As we head into the holiday season, we find ourselves stirred up by bright lights, jingling melodies, and copious quantities of sugar with the onus on being as merry as possible, content with life, and excited for the future. The reality is that life is hard and these mandatory festivities can really draw contrast with just what a dark place many of us writers often find ourselves.
There’s a lot I want to say about writer mental health as, like many, I find myself chased by the black dog on a daily basis and, over the past decade, I’ve suffered three major mental breakdowns, been to a lot of counselling, swallowed far too many prescription pills, and… well… visited “that place”.
I’m not unusual. In fact, based on admittedly casual observations, I’d wager it’s very normal for writers to struggle with their mental health, given that many of us find our greatest pleasure in solitary confinement while living mainly in our imagination.
We are blessed with the gift of hypersensitivity, incredibly high emotional intelligence, and a bottomless pit of creativity that’s just as powerful when it comes to dreaming up stories as it is dangerous when it comes to convincing ourselves we’re worthless and the worst is going to happen.
Even now, after an incredible year watching my words get transformed into a feature film in front of my very eyes, I find myself exchanging one set of worries for a new set. Concern I’d never get a movie writing credit has become concern I’ll never get another. Fear I’ll never be good enough has switched to fear I’ll be revealed as a fraud. Worry my talent it worthless has morphed into worry my talent is worth very little.
It’s Essential We Feel Our Emotions
Something I’ve come to learn through my own journey is that we tend to make the mistake of lumping emotions into good and bad. This is dangerous because all emotions are valid and valuable providing we rationalise them realistically — something that’s harder to do when our minds become sick.
Futility is possibly the most common emotion any creative trying to build a career doing what they love is faced with. In a world becoming increasingly polarised by inequality, it can feel like simply earning a living wage from writing would take a small miracle. It’s tough out there, really tough, and boy do we like to remind each other of that.
Writer’s forums are rife with “harsh truths” scaremongering about not just how unlikely it is that we’re going to make it but how horrid it’s going to be if we ever do. While we are trying to even out our naivety, we often sail far too close to crushing our passion. You kill the passion and there goes motivation. You kill motivation and there goes fulfilment. For some reason, maybe a depressive sadomasochism, we love to collectively scold ourselves.
There Is Power In Feeling Futile
It’s okay to suffer from doubt. It’s perfectly normal to suffer pangs of hopelessness. It’s reasonable to consider what we’re doing may be pointless. The mistake is believing concerns are truths. The voice in your head suggesting you are worthless isn’t the voice of reason. It can be toxic and irrational and you get to tell it when it’s full of shit.
Futility is our minds reminding us just what an epic journey we have decided to undertake and, the loftier our dreams, the more futile we’re likely to occasionally feel. The Olympic diving hopeful doesn’t make that first jump from the ten meter board without feeling complete dread at the pit of their stomach, a feeling that will return with every injury, every failed twist, and every poor scoring that puts that gold medal in jeopardy. However, that dread isn’t a result of their failings but simply a measure of their aspirations.
There is really only one way to crush any feelings of futility and that is to give up so there is no journey ahead, and that’s when remorse replaces it. You have to ask yourself, would you rather worry your dreams may never come true or ache for the dreams you once had? The former is to hurt while putting one foot in the other while the latter is to hurt while choosing to stand still.
Futility prepares us for how daunting a worthy goal really is and helps balance out any wilful ignorance that may hold us back. We have to enter the waters knowing what we are facing and ready to take on what might come.
But The Cavalry Isn’t Coming
There is nothing wrong with being a defensive pessimist. That’s a quality shared with some of the most successful people in the world because successful people think hard about the challenges that may lie ahead and prepare for them. They do not rely on good luck and that’s important.
Futility reminds us that we are ultimately vulnerable and, if we’re not careful, at the complete mercy of our environment. The answer is to lean into that feeling for a moment and objectively look at our situation. Are we really doing all we can to negate risk? Are we really pushing hard enough? Are we really picking out a path forward or simply hoping to be rescued?
This isn’t a sign that something is wrong but instead a reminder something may need addressing. It is as every bit challenging as it is asking to be challenged. We get to look at our situation pragmatically and conclude things aren’t as bad as they seem and that we are doing all we can, providing that’s the truth and we’re not just excusing ourselves of the hard work needed.
Be A Mindful Writer
It is better to feel futile about a dream than futile about a reality. Choosing to embrace a creative career is a worthy cause, one to be proud of, and a huge leap forward from the mundanity of a non-creative career where we never took a chance. Patience and persistence are what’s needed to succeed and your heroes would most likely empathise with your feelings if they knew about them. Nobody is immune from emotions that ask us to be self critical.
We also have to be cautious of taking on other people’s fears as our own. Just because a writer on a forum feels trying to break into Hollywood is pointless, doesn’t mean we are wasting our time. We may be in a much more realistic place to succeed than them at this time. It’s when these thoughts become invasive and constantly irrational, we may have to jump into our mental health first aid kit which can consist of;
- Consistently and objectively challenging the feeling of futility.
- Reminding ourselves we’ve gotten through tough times before.
- Noting our previous successes however small.
- Practicing gratitude for what we do have.
- Maintaining a healthy, mindful, and wholesome lifestyle.
Christmas is a tough time of year sometimes because it really puts the previous twelve months into the perspective. Let that reflection be one that’s fair and balanced and take what’s learned from it to adjust course as necessary to empower a positive mindset for the coming new year. You’re stronger than you think and absolutely worthy of success.