Monday, May 07, 2007

Writers and Depression

One of the posters made a passing reference to depression, which happens to be a hot-button subject with me. That's because you came very close to never getting to read this blog -- or anything else I've written in the past 11 years, because I almost ate my husband's gun.

Eleven years ago, I was working for a religious broadcaster who was, quite frankly, a hypocritical bitch. She was so destructive as a boss, so endlessly critical, that I ended up quitting after two years of busting my backside working for her. I didn't know it at the time, but I also had a nodule on my thyroid that was causing thyroid storms. I plunged into a black depression, complete with delusional thoughts. My marriage began to disintegrate under the pressure. I once whipped my son so badly, I gave him black and blue stripes on his legs -- and I had no idea I'd hit him so hard. (I never spanked him again, btw.) I wasn't able to eat. Even the smell of food made me violently ill.

I struggled with these feelings for the next six months, trying to hold it together and failing. I felt as if I was losing myself. One day I went in the closet and got out Mike's gun. It wasn't because I wanted to die -- it was because I felt I was already dying. Imagine being swallowed by a giant python, feeling yourself being slowly digested. Now imagine you've got a gun. That's what a suicidal depression is like. It's not that you want to die -- you just want to save what's left.

Luckily I had just enough wit to realize Anthony was in the next room. He was 11 at the time, and I knew he'd be the one to find the body. I also knew the children of suicides are more likely to commit suicide. So I put the gun back in the box.

The next thing I knew, it was in my hand and pointed at my chin. I did not remember getting it out again.

It scared the crap out of me. I put the gun away and fled the closet.

When Mike got home, I told him what I'd done. He held me and cried. My big cop cried like a baby. He was a evidence officer at the time, with custody of the evidence from suicides. He said, "Do you want me to show you the photographs? The clothes?"

I had an appointment with the gynecologist the next day, and I told him what had happened. He promptly committed me to a psych hospital. I was terrified, but I knew I needed help. The doctor there told me I was manic depressive. (I wasn't; it was that damn thyroid nodule.)

I can't tell you how crushed I was from that diagnosis. I had always prided myself on my intelligence and wit. Now I could barely string a sentence together, and the same mind I had always prided myself on had turned on me. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to hold a job or live a good life.

But I loved Mike and Anthony and my family, and I held on. It took time -- it was two more years before the thyroid nodule was removed, which greatly helped the depression. But because I did hold on, I was able to rebuild my life. I found I could still create. I got published by Berkley. I've gone on to write more than 20 novels and novellas since my bout of clinical depression, and I'm a best-selling author. I'm living my dreams.

I also got a job with the Spartanburg Herald Journal, during which I carried around a police scanner. Every single day we'd get at least one suicide call, where somebody either attempted suicide or succeeded. It always made my heart ache when I'd hear those calls, because I knew that if the person had gotten help, it could have been avoided.

Once I went to what I thought was a shooting. Turned out it was a suicide. The wife saw me, realized I was a reporter, and begged me not to write a story. I told her newspapers don't cover suicides, and I fled. But the look on her face -- the utter devastation -- is one I will never forget as long as I live. As I drove away I thought, "I don't care what happens, I will never do that to Mike and Anthony."

I'm sharing this painful and humiliating story because I know that some of the people reading it are suffering from clinical depression. Or possibly, one of your family members or your child is suffering from clinical depression. I beg you -- get help. Hold on, even if the symptoms don't lift right away. I struggled for years. Sometimes I still deal with the after-effects. But if I had let the disease take me, I wouldn't have experienced the success and joy I've known since then.

Clinical depression is not the end of the world. It's also not a moral failure or a sign of weakness, anymore than diabetes or heart disease or cancer is. But it can kill you just as quickly as any physical disease. Don't let it. Do something. Go see a doctor. Don't end your future over a temporary problem.

And if you need someone to talk to, you can e-mail me at I'm not a therapist, obviously, but I know what it's like.


Julia Templeton said...

