Saturday, March 11, 2006

BLOGGERS AND DEPRESSION: a survey


Black dog walking
Originally uploaded by goddess_spiral.

Many blogs I visit have dealt with the subject of that black and hungry dog who returns again and again with the same baleful expression.

Depression takes many forms. Sometimes it is temporary and situational. Other times it is a lifelong challenge. It can be a crushing weight that makes it difficult to get out of bed for days at a time, or a vague sense of unease or self-doubt that allows life to go on, but never with the fullness or zest that it might have. It can be helped, but rarely eradicated with medication.

Though I have not written about it here, I once experienced an episode of post-partum depression that lasted nearly a year. Thus I read with great empathy whenever I happen upon a blogger who has awakened one morning to find the black dog standing outside the gate. Where it comes from is frequently unknown; how long it will remain, or how much it will demand from us during its stay is more troubling still.

A couple of times blog friends, after writing several posts about low moods, have simply and abruptly vanished. This is the most frightening development of all because as long as we're creating poetry or photographs , journal entries, or postcards from our pain, then we're unvanquished. Even if all we can write is: I hurt.

Silence is the black dog's ultimate victory.

So here's my survey question. Of course, any answers are speculative and subjective, since there is no hard data on the subject. But often in the lone subjective voice speaking its own truth, we find the greatest wisdom.

Do you think depression is particularly prevalent among bloggers? And if so, why?


a) Absolutely not. "Bloggers" are a group as diverse as society itself, no more prone to depression or any other illness than anyone else.

b) Since creative people in general are more prone to mood disorders , it is likely that bloggers suffer more depression than average.

c) The blogs I read seem to bear this out.

d) The blogs I read seem to contradict this.


e) Depression is an epidemic not only among bloggers, but in society in general. Perhaps it is even a "sane" reaction to the stress and uncertainty of contemporary life.

f) other

70 comments:

TDharma said...

e. for sure. very interesting question. I went, initially, with the "bloggers as creative types" first, but I find e. much more true to my world view.

hmmmm...how did I get here? I recall Yankee Transplant...Paxil and Wellbutrin really clouds my memory sometimes!

anyhow, nice place to visit -- thanks!

Jenny D said...

Surely you're right about this connection, I cannot imagine it's not on target. (I have a strong tendency to depression but try really, really hard not to blog about it, though I expect it creeps through sometimes.) Some commenters on a post I wrote a little while ago were speculating about similar questions, we thought it might come down to an introvert-versus-extrovert-type thing. In a way those terms are ridiculous, I feel sure that I am an introvert but almost everyone who knows me would say I was an extrovert, but I am drawn to blogging partly because I find it refreshes me from company-induced weariness while somehow providing a hedge against loneliness. But at least the literary-related bloggers I read keep odd hours, read an excessive number of books, prefer solitary pursuits & indulge in inappropriate drinking--classic depressed people!

Kathryn said...

I would say choice e. The thing about bloggers is they may be more introverted generally. They are, after all, writers, and they tend toward introspection. They articulate their lives, their experiences. Yet depression affects all types of people; it is one of the most prevalent mental disorders.

I struggled for two decades with depression, much of which was situationally induced and, because of my personality, it grew. I had years and years of therapy that helped. In my 30s, though, I had an episode that was very severe, and I finally considered medication. It saved my life. My depression is in remission, though it does creep back sometimes. I will be taking medication for it for the rest of my life, just as someone who needs blood pressure medication.

I'm still introverted, meaning I still gain refreshment from my own company and quiet time. I still read a lot and keep late hours. Yet I am more content, and more creative, than I ever was.

Suzanne said...

e.

Sonja said...

B, I think. I didn't pick E because I think maybe depression is not a new epidemic. Seems to me it's been around for a long time, but was just called "moodiness" or something different, not recognized as depression. I'm with jenny d. I try not to blog about it. It was a conscious decision though. I used to blog about everything, including depressing days, and it just made things worse.

Melly said...

