Working and Not Working

One of the definitions of mental illness, or maybe the dividing line between “I’m melancholy, but I’m a writer!” and “I’m depressed and need to seek help,” is whether the symptoms have a major impact on one’s work, relationships, or daily life tasks. I’ve been scatterbrained for as long as I can remember. My sister likes to say that I have holes in my brain because I was born two and a half months early.

But the spring when I found myself unable to meet my deadlines, unable to get my editing done, unable to stay focused on my journal articles in any way, I sought help. I got tested and medicated for first depression and then ADD. The symptoms of depression have mostly passed (for the moment), but the ADD symptoms persist. I’m still scatterbrained, and focusing is a major challenge in my life, but the medication helps.

Most of my friends reacted to my diagnosis of ADD with disbelief, because my outward behavior may not seem ADD. But they cannot see my interior landscape. The man who diagnosed me talked a lot. He told me things I already knew and things I didn’t already know. In the middle of his explanation of how people with ADD often blink in and out of a conversation I did exactly what he was talking about. You may argue that many of you do this, and that this is human nature, but this is not what I want to write about today.

I want to talk about work. We are writers because we write. We may not write every day, but we always come back to the page. There are things that interfere with our ability to work. Some of them are adorable time sucks, as I’ve heard them called, and jobs that we need to put roofs over our heads and to keep our stripy felines in old lady vet food. But other interferences are internal and insidious.

Sarah McCarry is running a series of interviews about writers and mental illnesses. The series is about how we keep working when, in the words of one of my friends, our brains are being dicks. These interviews are about finding the resources we need, the medicine we need, the friends we need, the tactics we need to keep working. I am grateful that my mental problems are relatively minor, but there are also days where they don’t seem minor. And no matter what the state of your brain is, the reminder that we need to continue to take care of ourselves and some concrete examples of how to do this is invaluable.


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