Any time we face outside disasters, sadness—even depression—can set in. Authors already struggle with the isolation necessary to face the blank page, the character that doesn’t work, or explaining a difficult concept. But since COVID? Thanks to newly required “self-isolation,” a sense of loneliness can escalate.
Even if you have a family or pet as company, experts agree that “the sudden disruption of our routines,” plus so much uncertainty, can truly cause more than simple, short-term blues.
“We are facing a national trauma, whether it’s the fear of being infected or infecting someone else, or the economic downturn, and many people are isolated,” says physician and self-help author Dr. Robert Leahy, an attending psychologist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Vicenza Baldino, LMFT, San Francisco Bay Area, says there can be even stronger emotional challenges since #BlackLivesMatter exploded and our culture began a major shift. “Some of my clients that are already depressed [have] gone into such a deep sense of despair. It’s as if they are in bereavement, as if they knew these people, because it’s affecting their community so greatly,” she says.
As an author, understanding how the outside world impacts your inner creative energies can make all the difference in staying productive—even happy—during the COVID challenge.
Here comes Demon Depression
Experts agree there are different ways to define depression. “I see depression as when you’re not functioning as well as you could be. You’re not hitting on all cylinders,” says Rick Hirsch, LSW, a long-established mental health professional in Pennsylvania.
Baldino defines another form: “There’s situational depression, where …one put a lot of time, energy, effort into something and then it didn’t [come to] fruition. And you can crash on that,” she says.
Facing tricky challenges
When his clients are not hitting on all cylinders, Hirsch asks himself, “What’s the internal dialogue that they’re having? Is it ‘I’m not good enough,’ or ‘I’ve lost interest,’ or ‘They’re going to think I’m stupid’? None of those are unusual when facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”
But each is a reason to reach out, try a different approach, or learn something new. Any or all of these changes can be sparks that ignite your passion to write a chapter, re-envision your process, flesh out a character’s backstory or do the research you need.
And that’s the first step
Understanding that others are facing similar challenges helps you feel less alone. “Then it becomes a matter of really pulling those [negative feelings] apart and reframing,” says Hirsch. “Because, for every one of those negative thoughts, there’s a way to reframe it that’s more positive.”
The reframing “may or may not have anything to do with the actual book that you’re writing,” he says. Need to put the book aside? OK…as long as it’s for something positive. “Anything that brings you more energy, that helps you feel better physically and emotionally…can break up that potential for…negative thinking,” says Hirsch.
Start small. Maybe you set a goal—anytime over the next three days—to add 500 words to your current manuscript. Or you set a timer for doing just 20 minutes of online research. How about adding one funny quip to a key character?
“It may mean taking a step backwards before you can build [forward] momentum,” Hirsch acknowledges. But all small steps ultimately provide you with more easily achievable short-term objectives, and a path for long-term goals.
Ready? Get set. Go!
Your effort is valuable, Baldino says. “I was [just] saying … to a client: Does the cyclist in a race who turns out to be the 15th or the 50th, have no place in the race? Are we just going to [allot spots to] the first five [cyclists], and that’s called a race? No. The race is all the people involved in doing it. [Any] cyclist’s place is as valuable as the first person who wins.”
So why not be the cyclist in your own race? Set goals for building your book that include relatively painless steps, like those noted earlier. That way, whatever challenges you face, you can pretty much maintain your forward momentum.
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And don’t forget to check our blogs for more encouragement.
1 “As more people self-isolate to reduce the spread of COVD-19, an expert offers tips on how to prevent depression during the crisis,” New York-Presbyterian website, https://healthmatters.nyp.org/how-to-avoid-depression-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/