From what I read around, I don't think that I read about depression much, or perhaps I don't interpret what I read correctly. When I read a "depressing" post, I usually think it's a passing down, similar to when I write a "depressing" post - a rotten day or moment.

So I'd have to go with A.

zhoen said...

I've been diagnosed with depression, but I have come to believe it is more accurately described as anxiety. Always oversensitive to my environment and the people around me, I cry easily when others are upset. I cannot allow myself to think too long about the dangers and corruption, or I would not get out of bed in the morning.

Depression is the conenient diagnostic label, applied to everyone not extroverted and overtly cheery. Load of crap, I think. Blogging is a tool to cope, not a symptom of chemical screwed-up-edness.

Rexroth's Daughter said...

I think it is a little bit "B" and a little bit "E". I have stared that black dog in the face for over 30 years. It started when I was with my first husband, which was definitely a situational depressive response, but I was also always a very quiet, introverted, and introspective person. I have never used anti-depressants, but was in therapy for the entire time I was married to my first. Now, when the darkness comes, I steel myself for the pain, the insomnia, and the spirit-crushing bleakness-- and wait it out.

Michael said...

I'm torn between choices a and e, but struggling not to get depressed about it. :)

kate said...

- I did a paper for a class last semester on depression and creativity - it's a little eggheady, but what i read made sense. I do believe creative types are more prone to depression. Ruminating on Living has been shown among people with higher incidence of depression. But is it that ruminators are more prone to depression or depression stems somewhat from ruminating? And yes, I know that black dog very, very well. And I have learned to just keep on writing. I may not be able to talk to other people about it, but I can keep posting . . . :)

Tarakuanyin said...

A fascinating question. I read Alice Flaherty's "The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain." She's a neurologist who suffered severe post-partum depression. The book is written in a personal voice, but also the voice of a scientist who is both attemping to remain objective and empirical in her approach, and yet acknowledging that such an approach is limiting. She draws on writers and other artists across the ages, as well as on the most recent scientific evidence, to show how creativity is linked to certain brain states, including depression. I believe she used the number 75% when talking about the level of depression linked to artistic types.

I come from a long line of people with various depressive disorders and have a sister who must be on medication. After my mother died I became extremely depressed and I tried depressants with disastrous results. I've been blogging about it off and on over the past couple of weeks. It's certainly something I've dealth with during my life (including quit severe post-partum depression after my daughter was born), but I am trying my mother's route -- an approach that I am sure saved her life as she was suicidal for a period. The last 25 or so years of her life she was transformed through yoga and meditation. Having witnessed the metamorphosis of a woman whoses father committed suicide (and she found the body when she was a young girl), I know the power of a Buddhist approach to life. My depression has always tended to be situational, and I have endured many rather difficult periods in my life, most recently my mother's death after a shared breast cancer experience (we were diagnosed within five weeks of each other). After reacting violently to an anti-depressant change (and I mean violently), I decided that I needed to do as my mother did, and transform myself from within. I've been working on it for almost a year, and wrote about a time when I experience a sense of freedom and joy rather than the expected spiral into sadness at http://tarakuanyin.blog-city.com/just_a_little_glimpse.htm. (I don't know if this is a real link, since I'm new at blogging!)

Anyway, I think writers, and by extension bloggers, probably tend towards depression as Flaherty would claim. But I hate to generalize. There are plenty of blogs out there that don't suggest depression, but I find that the most interesting ones are those that indicate a depth of feeling from great joy to great darkness -- and a reflective response to both those experiences.

donna said...

I would say that bloggers are more cognizant of what is happening in their lives, which can lead to more awareness of depression. Many people simply self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, workaholism, or whatever to cover their symptoms.

A greater awareness of self leads to bothe admitting depression and, hopefully, being able to seek help for it.

Personally, I was misdiagnosed with depression for many years after the birth of my second child. In reality, I have bipolar disorder. Now that it's properly medicated, no depression, no problems whatsoever. Getting there was a long, hard, struggle, though.

steve said...

i think it leans towards e - wonderful question. i sometimes wonder whether advertising plays a significant role. b would be a close second, going with the correlation of creative types with blogging

Mary said...

