The creative life can often be an unstable, unstructured one and there are countless articles offering advice to avoid burnout and stay mentally healthy. But for some of us, avoiding depression isn’t an option.
I’ve been walking the tightrope of balancing my career as a freelance journalist with depression and anxiety ever since I started out, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Although I have days where, in the battle between depression and productivity, it’s easier to retreat to the neutral territory of my bed, I have a job I love and a life I enjoy and I’ve developed some strategies that let me do that.
If you’ve been prescribed any medication, take it
This is non-negotiable whatever job you’re in, but if you’re making your own hours or doing something that relies on you using your brain to do something new and challenging every day without the option of just going through the motions, you need it working at peak capacity. Take them at the same time every day and read the leaflet – watch out for any side effects and if it tells you not to drink then maybe say no to that glass of cheap fake bubbly at a networking event.
If it’s affecting your work, tell someone
If you sprain both your wrists or come down with mumps, throw your back out or suffer any physical ailment that slows you down, you wouldn’t think twice about telling an editor, “Hey, I might need a little more time”.
Pay attention to the patterns of your moods
Maybe you find mornings difficult – in which case, congratulations! You make your own working hours, and providing you’re filing on time and are available to answer any questions feel free to stay snuggled under the covers and then work later into the evening. Seasonal patterns can affect you, too – if you know you’re not going to be at your best in winter, try and get as much work as you done before the nights draw in and take some pressure off.
It doesn’t always work – I’m an arts journalist living in Edinburgh and every August thousands of performers, musicians and writers descend on the city for festival season. It’s a busy and profitable time for me, but it’s also when I’m feeling my worst so I make a point of noticing how I’m feeling and making sure I’m looking after myself.
Think very carefully about what might trigger you
Last summer, I blithely signed up to interview an actor who’d written and produced a show about his depression on the grounds that I knew a little bit about what he was going through. What I wasn’t prepared for was how difficult it would be to hear him talk about it, and then to write it all up later. I found myself transcribing the interview in tears and over the next few weeks it was clear that it had dredged up a lot of painful memories. Next time, I’ll let someone else take the assignment and save myself for something that doesn’t impact badly on my mental health.
Leave the house
This might be easier said than done, especially if you suffer from an anxiety disorder. Even if it’s just a quick walk around the block or down to a café or a trip to the library, make sure you get some fresh air and come into contact with other people. This might not be every day, but that’s OK. Start with two or three times a week and see if you can gradually increase it.
Don’t compare yourself to other people
It’s easy to look at people succeeding at the thing you love when showering counts as a major achievement and hate yourself even more. Do not do this. Remember what you’re capable of and remember that there’s a good chance that the people you envy will also have days they can’t get out of bed. And showering is a terrific achievement, so you should pat yourself on the back and admire how clean it is.
Have a support structure
No-one in the history of the universe has felt better being depressed alone. If you can, confide in a few friends so that they can look out for you. There are also online forums that can offer support and advice – Friends of Captain Awkward is a spin-off of the popular advice column that provides a welcoming safe space to ask for help or just get something off your chest and Bodies Under Siege was set up to help people who self harm. There are also a number of charities that can give you support, signpost you towards professional resources and in some cases offer free counseling. Mind, Rethink, BipolarUK, OCD-UK and OCD Action are all worth checking out.
Do you have depression? Share your experiences and advice below!
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Image by StooMathiesen, on a Creative Commons license.