Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Mysterious Link Between Depression And Being A Writer

Throughout history there have been several inspiring writers, one of them being author Edgar Allan Poe.

Around the world, Poe is considered to be the most inspiring writer; not only during his lifetime but also more than a century after his death. He was a famous poet and author. His works include “The Raven”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Most his stories were tales of mystery that contained gruesome and horrific details of death.

He greatly contributed to several genres, including science fiction. His work has influenced other famous writers and creative talents, such as poet Walt Whitman and film director Alfred Hitchcock.

Many of Poe’s stories had been made into films, such as “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Raven”, and many others. In music, television shows, and even cartoons there have been references to Poe’s material.

During Poe’s life as a writer, many people had respected his work, while others had resented him and saw him only as a self-centered insulated, depressed person with a drinking problem and a troubled past. So this raises a question, is there a link between depression and being a writer? And if so, can this help inspire someone to write thought-provoking literature?

Before answering these questions we first have to look at Poe’s history. Even at a very young age his life was marked by tragedy with the death of his parents before the age of three. At the age of twenty his foster mother, Frances Allen, died of sickness. He had already developed a drinking problem when he was a young adult, but after the death of his wife, Virginia Poe, in 1847, that was caused by tuberculosis, Poe drank even more heavily and displayed increasingly erratic behavior. A year later, he attempted suicide from an overdose of pain killers. Days before his death, a man by the name of Joseph W. Walker had found him on the streets of Baltimore acting delirious and “in great distress and… in need of immediate assistance.” On October 7, 1849 at five in the morning, Poe was found dead. He was 40 years-old. Yet it is still a mystery as to what killed him. Some theorized it was because of alcohol poisoning, cholera, murder, rabies, or syphilis. Because of Poe’s mysterious death some people have become more interested in learning about his life.

Many of the tragic events that Poe had faced in his life inspired him to write several of his short stories and poems. According to an article titled, “Poe: His Creed and Practice of Poetry,” written by Killis Campbell, who is a Professor of English at the University of Texas, stated that Poe "constantly reflects himself in his work. For example, the death of a beautiful woman causes the main character to become grief stricken and then soon becomes insane; or his writing is reflecting that of the spirit world. Some of his poems are too near to being melodramatic and have a somberness of tone."

What about writers today? Are there some creative writers that have faced a difficult life such as Edgar Allan Poe? In the past we have seen many writers, singers, and other creative artists that had a trouble past but still made a great impact on society. Yet, some of them had taken their own lives because of suffering from depression. One example is of Kurt Cobain, who was the lead singer of the alternative rock band Nirvana. The band was the first to make grunge popular in the music scene.

Cobain had battled with a drug addiction. A few times he had attempted suicide and finally succeeded on April 8, 1994. Being the songwriter for the band, most of his lyrics were about suicide and killing another person.

Another example is of a famous literary writer named Ernest Hemingway. Because of suffering from a medical condition, he went through a deep depression and also had suffered from paranoia. This eventually led to him killing himself on July 2, 1961.

So what is the link between writing and depression? Well, according to an article in Time Magazine titled “Exploring the links between Depression, Writers and Suicide” by William Grimes, it mentions a statistic taken from Scientific American, which states that "Over half of the general population will experience two or more episodes of serious depression during a lifetime. But clinical depression among writers and artists is ten times greater than that among the general population. The incidence of suicide is as much as 18 times greater."

The article’s theory is also supported by Kay Jamison, who is a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. She stated, "The cognitive style of manic-depression overlaps with the creative temperament. Researchers have found that in a mildly manic state, subjects think more quickly, fluidly and originally. In a depressed state, subjects are self-critical and obsessive, an ideal frame of mind for revision and editing.” She continues by stating that, “When we think of creative writers we think of boldness, sensitivity, restlessness, discontent; this is the manic-depressive temperament."

But for many writers one the main reasons that causes depression is constant isolation from others. It is easy to become so consumed in your writing, especially when you have to meet a deadline, that you can forget about what is going on around you. This in turn can cause you to start becoming more withdraw from others and eventually lose interest in things you used to enjoy. Most depressed people suffer from insomnia and this soon affects their ability to concentrate. When a person suffers chronic depression they feel a sense of hopelessness and feel as if they are “empty inside.” This soon leads to thoughts of suicide.

Some people feel that drinking a lot of alcohol or using recreational drugs is not a big deal and they only do so to “calm their nerves.” The problem is that this does not help a person, but rather it makes their depression much worse. Keep in mind that when someone you know is constantly commenting about dying and saying things like “I want to end it all” or “No one will care if I’m not around.” Do not take these comments lightly but find that person professional help immediately.

So to answer the second question, can depression help inspire a person to write thought-provoking literature? Some people say that it can. In fact, most writers are inspired by what happens in their personal life. For some it is the way they interpret certain events in their life, whether they are good or bad memories. Writers can agree that they see their writing as if it’s a reflection of themselves. I’m not saying that you have to be a depressed person in order to be a good writer. But keep in mind that readers are interested in writers that are “real.” Meaning they want to relate with the author. Perhaps, the reader has felt the same way about the writer’s viewpoint or maybe experienced the same tragedy in their own life. The most effective writing is to write what you know. Write about what interests you the most. When you do so, the words seem to flow out more easily.

Though some of Poe’s writing material had glorified death, graphic violence, and murder, (which is probably the main reason why some people considered his writing to be unethical and morally offensive), but if you really pay attention to his choice of words and the way he expressed them so eloquently you will be able to appreciate the beauty of his work. This in turn will help you understand his style of writing that continues to inspire many writers for years to come.

Written by: Bridget Campos

Originally posted on February 16, 2009

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