Friday, February 18, 2011

Great Authors Who've Wrestled With Depression

4 Famous Depressed Authors & Their Lives by Eric Olsen

No human being is immune to depression. But authors as a group seem to suffer from it, particularly those who are successful and famous. What follows are the histories and bouts of depression suffered by four famous authors.

*J.K. Rowling, 42 years old, was writing stories when she was just six. In the early 90s Rowling, poor and struggling, moved from Britain to Portugal to teach English. While there she met and married a Portuguese journalist. Their union produced a baby girl. But the marriage ended soon after the child's birth, and Rowling moved back to be near her sister in Edinburgh, Scotland.

During this period Rowling began to think about committing suicide. She was not yet famous or rich, and was a single mother, struggling to make ends meet. Rowling says her young daughter caused her to seek help. But, the first doctor she went to, sent her home, telling her if she felt a bit low again to speak with the nurse. The next doctor heard her pain, and got her into counseling. Rowling says about this period that she was never remotely ashamed of it. She says that she went through a really tough time, and is proud that she got out of it.

It was her experience with depression, which gave Rowling the idea of the Dementors, soul-sucking creatures that appeared in the third Harry Potter book. In 1995, Rowling finished her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, pounding it out on an old manual typewriter.

But the publishing world didn't accept it easily. One year after twelve publishing houses rejected it, a small publisher, Bloomsbury liked it, but advised Rowling to get a day job, since this was just a children's book. Things improved in 1997, when a U.S. auction was held for publishing rights of the Potter novel. Scholastic, Inc. paid Rowling $105-thousand for it, and she says she almost died when she heard about it.

*Charles Dickens - 1812 ñ 1870 Dickens began writing fiction at age 21. Two years after that, he wrote a series of short stories, which appeared in monthly magazine installments. Between 1837 and 1839, Dickens penned three of his most famous novels; Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickelby. It's believed that it was the manic side of his manic depression that enabled him to be so prolific.

Even though by this time, he was internationally famous and rich, he was hit with a wave of depression in the 1840s. Its onset was triggered by the birth of his son. He spent days locked up in a room, unable to write. To explain what he was feeling, he wrote:

"Men have been chained to hideous walls and other strange anchors but few have
known such suffering and bitterness, as those who have been bound to Pens."

Dickens is considered to have been a genius and the greatest English writer of the 19th century.
He died in June of 1870, leaving behind an estate valued at over $6.5 million.

*Anne Rice is an American writer, born in October 1941. She so disliked her given name, Howard Allen O'Brien that in first grade she changed it to Anne. She was greatly influenced by her mother, an unsuccessful Hollywood actress obsessed with the occult. Mother and daughter frequently went on outings in New Orleans, stopping to look at decaying old mansions thought to formerly be the province of witches, warlocks and demons.

In 1962, she married Stan Rice and five years later gave birth to a daughter, Michele. Anne wanted to be a writer, and wrote a short story each day in between being a mother and a wife. But she was unable to get any of them published. He world turned upside down though when her five-year old daughter was diagnosed with acute leukemia and eventually died. Rice plunged into depression, but found she was able to lose herself in her writing.

She began a novel and finished it in five weeks about a vampire obsessed with the company of a five-year old girl, who he wants to turn into another vampire for the company she would provide. But when he learns that she will remain a five-year-old trapped in a vampire's soul, he is crushed. She finished this first book, Interview with the Vampire, in 1973 and it was published it in 1976.

*William Faulkner, 1897 ñ 1962 Faulkner's battles with depression and alcoholism did not prevent him from winning the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. Faulkner, a Gothic, modernist writer was so successful at his craft that he managed in some small way to dispel the myth that depression equals incompetence. It was Faulkner's bipolar depression that enabled him to create a completely fictional location name Yoknapatawha County which he used as the backdrop for many of his novels.

* * * *

Eric Olsen has suffered major bouts of depression throughout his life, and has come out okay on the other side. Part of his time is spent empathizing with those who have depression, and helping them understand that they are not alone.

30 comments :

  1. Thanks for sharing these stories, Eric. I was particularly moved by Rowling says she was never ashamed of her depression. I've suffered from the disease my entire life and her statement made a difference to me. I always knew I wasn't alone, but there was a shame associated to it. Why, I'm not sure. But her response has definitely changed my opinion. Thanks for that.