Anxiety attacks and over sensitivity have dogged me all my life and I have had accompanying bouts of depression, which thankfully have always lifted.

Not at all sure where blogging fits into the equation, though .. being a relative newbie I don't think I know enough to take a definite view here. My gut instinct is go for E but I don't rule out B either.

SL said...

c) The blogs I read seem to bear this out.

Maybe it's because when a person is depressed they turn inwards but still need somewhere to vent. Blogging is incredibly useful for this.

Brenda said...

f) Depression is a very real anguish for many people, but I wonder, since it has now entered the 'capitalist coral' with costly pharmaceuticals, whether the line between normal periods of despondency and actual depression hasn't been obscured to the advantage of the multinational medical and pharmaceutical companies. The American medical society's guide to psychological problems, whatever's it's called, is apparently weighing in at a hefty 40 lbs now. It's a little scary, actually. Not just for people, but all those drugs end up in the water system...

Don't mean to sound so depressing about it all!

adagio said...

I must say I have often pondered about the current use of the word 'depression'. Whether it is overused/misused. I have days when life seems nothing more than survival or base existence. Personally, I would not describe myself as 'depressed', on those days. Yet I know others, feeling similarly, might use that choice of word. I might have myself, several years ago. Some days my blog posts, though always somewhat enigmatically, possess distinctly bleak/black overtones. Though prefering not to 'spell it out', writing tends to blow the cobwebs away. And, as such, is a useful tool. But, in regards to the question you pose, I would tend to veer towards 'e', although I disagree that 'depression' is an epidemic.

Rinda said...

When I was young I thought that depression was necessary for creativity. As I have gained (I hope) the wisdom of middle age, I find that I am more creative when I am in a place of peace and joy.
I have had several major depressive episodes and while I am depressed...I am talking bleak times when slogging through the day is almost more than I can bear...the creativity disappears. I cannot write, or even read sometimes. Strangely enough, when I am coming out of a depression, I can sew before I can write. When I am falling in love with color and pattern and piecing tiny squares and triangles together, I know the writing will follow. I think that the sensitivity that leads to creativity can also lead to feelings of overstimulation, perfectionism (I won't tell you how many times I backspaced and deleted as I wrote this comment), harsh self judgement, and very tender feelings. Those tendencies in turn can bring on depression.
I, too, have been medicated. The last time was disastrous. Never again. I have found the best remedies are often the simplest. I write a gratitude journal every night before I go sleep. It puts the day in perspective and as I think of the things I am thankful for, I am happy. I have also found that the things I am thankful for are rarely about money, but are about the gifts of life given to us by our Creator...the scent of rain, bird song in the morning, color, the sky, those first precious crocus blossoms, a baby's laugh. Trite? Maybe, but it works for me.

I would have to say, though, that there is a link between creativity and depression. That sensitivity that sparks the creative fire can also sear the soul. Bloggers as a whole, at least the ones I have read, tend to be deep thinkers,sensitive, and creative.

Cliff said...

First let me say the obvious. That was a very sensitively, well-crafted piece of prose. As a new reader of your blog, I find your writing so precise and expansive.

It is not an uncommon thought that writers tend towards depression. I hear that the majority of people institutionised for psychiatric disorders are writers.

I don't think there is a particular logic - people get depressed from a variety of reasons, or from none at all.

This black and hungry dog - he is a poor companion, yet he is all some people have. So it is, too, for writers and their words.

Fred Garber said...

Patry this is an interesting topic and the comments have been great. I like (f). I have always been interested in the other. The black dog in the picture has a shiny coat. She has a very long shadow. And who is casting the other longer shadow? Jesse Winchester had a relevant song called "Black Dog"in 1970. Here is a link to it:
http://www.jessewinchester.com/jw.shtml#black

Why do we use animals to talk about human feelings and conditions? I do it all the time.

I wrote a poem about some dogs...http://factorytown.blogspot.com/2005/05/northside-dogs.html

g said...

