We've heard of this far too often. From F. Scott Fitzgerald's alcoholism to Hemingway's suicide, many renowned authors share a troubled emotional state. Sylvia Plath, Mark Twain, Stephen King, and even JK Rowling faced mental health issues, depression, or addiction. Countless more authors and artists have suffered, many silently. This plague suffered by authors and writers was dubbed by Hemingway as "The Artist's Reward".
Depression and loneliness are rampant among the avid writing community. Writing forces people to think a lot, and over think, relive old memories or unfavorable events in their life. People who tend to think more are, largely, more unhappy. When you spend much of your life having to think and go back into the past, your mood and mental health suffers.
The Power of Strife
Many writers, fiction especially, have several things in common. Whether it was difficult or abusive childhood, troubled years as a young adult, a toxic or abusive marriage, mental health struggles, addiction, or dysfunctional relationships.
Difficult and abusive childhoods can cause resilient children to retreat into their mind and expand their imagination as a form of escape. This stress and unhappiness feeds their ability to create fantasy worlds. These experiences also lend to mood disorders and dysfunction as an adult.
Some literary historians and critics attest to the idea that it is impossible Shakespeare wrote the plays now attributed to his name because he was unfamiliar with wealth, contentment, and was uneducated. However, works of art are seldom created from contentment, happiness about the state of things. It is most often rooted in the desire for more, disappointment, and chagrin.
Hawthorne, Plath, Melville, the Brontës all lost a parent in childhood. Poe and Tolstoy were both orphans. Shakespeare, Poe, and Dickens had debt ridden fathers and lived in poverty. Orwell was confined in an abusive boarding school for years.
Many accomplished writers suffered from extreme social awkwardness (Hawthorne), alcoholism (Bard of Avon, Jack London, Poe), bipolar disorder (Plath), depression (Melville, Rowling, Lowell), Asperger's Syndrome (Emily Brontë), and a host of other struggles and imbalances. Many notable authors committed or attempted suicide (Hemingway, Jack London, Vonnegut, Plath). These are often a result of troubled childhoods, poverty, loss of parents, or something they are born with. Many of these people find solace in expressing themselves through literature.
The precuneus is an area of your brain that is, in most individuals, only active when resting and not focused on a particular task. It is part of the parietal lobe and located forward of the occipital lobe. This area of the brain is linked to self consciousness, experience of agency, the ability to speak in the first person, memory retrieval, aspects of consciousness, mental imagery and episodic/autobiographical memory retrieval, and self reflection. This area lights up when you are thinking about yourself and your experiences.
In most people, this area only lights up during times where you are relaxing and not focused on one of your many daily tasks. People are naturally able to suppress the precuneus and its effects.
However, in writers and other creative types, this area is constantly activated. Those that are considered highly creative are almost constantly comparing their surroundings to their personal experiences or applications. They are continuously making connections between their environment and their memories. There is a near constant flow of ideas and thoughts that creative types often can't just shut off and are generally unable to focus on one thing.
As a result, many creative people express manic, bipolar, schizophrenic, and depressive tendencies. Inability to suppress the precuneus is found in two types of people: creatives and psychosis patients.
Several studies have found that creatives are more likely to suffer from serious depression and mental illness. As artists, we must be able to accept a continuous flow of information, feelings, and memories and transform them. We take these concepts and create something new, something startling. Being open to all of these emotions and ideas makes artists trod through random, unconnected thoughts to connect them and create something from them.
So many writers, directors, script or screen play writers, video games creators, and others are coming up with outlandish ideas. This is often because they cannot get the flow of ideas to stop.
Developing Rituals and Habits that Contribute to Depression & Mental Illness
Many writers and artists are exposed to a troubled childhood or difficult life. Some are born with chemical imbalances that lead them to have mental illness or an addiction. Sometimes, the creative industry can create and foster these on its own.
Creatives must learn to edit and view their own work objectively. All of this introspection required not only digs into using your precuneous, past memories and feelings, contributing to feelings of helplessness and depression.
Writing and editing your drafts is painful and requires a near obsession with your work and self-criticism. Pouring over drafts and tearing apart your own work-and sometimes yourself- is harmful to your psyche. This constant self-examination and self-criticism can easily lower your self-worth.