Depression, Medication, and Creativity by Katie Riegel: and My Thoughts

Depression, Medication, and Creativity by Katie Riegel: and My Thoughts

Depression, Medication, and Creativity
by Katie Riegel

Right now, as I’m typing these words, I feel like I don’t have “it.” “It” is that elusive quality we need in order to write. We know it when we feel it, that itch inside that requires words to work it out, that question that must be addressed, that image that won’t go away, that singularity in the regular working of the everyday brain that will bring the threads together and make them into silk. You see, I just mixed a metaphor there, and before I looked at it again, I was thinking that wasn’t so bad. “The singularity in the regular working of the everyday brain.” Good stuff.
I know every writer worries about this at some point (or points), but I have added an extra layer to the regular writer neurosis: depression, and the pills I take to try to combat it. Yes, it’s an old topic, but one we’re never done worrying about: how do the substances I ingest affect my writing? Specifically, is despair some essential ingredient? Maybe it’s not for all writers, but is it for me? Or if it isn’t despair that’s necessary for me to feel “it,” perhaps there’s something more mysterious, some working of my individual chemistry that’s suppressed by the medicine. In other words: am I harming myself as a writer even as I try to help myself as a person?
I wish I knew the answer to that. I didn’t have that answer even before the disaster of the last presidential election, and the many disasters that have followed. (As I think about that, I remember that just last year, we were all here at this conference feeling pretty confident about our future president…) As someone who has struggled with depression since college, I knew that having the world outside my head so full of sorrow and dread was only going to make the world inside my head even worse. And it has been. But—in the months after the election, I had to work on my poetry. I had to, because, well, my life came to depend on it. I revamped my old manuscript. I wrote new poems. I started sending out—ok, maybe not as relentlessly as some, but enough that I’ve had more acceptances in the past month than I’ve sometimes had in whole years.
But the depression was also so heavy. So very heavy. The worry. The dread. The realization that what you dreaded is actually happening. Immediately after the election, I started trying to get on the right new medicine. I had been trying for a year before that, but this was serious. I tried and dismissed three different drugs and two combinations of drugs in six months. When I finally found the combination that helps me cling to the lifeboat, stay above the surface for hours, even days, I was relieved. Or, I should say, I grew more and more relieved, as it seemed to keep helping. Depression isn’t like a broken leg: it ebbs and flows, unpredictable and difficult to define. Am I depressed because my depression is welling up, or because the president just tweeted another lie that threatens democracy? Am I depressed because I didn’t get enough sleep, or because my medicine isn’t working?
Now I’m three months into the new medicine and it does seem to be working. But I while I continue to send out my writing, I haven’t written a decent new poem in that time, despite a friend declaring October “the 2nd National Poetry Writing Month” and me accepting the challenge to try to write a poem a day.
Don’t worry—I’m not going off my meds because of a short lull in creativity. I know writing itself ebbs and flows, too, and I also know that sometimes the discipline of daily writing helps me, and sometimes it doesn’t. I know that some drafts are just never going to amount to anything, and some are going to provide one single line or metaphor that just might be usable in a future piece (“singularity in the regular working of the everyday brain,” I’m looking at you).
I think if I had to choose a lifetime of the unchecked depression or a lifetime of writing mediocre poems, I’d choose the second one. At least, today I would. I don’t really think I have to choose, but—well, actually, I really hope I don’t have to choose. Because whatever I’m writing, when I feel “it,” I get transmuted into one of my best selves. I have purpose and focus. I’m not worrying or wallowing in self-loathing: I’m just being. It’s like meditation. And in that way, it feels like another weapon against depression.
It’s a good thing that as writers, we are comfortable with ambiguity and paradox.
Katie Riegel | October 25, 2017 at 10:35 am | Tags: creativity, depression, medication, poetry, writer, writing | Categories: Katie’s Voice, Wellness, Wellness and Illness | URL:

Hi, as I read this post, I was reminded of my feelings back in May of this year, when starting a new medication.
I suck at creating URLS and could not see it when I went to the post on my blog.
It is short, so I’m copying it here.
I understand the fears you have, and Here is my take on it.
Thanks for speaking out about Mental Illness. It is something I’m quite passionate about.
And now, my thoughts…

The following comes from a post titled, Thinking With Abe posted here on May, 29 2017

in Everything you do is for the purpose of the joy that it is giving you. And so, when you don’t see something through, it means that it stopped producing the joy that you were hoping to receive. Of course, it is always better if you have anticipated something and you’ve stayed lined up with it. If you’re lined up with it, then it’s joy when you’re thinking about it even before you start, and it’s joyful as you start, and it’s intoxicating as you’re going, and it’s fulfilling as you do it, and it’s satisfying as you finish it and you’re in alignment the whole way on that. – Abraham

For me, most everything I do in my life is this way. I’ve realized I agreed to this journey, when my spirit entered the body, and so I have learned not to fight the flow.

Oh! at times, I get thinking I need to take hold of the oars, and row, and sometimes we all must, but anymore, I’m learning the joy is the journey, and I am the river, flowing, guided by the banks, and drifting into the sea. The sea of life.

I don’t know what inspired me to write. I’d only meant to copy and paste the post, but once I reread, I had to write.

Earlier today, I felt some real fear. I’ve started a new medication, and part of its job is to help me to not be so explosive, when under stress, and while I’ve always been able to put medications, and my body in line with one another, I felt this morning as if I were facing a barrier against all emotion, and I do not want that.

At first I started to panic, started to say that I was not going to take it anymore, but before long, I was meditating, and talking with my hire power, and soon, I had the answer.

When it came time to take meds, I was ready, and as I took each one I said, “Medication, enter me, do your job, and help me be as I wish to be.”

I remembered why I’d requested it. Not to mask the emotion but to assist me with taking off the edge, so I could put into practice the coping skills I have known for so long, but was not able to access due to my explosive anger.

Now, this afternoon, my heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit, are all aligned again, and I’m feeling much better.

Thanks for reading if you have, and blessed may you be.


  1. Highly recommend a book to both you and the original poster: “The Van Gogh Blues.” It talks a lot about the link between depression and creativity. I borrowed it from the local library and really need to buy a copy, because I suddenly understood a lot of things better as a result of reading it.

    1. I’ve heard of this.

      I appreciate your reading, and commenting.

      I’ll look this up, see if it is somewhere I can pick up to read, where I can afford, or maybe it is on the NLS website.

      Thanks tons.

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