For many years I've found reading and now writing to be a way of staving off those winter blues. Once, in my twenties, I read nothing but Anne Tyler for a month while recovering from a relationship break up. Writers from Jane Austen to Joan Aiken to JD Salinger have helped me through various of life's stages; indeed I became interested in writing for children after a bout of baby blues led me to retreat, most sleepless nights, to a hot bath and a favourite novel of childhood. Escaping to the fantasy land of one's own imagination and recapturing the 'play' of childhood imaginings is wonderful, as Freud said
'The creative writer does the same as the child at play. He creates a world of phantasy which he takes very seriously — that is, which he invests with large amounts of emotion — while separating it sharply from reality.'
The world is a troubled place where this morning alone, a brief glance at the BBC news homepage and Twitter are enough to send anyone into a spiral of sadness, fury and impotence.
'At certain moments I felt that the entire world was turning into stone; a slow petrification…it was as if no one could escape the inexorable stare of the Medusa. The only hero able to cut off the Medusa’s head is Perseus, who does not turn his gaze upon the Gorgon but only upon her image reflected in his bronze shield… I am immediately tempted to see this myth as an allegory on the poet’s relationship with the world.'
I am fortunate in that I have never been clinically depressed. I have always been able to hold down a job, sleep, care for my children and so on. Clinical depression on the other hand is often likened to being lost in a dank, bitter fog where nothing gives either pleasure or pain. The writer cannot take pleasure in writing, the reader in reading, the gourmand in food, the mother in her child. The oppressive weight of the world becomes too much to bear.
William Styron wrote about this in Darkness Visible which opens with the memorable passage:
'In Paris on a chilly evening late in October of 1985 I first became fully aware that the struggle with the disorder in my mind–a disorder which had engaged me for several months–might have a fatal outcome. The moment of revelation came as the car in which I was riding moved down a rain-slicked street not far from the Champs-Elysees and slid past a dully glowing red neon sign that read HOTEL WASHINGTON.
My particular foggy January blues are dealt with easily, reading a good novel, a successful bit of writing, a brisk walk or baking a cake soon see them off.
Clinical depression however requires patience, understanding and most importantly, treatment. This may involve medication, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and sometimes admission to a safe environment. I hope that writers talking about this common and difficult condition make seeking help easier for sufferers.