Thanks for sharing your story with us. *hugs* It takes a lot of courage to do so.

Kelli said...

Thank you for this. I think it will really help people. Right now I am stunned from the suicide of an acquaintance, and I am glad that your story is here for people to discover.

Angela Knight said...

Kelli -- I am so sorry about your friend.

Julia -- I don't know about courage. It just bugs me when I see people suffering when they don't have to.

Cait Miller said...

I suffered from depression too, took me a while to get low enough to admit it to myself. Then I made some big changes to my life and set about climbing back up. Family was and is very important in helping me do this. There are still times when I can feel the pull of it again but now they are few and far between. I am just thankful I realised what was happening before I hit bottom. Part of the problem is that depression has a stigma attached to it and I didn't want to be labelled. People don't talk about it enough IMO.
(Hugs) Angela.

Eliza Gayle said...

Angela this post made me cry. Thank you for sharing. It is life altering experiences like this that speak to people when they need it.


Sair said...

Thank you Angela.

I had a manic depressive grandmother, and many of my family are psychologists themselves as a result.

My esteem has gone up for you 100fold.

Thank goodness care of the mainc depressive has moved on from where it was 50 years ago.

Alas depression is still not respected as a terrible illness that needs that needs care.


catt said...

thank you for the courage to post this... i have been there and know what it is like. thank you, it made me cry but also realize its not the end and i will get though it

BarbaraK said...

I don't suffer from clinical depression but because I'm fighting the reoccurance of my breast cancer, I do have days when I'm very depressed. My cancer has metastasized and is present as a tumor on the outside of my left lung where it's draining excess fluid into the plueral cavity around my lung. This makes it difficult to breathe at times and the first cancer specialist I saw told me my prognosis was 2 to 4 years with treatment. He wanted me to start chemo and said that was my ONLY treatment option.

Depression is a horrible feeling and I'm struggling with it everyday now. Little by little, I'm doing everything I can to fight this cancer. I went to another specialist who recommended hormone treatment instead of another round of chemo like the first specialist who gave me such a lousy prognosis.

As far as I'm concerned, using chemo is like going after a fly with a sledgehammer instead of a flyswatter. Sure, you kill the fly but there's a lot of excess damage all around. And what if you miss the fly? You still have all this damage to deal with, the same damage I'm dealing with from my first chemo treatment with bone loss and arthritis all over my body now.

Plus, I found out that repeated chemo destroys the bone marrow and eliminates the possibility of any other type of treatment.

Sorry about rambling off on a side tangent there.

Anyway, it's been a month since I saw that first specialist and I'm slowly dragging myself out of the pit of depression he put me into and I'm taking control of my life.

I even did a little bit of serious writing today. That for me is excellent news. I need to write instead of dwelling on depressive thoughts. I need to be strong and fight this cancer from all points.

I can't imagine how horrific and mind-deadening it would be to be totally and absolutely depressed for six months the way Angela described in this blog. (((((((Hugs)))))))) Angela. I'm glad that you fought back, didn't succumb to that urge to suicide and that you have the courage to let us know about your struggle.

I still have my bad moments of deep depression, but I have good moments too. It's very scary. I cannot give up. My husband needs me. My children need me and my sisters need me.

Jenna Leigh said...

I have three cysts on my thyroid and have mild depression too. Most people don't really know all that the thyroid controls. If you've ever seen the list, you'd be stunned. Get it checked if you have any doubts at all, don't get down to the point AK did, or even the mini-stroke I had. Thanks for sharing your experience, AK, I hope it helps someone. Whether, they have a problem with clinical depression or others, like me, who can be treated with a little pill that controls a tiny little gland in their neck.

Shiloh Walker said...

I haven't ever been that bad but I have spent some time in that black pit before.

I think depression actually hits a lot of people and they never realize it.

I had a bad, bad time about seven years ago and it took me laying on the couch and balling for no reason to realize something wasn't right. That wasn't me and I finally realized it.

hugs, AK.