I read your post over the weekend and didn't know what to say. How to respond.

My grandfather was depressed, and even shock treatments could not help him. I remember visiting him in the hospital when I was eight years old.

Maybe as a result of my experience, I became a nurse, and worked in psychiatric hospitals for almost twenty five years.

Depression is mean and unforgiving. Some people are helped by medications. Many are not.

Above all, depresssion is not one thing. It's not like a broken bone, which is pretty much the same thing for everyone.

Alexandra S said...

I think that metaphor of depression as a black dog is a poignant one. It is something I have struggled with, and I wouldn't wish it on an enemy if I had one. I think the connection with bloggers and blogging is a fascinating one too. I think that the process of writing and reading blogging shakes up and challenges our wounded as well as our thriving parts and I feel blessed to live at a time when we have this precious opportunity. (Thank you for bringing this topic up!)

Cate said...

"Silence is the black dog's ultimate victory." Such a powerful, resounding statement.

I think my answer would be (e). I have been depressed and not realized it at that time. Your "black dog" analogy is fitting.

Thank you for this thought-provoking post.

irina said...

Does this mean that every person who keeps a diary is depressed? Or is there any difference between blog and diary? I guess there is a huge one: the diary is for no one else or very few to read, whereas the blog is open to the whole world, even if it is a virtual one and that it is less likely that you are going to meet many of your readers... Does this have to do anything with depression? Don't know, I just wonder.
I don't deny that there are many blogs that deal with depression, but I don't think this is the major motivation for creating a blog... So I guess my opinion rather matches A...

steve said...

The blogs I read, including this one, are written by bright, creative people. (There are a lot of blogs out there that aren't.) I'm not sure whether creative people suffer depression more than the rest of humanity or are just more willing to admit it. I'll vote for (e).

Quillhill said...

So many blogs seem to be an open diary, that I suspect they become forms of therapy for people suffering depression. It is a safe and inexpensive way to be vulnerable and reach out, with very little risk, and lots of potential reward, such as 25 comments.

I have often found that being less than happy (not necessarily depressed) is impetus for my creative writing. When one is having fun at one's job at Dairy Queen, or living it up at college, or traveling through early retirement, one wants to be actively involved in those things, not cooped up in the office writing about feelings.

I generally find therapuetic blogging tiresome.

I am not sure creative people have more depression as a group than others. I would agree that creative people are more aware of their feelings and the nuances of them and the acceptance and understanding of them; I would also suggest that creative people have a much wider range of emotion, so the highs are much higher and the lows are much lower.

I would ask a follow-up question of your kind commenters: would you rather experience all the intensity of living through those highs and lows, or would you rather medicate them away and just experience everything in the same way?

Sky said...

This is such a fascinating discussion. Thanks for raising our consciousness level here.

In terms of depression and writing, for me it is a question of the chicken and the egg. Does the depression drive the writing or does the (need for) writing drive the depression? People who spend their time in the "arts" tend to dig deep inside themselves for feelings and experiences as part of the creative process. I think this may heighten or intensify the feelings they draw upon in comparison to the general population's experience awareness. There is an arousal which accompanies this examination, so to speak. So, I suspect it is both the chicken and the egg...a circle which occurs in this process.

I also agree that depression is more common in today's world, whether a result of the stress of modern living or the increased awareness of its existence made available by the media's focus on it, by the pharmaceutical companies' examination of it (and financial gain from it), and by the freedom of society to openly discuss it.

Perfect Virgo said...

b is the most accurate although elements of the others apply too. We have talked about this briefly before I think Patry when you zeroed in on a particular post of mine.

The vanished blogger is extremely alarming. Someone we never really knew had a daily part in our lives then was gone. It is like a death - and it may be a death in reality.

That black dog has been with me off and on for 20 years. Through years of alcoholism and equally through years of sobriety. All I can say is life can be lived even beneath its crippling weight. The power of creativity bursts us free from the slavering chops of that hound but he only retreats a short distance and waits and watches.