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  2. Hi Joylene and Eric .. interesting to read .. we can learn so much from story writing about others .. I 'like' Dickens quote about his challenge "Pens" - thank you - Hilary

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  3. Interesting observation, Hilary. As writers I believe understanding human nature is primary to our craft. And having suffered from depression, knowing that so many others do to, gives me a foundation to work from. Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. I recall writing last spring about Rowling's Harvard Commencement speech... her words, "“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life," struck me as being a remarkable self discovery.

    I had a minor breakdown about 25 years ago. It was a year of depression... and that's when I began appreciating the selfishness of writing. It wouldn't have occurred to me that the depression might help me be a better writer; it only mattered that the writing was helping me work through the depression and feel better. I wonder where I would have been now if I'd embarked on my novel writing during that period! LOL!

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  5. That's remarkable, Carol, because writing is what I turned to. I truly believe it had a lot to do with my survival. Yes, there were moments when I couldn't write, but I never stopped doing it in my head. Thanks for sharing, Carol.

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  6. I've never had a bout with depression, but, now that I think about it, I started writing after a major change in my life - moving 1000 miles away from my boys & grandkids. I was feeling bummed that I wouldn't be able to tell Jack (my grandson) stories, so I started writing them, 3 years ago, ... & then it became a book, & then another & then...

    One of my favorite authors, Ernest Hemingway, struggled with depression, but, unfortunately didn't beat it. You know how I like old Uncle Ernie. (His 6 toed cats, not so much.)

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  7. Hi Dave. I often wonder how I'll be remembered. As an author or the owner of more cats than one person really needs. As writers, I do believe there is a common denominator amongst us. But it doesn't necessarily have to be depression, shyness, or alcoholism. I don't drink, I'm not particularly shy, but I am generally more serious than most. I'm also known for being sad. Yet, to my closest friends and family, I'm goofy, silly, and slightly off-centered. Our diversity makes the world go around. The fact you started writing stories for your kids and grandchildren is a noble reason, in deed. I like how it's expanded to encompass so many others.

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  8. Depression is something I too struggle with on a daily basis. Consequently, writing has been a significant tool in which to channel my most inner thoughts and feelings.

    It is comforting to know I am not alone in this. Furthermore, it appears I am in mighty fine company - being JK Rowling and Charles Dickens are my favourite authors.

    Wonderful post. Refreshingly honest. Thank you, Joylene and Eric.

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  9. Thank you for this post, Joylene and Eric. It's really inspiring to learn about how writing has been a source of comfort to these authors and has given them something solid to hold on to. Particularly Anne Rice and J K Rowling, who turned a negative situation into something positive.

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  10. Hi Helen. I love their stories for that very reason too. It's all about brush off the dirt and carrying on with life. BTW, I failed the love quiz badly. A romantic, this girl ain't. Yet I loved Pride and Prejudice, and War and Peace. Maybe that means there's hope for me yet.

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  11. Hi Wendy. I'm so glad you liked the post. Eric was kind enough to share, and I couldn't resist the subject matter. I've been blogging for almost 3 years and only now am addressing some of my concerns. Not sure what took me so long. Glad you stopped by.

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  12. Hi Joylene,
    These are all remarkable and inspiring stories. Thanks to Eric for forwarding them to you.
    I will openly admit that I have severe clinical depression. A lot of it brought on by an overwhelming negative environment. Yet, I consider my illness a 'bizarre blessing'. For my illness has been the catalyst to do something about my environment. To challenge the negativity. Once, I found lots or reasons not to write. Now through the humbling experience of my dark times, I have embraced that one reason to do what I always wanted to do. The passion of the written word has returned. I try to live with, rather than suffer from my mental illness. I am not ashamed of who I am.
    Thank you for this posting and the inspiring and profound stories within.
    With respect and kindness, Gary.

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  13. I had no idea that Dickens was so wealthy. Clearly I was not paying attention when I learned about him in high school. :) I agree with Hilary; there is much we can learn. Have a wonderful weekend!