Angela Knight said...

Barbara - My heart goes out to you, honey. I admire your courage.

Shiloh -- Depression does tend to sneak up on us, doesn't it?

Jenna -- I'm glad things are better for you!

Sasha White said...

Thank you, Angela, for sharing that. And thank you for hanging on. You are an amazing and inspiring woman, and the world is better because you are still in it.

Jennifer said...

You are a special person, indeed, for sharing your story with those who may benefit from it. I am really looking forward to meeting Angela the person in September.

Jennifer Ray

zazoo said...

Thank you Angela for these very soul bearing gut wrenching moments in your life. It brought tears to my eyes. I myself am struggling eveyday with depression and have been in and out of treatments (and pretty white jackets that let me hug myself)
I did unfortunately try on several occasions to throw in the towel and this last attempt left me in a coma for over a month on all sorts of machines. I survived. I suppose you could say I had an epiphany of sorts... Either god just doesnt want my ass up there yet or its just not my time (I prefer to think of it as the latter) I have always been a firm believer in the three strikes and you are out policy so I will stick it out until that golden bus in the sky slams my ass into oblivion

A fan

Robin Snodgrass said...

Thank you for sharing your heart-wrenching story. It is a tribute to your strength and your love of family that you are with us today. The idea that your talent could have been lost to such a misunderstood disease is scary at best, truly appalling at worst.
Several years ago, I was in one of the bleakest places in my life. The bad part of that is that I had (and still have) a loving husband, a wonderful family, a good job, nice home, and all the little things that are supposed to make us happy. I wasn't happy though. All I could force myself to do was go to work, come home, eat with my husband and go to bed. I'd get up the next day and repeat the cycle.
This almost cost me my marriage. My husband finally got so upset that he forced me to make an appointment with my doctor. I did. He diagnosed my depression and sent me for tests, including sleep tests. Turns out I have sleep apnea and was not getting enough rest. This exacerbated the depression. I began taking Zoloft and sleeping with a C-PAP machine. Things brightened in my life gradually.
While I'm not "cured" of depression, I am treated. This makes a world of difference. I still suffer (and have been recently blue), but the bouts are short and not nearly as devastating as before.
Anyone who suffers from depression should take heart from your wonderful success story Angela! I, for one, am very thankful that you were not lost to us and that your talent shines bright for all to see.
Take care,
Robin S.

Ann Jacobs said...

What an inspiring story! I think we all--especially writiers--suffer sometimes from feeling too much, letting the situations around us trigger bouts of depression. I've been there--not as deeply as you describe--and seen the devastation this disease can visit on family, friends and lovers through my daughter, who has the diagnosis--and the thyroid nodule that none of her doctors seems to think would benefit by being removed.

Thanks for sharing. Julia's right, it takes a lot of courage.

Dragonmoon said...

im sad to say that im one of those people that cant really understand, ive been very ill when a teenager and if i ever had depression then what i felt back then would be it, totally alone and no one understood. *in my mind*

ive nursed, lost and grieved for my father to cancer at 21. i dont really remember much of the year after dad went.

but what you've wrote, really has helped me to understand what its like to have depression. i had a friend that fought with it for a long time, she even turned lesbian for 2 years in a destructive relationship.

shes now dating a guy again and has finally made her life a little happier. (i have nothing agains f/f relationships)

i often felt clueless as to how to help her, and very frustrated as well. i couldnt understand why she acted the way she did and the mood swings.

now after reading your post i feel a little guilty, i really didnt try hard enough to be be there for her, i just couldnt understand.

thankyou for your honesty and your insight.


Angela Knight said...

Jess -- This kind of depression can be very hard to understand unless you've been there. Don't be hard on yourself.

Ann -- I'm praying for your daughter. I hope she gets the help she needs.

Robin -- Depression is a very complex disease, with a lot of potential causes. And sleep apnea can be deadly, causing heart attack and strokes. I'm SO glad you got help!