The only therapist I ever visited suggested "realist" is what a "pessimist" calls himself. I drove home angry, shouting to myself "SHE'S WRONG, I AM A REALIST." I never went back to listen to more of that drivel.

I wouldn't normally leave such a bleak comment but I admire you for choosing to treat this subject in public and wanted to respond truthfully.

Lorna said...

I'm for a) and e)

Having said that, I think that blogging is a godsend when I am depressed---writing is the stick that holds the dog at bay, reading others' work is like Tiger Balm. Or it would be if Tiger Balm actually worked for me.

Dale said...

Quillhill wrote:

I would ask a follow-up question of your kind commenters: would you rather experience all the intensity of living through those highs and lows, or would you rather medicate them away and just experience everything in the same way?

--That's easy to answer. If there are highs and lows, you're not talking about depression; you're talking about ordinary emotional ups and downs. I would never medicate those away, were it possible -- I sometimes think people who don't have experience of them have extravagant ideas about them "making you happy." They've never made me happy. Happy and sad are on a different scale, one that's completely irrelevant to depression.

I agree that people are often wrongly medicated for emotional "downs," sadness or grief or loneliness or whatever, and that's a shame, though not as much of a shame as people needing anti-depressants who don't get them, or who are prescribed random doses of random drugs with no supervision, as ignorant & harried physicians are wont to do.

I tell you, now that I am mostly free of depression, I enjoy ordinary grief and sadness with a gusto I could never have imagined before I experienced depression, back when I thought those emotions were great misfortunes. Now I know they're great blessings, and I'm accordingly grateful.

rdl said...

e. or all of the above.

tom said...

Patry...very timely and provocative post. I go for "e", in that depression has always been around, but now is being seen as not as scary a thing, and as a biophysical/chemical issue that can be treated in a variety of ways. Our forebears had little if any of these treatments, and if in depression, were seen as "crazy, looney, etc".
Well, thanks be to God things have improved. Please take a look at my latest post, which includes a column I wrote about this very subject.
I plan to get into this more in days to come.
Thanks for your work.

rinda said...

Quillhill wrote:

"I would ask a follow-up question of your kind commenters: would you rather experience all the intensity of living through those highs and lows, or would you rather medicate them away and just experience everything in the same way?"


I have taken half a dozen or so antidepressants over the course of the 40 some years I have dealt with depression, with varying degrees of effectivness. The only one that really worked for me came with potentially deadly side effects. Prozac and the like "medicated away the highs and the lows" and practically everything else. Made me numb. I cannot tell you how awful it was for me to feel nothing. Granted, I am more than a little on the way too sensitive side of the scale, but I find that being able to look at the wide open sky and feel a thrill that goes clear to my toes more than compensates for not being able to watch "24" because it is too intense for me. We'll just say Prozac made me better at washing the dishes and absolutely unable to do anything more creative than tie my shoes.

The other side of the antidepressant coin is even uglier. For me, anyway. The last one I took, Cymbalta, literally made me psychotic. I was combative, irrational, sobbing, utterly miserable or asleep. As soon as it was out of my system, I went back to the normal depressed state that I was medicated for.

So for me, the medications are finished. I choose to feel. Pain, sadness, depression, joy, peace, and that undefinable urge to create.

Anna Piutti* said...

I'd pick a) and e).

pohanginapete said...

Well, looks as if I'm the odd one... I'm going for d): The blogs I read seem to contradict this.

Sure, I detect some pessimism in some of the blogs, but it's overwhelmed by delight, joy, and often a sense of fun. I want to believe that reflects how the writers feel, but I can only speak for myself. Maybe I'm just lucky.

(I would point out that response e) doesn't contradict the other responses, and sadly, sufferers are still often stigmatised or avoided.)

Emily Lloyd said...

I think if you had said "poetry bloggers" my answer might be different. Hmm; that's weird.

A and E, but I do see B. Kay Redfield Jamison has a good book theorizing a link between depression and creativity (though I'm sure she's not the only one.

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