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  14. @Gary, I knew you'd get this post. That was one of the reasons I was so inspired when Eric told me about it. Thank you for your unwavering support. Have a super weekend.

    @Karen, and in those days it was even more money than it is today. I knew he was rich, but I had no idea either. I love his books, I guess that meant money back then too.

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  15. I've also noticed this tendency for writers to suffer from depression. At first I thought it was limited to a group of British bloggers, as perhaps, a result of the weather there being gray and unhappy. Then I realized it was more common in the writers community as a whole. Thanks for these stories of the famous ones, I admire their writings and somehow knowing this little bit more made them more human and real to me.

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  16. Thank you for a fascinating post, Joylene.

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  17. as a psychologist I can tell you that depression is pretty much a natural condition for most artists :) You usually have to have some deep sadness in you in order to create master pieces. That's probably the only good thing about it, it gives you fuel for being creative.

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  18. Shopgirl, hi! Years ago I watched a movie with Jacqueline Bisset called "Rich And Famous." She was a struggling writer who drank, and I remembered wondering if one had to drink to create great prose. As I studied more writers, I saw the drinking as a sign of bigger problems. Today, I realize that part of the creative cycle is the melancholy that is often conducive to writing, but it's not a problem that every writer experiences. Like everything else there is a huge diversity and addressing a small group never hurts. I hope any new writer reading this article who suffers from depression, understands they aren't alone. Thanks for stopping by, Shopgirl. It's always great hearing from you.

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  19. You're very welcome, Carole. Glad you stopped by. Hope your day is going well. Loved the photo of you in the classroom.

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  20. Hey, Dezmond, congratulations on your award. And thanks for stopping by. I had no idea you were a psychologist. Bet it comes in handy in many ways. Whenever I think creative depression, Virgina Woolf comes to mind. Thanks your input. Hope your weekend is filled with great times.

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  21. I enjoyed reading these stories. Many of us have struggled through depression at one time or another. I believe it has been only recently that more people are willing to share their stories. Too much stigma attached to mental illness. But that is changing.

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  22. Hi Laura. I think another thing that is changing is the guilt associated with depression. And stories like these are helping in that way. Have a wonderful weekend.

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  23. I wish I could say I never struggled with depression, but I do. And it does seem that many artists--not only writers, but musicians, painters, and those in any arts--do seem to suffer depression in great numbers.

    It was its obvious drawbacks...the depression itself, which can often be frightening and frustrating. But artists DO have the advnatage of being able to often express these dark feelings through their arts. Sometimes, too, I wonder if the bouts don't heighten our abilities at times, if that makes sense.

    Good, important subject. Thank you for posting this.

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  24. Wow, that was fascinating, Joylene. I'm lucky in that my form of depression isn't too crippling most of the time, though there are days when camping out under my bed for a week sounds like a really good plan. It's one of the reasons I have a high drive dog. She forces me to get up and move and deal with things. I can't ignore her because she'll find something creative to do that I will regret. In a way, though, I am weirdly grateful for my assorted dysfunctions - I believe they form the core part of my ability to write.

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  25. Thanks for sharing, Carol. The more people who come forward, the more others can break free from the shame of depression. I know, that's what helped me years ago. I'm still struggling with the guilt. But at least I'm not alone.

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  26. Vicki, you hit the nail on its head. I find your writing incredible beautiful and I often wonder how you can reach such depth. Sadly, the good of depression has to go with the bad. My problem has also been that there are too many days when I all I can do is sleep because depression is so exhausting. I guess it's all about balance. BTW, I'm so excited about the day you finally publish. Then everybody else can awe at what an outstanding writer you are.

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  27. Hi, Joylene. What an interesting guest post. I never knew that J.K. Rowlings or Anne Rice dealt with depression. What an inspiration they are in dealing with it and making a successful writing life for themselves.

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  28. Hi Susanne. I didn't know about JK, but I did hear about Anne. I agree, hearing more about these types of stories gives the rest of us hope. And that's always a good thing. Have a wonderful week.

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  29. Thanks for sharing this, Eric and Joylene. I suffer from minor depression that can sometimes be very debilitating. I'm encouraged by these stories. Thanks.

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  30. Thanks for stopping by, Jared. I'm glad you're encouraged. Have a great week.

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