Zazoo -- BIG hugs, girl! I'm glad you hung in with the rest of us. Smooch!

And thank you all for commenting and reading this. I hope you forgive the drama queen shtick.

nfhardy said...

Thank you for sharing. I've been there. Suicidal thoughts are so scary - and the logic that I came up with when thinking about killing myself...still frightens me. Mine was when my son was diagnosed with autism, and we struggled to help him. I was so depressed - my baby, the one I dreamed of - was gone. I would have to take care of him my whole life now. And we couldn't afford the best treatments for him. I thought of ways I could make it look "accidental..." running off the road, a few too many pills. But then, even if they did get the insurance money, and Brendan could now get the treatment he deserved, I would never know. And I could have left the family with little money and no mommy. I finally got the help I needed, found a support group with other parents like me, and got re-married. Brendan, now 10, will be a big brother for the first time this November. I am a firm believer in the power of therapy and the treatment of mental illness. If more brave souls like you share their stories, maybe one more life will be saved - and it will all be worthwhile. Peace and love to you.

Jacquelyn Frank said...

I'm sitting here for 15 minutes doing nothing but staring at this screen for leaving a comment. I have a buttload of work to be done and a persona of blythe comedic I am an up and comer a long way from being settled in the biz and lacking the security it has to have taken to write this blog as you have done. I don't mean that in a bad way, though it sounds stupid to me right now. I hope you know what I mean.
I first attempted suicide when I was 15 years old. The reasons why wouldn't even get me on Oprah in this day and age of media sensationalism. Physical and mental abuse...torture, really...of a child only seems to make impact when the person is still a child. Far too many of us adults are looked at like we're singing karaoke and they've seen others do the performance much much better. Come on...get off the stage already...
My family (not the abusers) didn't know what to do with me then any more than they know what to do with me now. They tried hard to help and understand when I was a kid, but when the depression persisted long into my adulthood, it seemed like they just wanted me to 'get over it' already. 'Snap out of it'. *cringe* Hey, it's hard to make those on the outside of it truly understand. Harder for a straight-line conservative family who doesn't believe in all that touchy-feely psychology crap. I don;t blame them. Sometimes I don't understand it.
I am 39 now and still being treated for depression. The reasons have changed and evolved, but with my dream of becoming an author finally realized, I saw my first glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel and wow...just wow. IT was so bad I couldn't bear sunlight, going out of doors, being in public, sometimes, I couldn't bear the tightness of my own skin. I won't go into the gruesome results of that feeling.
Now i sit in sunshine every day. Went to RT and despite a week of panic beforehand, was as social as I have ever been in my life. I had the BEST time.
But 24 years of depression...all this light just gets intimidating and scary...and there's that feeling of the other shoe waiting to drop. I keep waiting for the bad to come. It always comes. That's what I work on now. Living in the moment. Taking the positive for what it is, when it is. A lot of people talk about depression, but few talk about the fear of its return that dogs us after it starts to lift.
I don't know why, but the turning point was a single phone call. Oh sure, meds, therapy, years of hard work was already helping, but self-value was missing. I was too sick to work. Didn't feel useful. Didn't feel worth much. Then one person made one phone call to me. The first word she said to me was "WOW!"
I wonder if my editor, Kate Duffy, will ever know how much she truly changed my life with one call and one word of acceptance.

Ilona said...

Thank you for your frankness Angela - it has helped me to better understand what my brother-in-law has been going through over the last few years. He was never able to tell us as well as you just did, how it feels to be losing oneself to such an invasive illness.

kore eileithyia said...

