I've had depression for as long as I can remember (even if there were times in my younger life when I didn't realise it) and I have always wanted to write. It's been a constant depression, rather than bipolar, which has been worse at some points, especially during sustained hot weather, than others, but which has always present. In my early thirties, I've had to grudgingly accept that everything I've tried - trying to pull myself out of it, numerous periods in counselling or psychotherapy, anti-depressants - will not dispel it, and the best I can say is that by now I better recognise the symptoms of particular severe bouts, and that I've managed to arranger my life so that there are very few people around me who are not understanding.
(Rightly or wrongly, I feel bound to clarify that I never thought or intended transition to be a panacea for depression - more that it would make it easier to manage. This has proved the case, and I wrote about the relationship between my gender and mental health, which is ultimately a separate issue, here.)
I realised that I wanted to write during the worst depression of my life, during Years 9 and 10 at school, when I would tell anyone who'd listen that life was fundamentally pointless and that nothing could change this. Not many would listen, certainly not for long - it wasn't until I got to sixth form that I read Camus, Sartre, Kafka and others who would help me to articulate these feelings, and the realisation that there were authors who had shared this outlook provided tremendous comfort. Then, I decided that the only way I could find any meaning would be in trying to make material conditions better for people, as far as possible, and that I was best equipped to do this through writing.
So writing became a tactic against negativity, despair and defeat - it was never hard to find inspiration from the cultural or political climate, but nor was it uncommon to feel overwhelmed by it, unsure of what to focus on and pessimistic about whether anyone was even reading, let alone if it was making any difference. This feeling has hardly changed as my platforms have become larger, and nor has the unwillingness to take part in public debate that comes with depression - the sense that I will have nothing to say at any exchange of ideas, in person or through writing becomes insurmountable during its worst spells. Even if I am still capable of producing rather than procrastinating, the depression shapes the subject - I am far less likely to offer a view that might prove contentious or tackle a controversial issue head on if I'm particularly down, even though some of my favourite articles were written during severe bouts.
The formation of my aims in direct relation to depression often led me to prioritise them at the expense of my own wellbeing - I'm thinking particularly of the Guardian blog on transition, when friends warned me that putting so much of my life into the public eye could have strange and damaging consequences, but I felt that I was already deeply unhappy, so how could it make this any worse? In the main, it was cathartic, allowed me to feel I'd achieved my teenage goal and was positive, but in some ways it exacerbated the problem, especially as it brought me into contact with many people who had found that discrimination had shaped their lives in very sad ways. After several years, unable to shake this feeling that short-term successes always faded into long-term failure, I had a mini-breakdown in December 2011 and had to stop writing for a couple of months whilst I sought more counselling and thought about where my work, and its underlying motivation, had taken me.
So I still can't say if writing makes my depression and anxiety better or worse: I can only conclude (in true History graduate style) that it does both, providing an outlet for and alleviating some sadness whilst constantly keeping it at the surface, often facilitating conversations with like-minded people which can be inspiring or despairing. The drive that it gives during better periods means that I can be very productive, which keeps giving me reason to live; at other times, I feel unable to work at all, each day that passes without a word making me more anxious, the cycle rapidly spiralling, disproportionately affected by the most minor failures or rejections, this fixation often preventing me from pursuing any other action that might improve my mental health (such as taking a holiday, or even a walk, or taking time to cook and eat properly).
Even now, for all my familiarity, it can be weeks before I become aware of it, although I find that keeping a journal helps me to monitor my feelings, tracking heightened periods of depression or self-absorption, and means that I don't stop writing entirely. It's not going to go away, so right now, this is the best solution. Speaking about the subject helps, though, and having raised it on Twitter recently, I was heartened by the number of people who felt able to say that they were exploring a similar relationship, which a range of responses - it gives them ideas and experiences, they lose motivation, sometimes they create a lot (and then have to edit heavily) and at others they cannot write a word. All things I can identify with - how about you?