On Being a Bipolar Writer
By B.A. Williamson
It’s pretty hard to write this right now. Each sentence is taking a conscious effort. Why? Well, I’m depressed. Unsurprisingly, given the current circumstances. Cancelling all my book launch events and conference panels didn’t help.
There’s not always a reason. Occasionally this just happens. But I can say this depression is “just a phase” without any hint of condescension, because for me, it’s true. I’m bipolar.
Sometimes I just want to lay on the couch and escape. Hours of video games are good for this, though not exactly healthy. I suffer from the emptiness and lethargy that is familiar to millions of sufferers of depression.
What’s less familiar is the other side of the coin—my manic episodes. I have unlimited energy and focus, and can dive into projects for hours on end, and the words just flow. Everything I write is the best thing anyone has ever written. (Impaired judgment is another symptom.)
Manic energy can be a superpower, if harnessed correctly. I can hit any deadline, tackle any obstacle, and breeze through it with the confidence of a narcissistic tiger owner. But as I said, it’s a double-edged sword. The crushing writer’s despair is even worse, and can wipe out all the progress I’ve made.
Writing helps. Getting things out on the page helps. During a depressive episode, it takes a monumental effort to sit down and get moving. But even as I type this, it has become easier. I do feel better. I’m not agonizing over every punctuation mark, and hey, I’ve produced about 250 words so far! Halfway there.
Routines help, too. And outlines. The less you have to think, the lower the energy it takes to get started. I don’t have to think, just check the outline, do what it says, and follow the routine. They also keep me moving at those times when I’m balanced, and don’t have that supply of manic energy to rely on.
Whenever I want to give up before I’ve even started, I tell myself to write three sentences. That’s the rule—three sentences, then you can quit. Anyone can write three sentences. My seven-year-old can write three sentences. And to this day, I’ve never stopped at three sentences. I may only get a few paragraphs, but that’s still overshooting my goal by quite a bit.
So when my precious (fictional) girl Gwendolyn Gray started showing the same symptoms, I was hardly surprised. In fact, it fit my story very well, and I had a compelling and unique character arc. I work with middle schoolers, and they suffer from depression and anxiety at alarming rates. Anyone shocked? Think back to middle school. It’s a terrifying, stressful, horrific experience for many of us. Now we have the awareness and language to properly describe the toll it takes on our kids. But conversations about mental health are all-too-often relegated to the land of Young Adult, while our adolescents are talked down to or treated as if their problems couldn’t possibly be all that bad.
I felt it was really important to show a story where a character grows up, and kids could see a reflection of their own struggles. As Gwendolyn struggles with larger-than-life monsters, readers can see a reflection of their own struggles that can feel so much bigger than themselves. And as her external struggles are a metaphorical mirror for their own, her internal struggles create a much more literal parallel. Her internal reactions give them something to relate to, and see themselves taken seriously. Continue reading “Guest Blog: B.A. Williamson on Being a Bipolar Writer”…