I can tell you that Ive suffered through bouts of depression my entire life. It started when I was like 8. I will be 36 in 2 months...
The latest batch is PPD (baby blues) even tho my daughter is now 2. I breastfeed her for 18 months. I was so scared I was going to bash her into a wall or hold her under the water in the tub or smother her with the pillow. I knew I had to talk to my dr and I knew I needed to be on something. he put me on a small dose of zoloft. I did a 180 turn around. There were days that I would forget the meds but I felt soo much better. THEN my S.A.A.M.F. husband started to complain that I wanst taking the pills right and he nagged at me and the OB til the dr increased the dose. That started to affect the baby. Then he started to tell me I was intentionally hurting her by taking the pills and breastfeeding. He didnt do much in the way of support for around the clock care. He thought it was enough to bring home the money and that was it. I had to stop taking the meds cause the baby wouldnt take a bottle from anyone, and hubby snapped at me and the dr till he dropped me as a patient. (notice a theme here?) Needless to say I know I still need to seek treatment. I am still depressed some, if I get depressed bad enough I make myself do stuff to get out of the funk. I force myself to do alot of stuff and stay busy. Its hard. Shes not nursing anymore and I seek solace in the warmth of my freinds care. Hubby acctually got snapped to and is starting to realise how bad I had it and how worse it was since he wasnt more involved. By no means are we perfect, or even close to normal. I talk to my dr and my boss and I have had training myself as a counselor now. I am a peer counselor for nursing moms, I try to take everything that happened to me and put it for good use in helping others. I guess that helps me therapy wise kinda. I see it happen to new moms and I remember those feelings and I get a little better everyday for it.
Its hard and there were times that I acctually tried to end things. Once I found myself with my young sons in the car about to go over the pier into the river. I shook so bad for an hour and then I drove them back home, called a freind and she brough back up to watch her and my kids while she took me to the ER and then to a shrink the next day and every day there after for over 2 weeks straight....
Still sticking to it and still dealing with the effects and after shocks. Taking parenting classes made hubby own up and hes trying. Seeing it daily in my job, or even noticing it now in my county when I am out and about, makes me realise that I go through things like this today so I know how to help others tomorrow. It doesnt mean I dont need to talk to a real shrink. I probably should. It just means that right now I can work it and work with it.....

Thank you for letting me know that even though its a really long struggle sometimes in the end it does have a pay off for good things if you can get to a point and make them happen.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Angela. Thank you for sharing your story of depression. I also think all of us deal with depression at some point in our lives, only a lot of us don't have the courage to speak of it, as you did.
Thank you for getting the help that you did and for continuing with your dreams. I, for one, think you are a fabulous writer and am happy that you are here to write fabulous stories.

Dragonmoon said...

Wow Jacki, and everyone that has posted their struggles i really respect your strength and wish you all the best.

Reading really does change peoples lives, its the best escape!!

mudpiequeen said...

Thanks everyone for sharing their thoughts on this. I feel like a member of a very large and usually silent and hidden club. I've battled depression and thyroid disease most of my life too, but thanks to better living through chemistry, I'm doing fairly well. My question to pose to this group is this: Does anyone feel that antidepressants have a negative effect on creativity? I worked with a woman who was an art director, who seemed to be chronically depressed, and she refused to take antidepressants because she believed they would wipe out her creative flow. I know that when I tried one specific AD, that absolutely was true, but when I switched to another when I quit smoking, my creativity soared. Have any of you shared this experience?

Also, I've long suspected that a large number of artists and writers do suffer from depression -- that this condition seems to give birth to some mighty amazing work. It seems to me that when we create, we're trying to bring forth light and joy and beauty from the dark funk we continuously fight.

Nikki, Mud Pie Queen Extraordinaire

Angela said...

I know that sometimes bipolar people believe that the meds hurt their creativity, because they prevent mania. Now, I personally think the Lexapro I'm taking enhances my creativity.

mudpiequeen said...

Thanks for sharing that. I've wondered if Lexapro might be a good alternative to Wellbutrin.

I know that when I'm in a downward spiral, the urge to create just goes away. It's at that point I pick up a good book, or listen to music, or watch a great movie. I think that's one of the reasons I hold writers, artists, and musicians in such high regard.

Angela said...

When I was really sick, I couldn't write at all. I could report, and reporting kept me sane. But fiction was out.

mudpiequeen said...

