Old Drugs

I know I’m often somewhat cynical about scientific studies, but this one especially seems to take the cake. Not because it’s not smart, or comes to wild, unfounded conclusions, but rather because it’s – well, obvious: thoughtful people tend to get depressed.

Verhaeghen, who is also a novelist and describes himself as a “somewhat mood disordered person,” had a particular interest in the connection between creativity and this ruminating state of mind.

“One of the things I do is think about something over and over and over again, and that’s when I start writing,” he said.

Psychologist types can tell me if anything specific is meant by “ruminating” – that is, if the term is used in your field to mean a kind of obsessive thinking and reviewing of thought – because otherwise, to us lay folks, ruminating just means thinking, reviewing. I don’t think of it as being a negative activity by any means, or even an obsessive one.

What they seem to miss – or don’t articulate – is that writing is a kind of thinking for a lot of writers. It’s a way of kind of nailing down a certain kind of looped thinking, following wild hairs to their logical end, sorting out complex connections. In other words, it’s a kind of sanity-making thing to do when you’re thinking all the time.

I had a writing prof who used to say that it’s impossible to tell if people who have a lot of vivid dreams become writers or if writers have a lot of vivid dreams – that is, whether the inclination to write causes someone to dream & think very intensely, or whether people who naturally dream & think intensely find writing is their only good outlet for all the stuff going on in their head. Writing, to me, is an anti-depressant, but in a certain sense it creates this other place you get to go, and like with other drugs, maybe you just get to a point where pushing the button doesn’t result in relief anymore. With DFW, it would be easy to come to that conclusion – he wrote so intensely, so intricately, for a long while, & it’s as if the moment he stopped – he couldn’t stand it anymore. Maybe, as with other drugs, we have to be careful how much we press the button, because we become resistant to its palliative qualities, eventually.

Helen Boyd

is the author of My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married.

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