You can never know what someone is feeling. You can never know what someone is enduring. And sometimes, it’s hard to decipher whether or not someone is happy or sad. It might sound like an easy distinction but more often than not, it isn’t.
Throughout the entirety of my depression, I wrote poetry. I also wrote poetry before and I write it after too. But did all my work reflect my depression? Did all my work represent my eating disorder, my self-harm, my suicidal ideations? Nope. In fact, hardly any actually did.
For me at least the darkest poems I kept to myself or I posted on my Instagram account where no one I knew followed me, not at first anyway. Those posts don’t even exist anymore on that platform. They’re gone.
But the poems I did choose to show people were poems that I had a lot of pride in. They represented a physical manifestation of my pain. I was able to use my sadness as a spice and sprinkle it into my creativity, my broth of this soup. I could chop up some anger, slice some disappointment. Hell, I could even throw in some despair and at the end of it all, it would taste good. It would read well. It would suddenly have a theme bigger than itself.
It would matter.
The biggest point of pride in my life has always been that I can create something from myself that no longer resembles me. So when I wrote these poems, the one that metamorphosed into something else, I was so proud and so happy. But when I went to show them to others, excited about hidden themes of hope, scattered symbols of greater universal injustices, people sent me to the school’s counselor where I got scolded.
That brings me to this point. I got in trouble a lot for what I wrote but it was never the dark stuff that landed me at the center of a fight. The stuff that wasn’t appropriate, I kept to myself away from everyone else’s eyes. But the other writing, I loved it and was so proud of it.
Until others implied I shouldn’t be because it was dark and I was depressed.
So, poetry and depression. What do you say and when should you worry?
In a “perfect” world, readers would be able to read a piece of work and understand exactly about the author, the state of their mind, etc. But we don’t live in a perfect world and frankly, reading would be boring if this is how we read.
When talking about depression and poetry, poets, writers (whatever) we tend to focus on what was happening in the author’s life at that time that could have contributed to the story. So often we analyze works like this in school that we are conditioned to learn that this is how you read a story. Nuh-uh. I have a problem with this.
There certainly is a time and a place for analytics that involve the author’s life but it is not on your first read of a story. No sir.
Why do we read? Why do we bother to pick up a book?
Because we want to enjoy a story!
We read because we’ve decided that this journey is one we would like to embark upon. If you are reading a book solely because you know the person, you should not be reading that book. Especially if it isn’t your scene.
For example, I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction. But if a friend of mine wrote a book in that genre, I would buy it but I would also be upfront with them about it saying I’m not into the genre but that I support them regardless. If they really urged me to read it, I would but only if I was sure I could do it with an open mind.
You don’t have to read my book to support me as a writer.
Of course, I’d love for you to read it but not if you’re going to turn around and critique me not for my ability but for my topic choice, the story itself, or the genre and tone of the book. That’s a personal choice, right? And I am not writing to appease my family and friends. I’m writing to get out the story in my heart.
So let’s keep this in mind:
Writer’s write to write, not to entertain you specifically.
So if you don’t like something I’ve written because it’s too dark? That’s not my issue and I expect you to respect me enough to let it go. Don’t mention it. You don’t have to tell me how my work upsets your sensibilities. I promise.
Yes, let’s touch on this. I write very gruesome things, dark things, scary things, ugly things. But it’s because I want to. Luckily for me, the things that happened in my life were able to feed into that and nurture that. I’ve always had an interest in the horrific side of things. To me, there is so much there.
I don’t mean scary movies. I mean plane crashes, natural disasters, really scary movies (see 28 Days Later)…things that expose what it means to be human. That is the connection between all of my work, and it always has been. It’s not hope or terror, it’s that my characters are forced into a position where their raw humanness is exposed. Whether that means they commit suicide, go insane, or just sit and sob they are all experiencing the height of their human existence.
I’m rambling and digressing, I know.
So what do I mean?
I mean one thing. You’ll never be able to gauge a writer by their work. And you shouldn’t try to. Enjoy their story. Take it for what’s it worth and don’t use it as a sick tool to pry into their personal lives. If you know them, this is even more important. Let. It. Go.
The writing I share does not well reflect my mental state. It’s been revised for months, years maybe. It’s been disassembled and reassembled and by the time it reaches you, the reader, it is a different beast than the one I gave birth to.
Yes, my life and my experiences impact my work very profoundly. And I’m not denying that my depression has seeped onto the page and still does. I am saying that it’s impossible to use a poet’s work to diagnose depression. It’s unfair to their creativity. It’s unfair to their work. It’s unfair to their life which they’ve fought through and now used for inspiration. How neat is that?
Writers are not all autobiographers. We’re just writers. We’re just creating.