I myself have suffered from clinical depression and been on medicine since I was a teenager. I've had bouts of going off my meds and feeling suicidal as well. It pains me to see so many creative people losing the fight within themselves, a very real battle that is difficult to understand unless you've lived it first hand. And, probably like so many other creative minds through the years, I used my writing to try and help me defeat the angst I felt from within that I couldn't control.
I started writing when I was a young girl. I entered my first Young Author's contest in second or third grade and won. Incidentally, I was very good at dialogue; when my friends came over to play, I was the one that "directed the script", telling them what they had to say and how to move about the "scene". It's a wonder I had any friends left since I always wanted the "storyline" to go my own way. At this time, my "stories" were typical hopes and dreams that all little girls of my generation wanted: a handsome prince, a happy life with a family.
As I stumbled through my tumultuous teenage years, my writing became darker in the wake of being diagnosed with clinical depression. Recently, I came upon some of my poems that I had tucked away, and I'm always shocked when I read them. I can't believe it was actually my writing, as if some other being had invaded me and taken over my mind. My prose at that time was hopeless, dark and full of dread, and any reader could feel the fathomless pain living within the soul who wrote it.
To make it worse, when I was seventeen my sister-in-law (my idol and an aspiring writer herself) committed suicide. She suffered from manic depression and was obsessed with vampire movies. It was a shock to all of us. She left no clues, no signs that she was hurting so badly she had to end her life leaving my brother to raise their two young sons by himself. I know my brother was devastated; but, I too was heartbroken. The woman I looked up to, that I wanted to be, that I could talk to about my dreams of being a writer was gone. It didn't help that I wasn't in the greatest of emotional health myself. For years, I would stop and think about her and her dreams to "make it big" as a writer, wondering if had we known, she could have been saved (to this day, I cannot watch anything about vampires, let alone read any books--the vampire craze has me on edge.)
After her death, I put my writing aside. Still, I kept a journal like a lot of teenage girls do, reflecting on silly high school issues and what not. I kept these too. Looking back now, my entries make me squirm...how young and naive I was, how petty and stupid. Still, the elements of my depression could be felt in the overall negativity of my writing. At that time, I was suffering from my second bout of anorexia and seeing a psychiatrist, on my first real dose of antidepressants--Prozac to be exact. My suicidal tendencies were strong.
I can remember asking myself why I felt the need to be self-destructive. I was intelligent and in my first year of college on an academic scholarship. I had advisers and friends who believed in me, helping me as I struggled silently. But deep inside, my thoughts were dark, and again, my writing from these times in my life shows it. Somewhere within, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was always on the edge of a major meltdown, a ticking time bomb that was set to go off. Like a lot of young college students, I had no idea where I was going. However, unlike most, I remember thinking, "It doesn't matter anyway, I'm never going live past my twenties." It was a sense of impending doom in a totally undramatic sense, one that only a person with clinical depression can possibly understand.
I know this is going to sound cliche, but my life changed in the matter of one summer--when I met my husband my sophomore year of college. It was a bad year, a change in medicines once again and my family moved out of state while I stayed behind to try and finish school. After a series of bad relationships, I had decided to not date for a while; I felt lost, and I needed to get myself in order before I could take on anyone else's baggage (which most of the guys I dated had in spades). When my husband finally asked me out , I had no preconceived notions, even though he was the exact opposite of every guy I ever dated. I didn't expect our relationship to go anywhere. I was on a one way trip--by myself--to an indescribable place. Still, I took the chance and went out with him.
On our first date, I told him about my clinical depression--my thoughts were, "I might as well get this over with now...scare him off because when he finds out what a freak I am, it won't matter anyway." However, in that moment, my future husband reacted as you would never expect another twenty-one year old "boy" to react--he told me it didn't matter that I had issues; he liked me and wanted to see where this could lead. I don't know if I believe in the whole "love at first sight" idea, but for me, this was a defining moment: after years of feeling lost within my own unexplainable despair, I was actually worth something to someone who hardly knew me, despite my deep-seated flaws. My husband was, and remains to this day, my knight in shining armor, the one who took the chance and saved me from my own destruction.
It shouldn't be any surprise that my writing at that time took a different path as well. I no longer wrote the dark poetry. My prose was lighter, full of hope. My husband helped me find a confidence within myself that was buried so far below the surface, I never even knew it existed. I broke out of my shell, finished my Bachelor's degree with honors--something I never thought would happen. And, ten years later, I began writing my first full novel--my childhood dreams finally realized, and ten years more with a publishing contract under my belt.
It hasn't been an easy road. My husband's stood by my side, nearly twenty years of toiling together, through medicine changes and even a hospitalization, we worked as a team. Ironically, he's a physician--as a kid, I hated doctors because of everything I had to go through, and never in a million years did I ever think I'd be married to one. But, my logical and devoted husband helped me understand my condition as physiological, something that I shouldn't be ashamed of since clinical depression runs in my family and I have no control over my genetic makeup. My husband's inner strength helped light my way, empowered me to realize my full potential--and after twenty years, he still stands by my side, totally supporting my need to fulfill myself now as a writer.
At first, I was hesitant about telling people I write romance novels. There's a certain stigma attached to them. Of course, I justified it with the fact that I write Historical Romance--you know, it's more "intellectual" and requires more research. Still, the end result is the same. Reflecting on where I came from, it makes absolute sense why I choose to write romantic stories with a Happily Ever After. My life experience is evidence that I've been able to conquer my inner demons and find my true self with the help of my soul mate at my side. The characters I develop have so much to overcome, whether it be historical events, social pressures, familial problems, or even rape. In the end, my hero and heroine always have their happily ever after together, and I feel triumphant when they do, as if they are living and breathing beings.
Clinical depression isn't something we have to go through alone. For reasons only he knew, Robin Williams felt he had to face his demons by himself. If anything positive can come from this tragedy, I hope his death will bring more awareness on this devastating medical condition and what it can do to people who need only feel they are worth something to someone somewhere. The world has truly lost a wonderful soul, and I hope wherever he is now, Mr. Williams has finally found his happily ever after.