Depression flat out sucks. It keeps great people from fulfilling their dreams, and sharing those dreams with others.

Therapy can help, but honestly, you've got to get to the point where you can focus enough to talk through the pain. We are so lucky to live in a time when a variety of medications are available that have minimal side effects. I hate that there's still such stigma attached to admitting to depressive conditions and taking medications to treat them.

Do you feel that your experiences have helped you to create stronger characters? In your short story Moon Dance, part of what made Lucas such a fabulous character was the painful childhood he suffered. That childhood gave him such dimension. You've got to love a guy that's suffered, acknowledges the pain and then chooses to rise above it.

I think I'm turning into a bore. Sorry! My hope for you all is that you will find a way to heal and be happy.


Karen said...

Really courageous of you to share this. I bet a lot of people including me needed to read it. Not having an Angela Knight book to read because she killed herself 11 years ago would be a tragedy -- and just the tip of the tragedy iceberg.

Ava Rose Johnson said...

Hi Angela,

I know I'm a bit late but I'm only reading this now. Your post left me with a lump in my throat. I suffered from depression a couple of years ago and it left me completely helpless, unable to do anything. I did get help and I'm coming out the other side at the moment.
When you're in that place, you forget that you're not alone.
I know that there has to be people you are in the darkness and read your post so I say thank you for writing it. I'm sure it will help them.
Even the comments show how widespread this illness really is.
So thank you.

Angela said...

I have been so touched at how many people have posted about their own depression. If it helps anyone going through this, it's more than worth it! I applaud your courage, folks.

Mel said...

Hello Angela,

Thank-you for writing about your experience with depression. I too have been struggling with this disease for a number of years now, and I am also the child of a parent who commited suicide. Thankfully, I am getting very good treatment at the moment and am on my way to being myself again.

To be able to read about your success after battling depression makes me feel so hopeful! Perhaps I too can eventually be successful in my own little ventures.

To the reader who was wondering about antidepressants and creativity, I've found that mine (Effexor) do indeed boost my creativity. And stangely enough, had it not been for this disease, the impossibility of going to work and needing a hobby on my good days, I would never have discovered my passion - jewellery design. Funny how these things work sometimes...

Thanks again,

peterheins said...

kELL:I feel pity about friend....This blog has touched my soul.Thank you for sharing your ideas.
Clinical Depression

Anonymous said...

The symptoms of depressions vary from person to person. Some may get rid of it easily while some are not able to get over it for a long time. The first symptom is change in behavior. When somebody behaves in a strange way than normally he does. He is supposed to be under depression.

MaLanie said...

Thank you for this post. I suffered from severe depression from the age of 29 to 35. It was horrible, as if someone else would step inside my brain and say the worst things possible, moving me to commit sucide.

The thoughts were so destructive that there were times I would call my husband (who kept me alive) and ask him to come home from work because I did not trust myself to make through the day.

I had every test done, went on all kinds of meds, you name it I did it. What helped me the most was Eckhart Tolle's book A New Earth, when it explained the EGO and how it works to destroy us with thoughts that are not reality. Byron Katie is a great example. She learned when she stopped believing the destructive thoughts she no longer suffered.

I have since stopped the meds, six months free now. I work on meditation and clearing the mind which I believe has been the biggest help in my journey.

I highly recommend books by Tolle and Katie as my thought and inner peace has been transformed by these authors.

Tina Hunter said...

I know I'm a couple years late to the party but I want to thank you for your post.

I have recently been diagnosed with recurring depressive episodes "Depression". I'd had it since I was 16 and I'm lucky I had so many supportive people around me to get it through thus far. But this last episode was bad. Really bad.

I was looking for writers who have depression. I've heard so many things about the effects of drugs on creativity, so I was worried about taking them. But I really don't want to feel like this anymore and after reading that so many of you have maintained or increased you creative writing makes me feel so much better about taking them.

Thank you again for sharing.