Paper Demons
Sheila Hageman
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Sometimes my depression grips me and makes me feel like I have nothing to say, so I remain quiet. I do have things to say, and the longer I put off expressing them the more likely they'll never get said at all. Even though I know that it is the very act of writing, which often makes me feel better.

Since America's new war on terrorism has begun, my self-censorship has increased. It is harder to deal with my regular depression with the newly added stress that is felt palpably throughout New York City. So, I find myself procrastinating the putting down of words on paper even more than usual. Through past experience I know that when I'm depressed the first thing I should do is reach for a pen and paper — purge my depression through expression, but when I'm seriously stuck I count myself lucky just for getting out of bed.

Let's say I could convince myself right now that every time I feel depressed, I will write automatically. As a smoker reaches for a cigarette, I'll reach for a pen without thinking. It's certainly a constructive promise to make to myself, but could I keep it? Often when I'm depressed — writing feels like the absolute last thing I want to do. Especially since September 11th, I feel like I'll never write anything good enough, or important enough.

I sure have lost a lot of writing time to my depression. In fact, so have a lot of my writer friends. Why is it that out of all the illnesses there are, so many writers experience depression? Or maybe the question really should be, why do so many people who have depression turn to writing?

Perhaps writing is a self-healing method that the body, mind and spirit recognize as beneficial. Or maybe writers are driven to scribble down thoughts because of their deeper than average level of introspection. It's truly a double bind to find yourself with such introspection, but also suffering with a condition that causes you to feel unable to produce anything meaningful. You can't stop thinking about the mess the world is in before you become overwhelmed by your thoughts — you literally drown in them.

There's no right answer for everyone who suffers from depression. No one size fits all, but the knowledge that writing can help lift the blanket of depression is a powerful tool in itself. I know I will still have times when I am too depressed to remember that writing out my depression helps. Perhaps there will be that one time when I'll remember. I'll pick up a pen and a piece of paper and jot out all the horrid feelings that lurk inside of me — instead of going over and over them in my head. I'll exorcise my demons onto the paper where I can see them. Then they become other things — separate from me. Like something I can be sort of objective about, certainly more so than when they were part of my internal dialogue.

Once disturbing thoughts are out on the paper I can put them away for a little while. Just open a drawer, shove them in and tell them, "Goodbye!"

Then when I feel stronger, I can go back. I can pull out that squeaky drawer, grab my paper demons and look at them square in the face. Demons generally don't like being let out into the light because suddenly they can be seen for what they really are, just thoughts; bad thoughts about things in the past, the present, or possible future. I look at them. How do they make me feel now that I have the upper hand, now that I'm in control and dictating the rules?

I guess you could say I make friends with my depressing thoughts. Then the next time they come up, I don't feel so bad. I can recognize thoughts as friends come to teach me something. A bad thought can visit because I am not so afraid of it. I realize I have control by making it concrete with pen and paper. And then I can let the thoughts go away. Just like that. I send each thought packing with my pen strokes, right out into the air and away from me.

Now, if I can only remember this promise to myself the next time I feel low. This is the challenge of the everyday. Facing myself on paper one more time and believing that even if I'm not going to create a masterpiece today, at least I'm going to create something—shake some ink onto a page and lessen my wandering mind, thoughts and depression.
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