus on the inner rewards of making your worlds and having your fun, then you'll never want for something to do or for a source of joy.

  33. I have alopecia areata (a hair loss condition) so I get how hair can be a signpost for how well you're doing with the rest of your life. Glad you're on your way up!

  34. Hugs from a fellow writer. Thank you for this blog post--it's so good to know that we aren't in this crazy stuff alone. Gaming is also my outlet, and helps my mind reset. Who knows? Lurking around WvW and blowing things to smithereens might just be the next piece to inspire a fantastic write. :-) Much ink and papery love. Cata.

  35. I love how you are so real and always telling it like it is about the writing world. So many people think that getting published is the end-all-be-all of writing, but that's kind of like looking at your child's birth as the end of parenting. Ha! Not even close. Just like kids, books go out into the world and become something with a life of their own. Not like I've ever been published or even able to get an agent, but yeah, I do have a child! Anyway, I've been hiking, swimming, and loving my day job lately. I almost feel like the writing dream got me through a crap job I used to have and now that I'm happy again, I am not as attached. Kind of like gaming maybe is for you. Anyway, take care and thanks for this post!

  36. "It's really hard to be a writer who's not writing."

    This. This, 110%.

    Also, gaming (tabletop and video game RPGs) really help recharge my batteries. Sometimes I need a longer recharge, however.

    Depression sucks. Anxiety sucks. Being a writer who's not writing beyond sucks.