I’ve just read a great interview in which Maddy at Writing Bubble interviews Renee Davies who has written and published her first book, Become The Best You. which uses Renee’s own experiences to help others break a cycle of self destruction. Looks like it will be well worth a read.
Why do you write about depression? Because when you are deep within depression, it feels like no-one else in the history of time has ever felt like you … and once you have reached a place beyond depression, maybe you want to let others know about that elusive thing called hope.
When do you write about depression? When the drugs have started to work? When you feel like you’re living again? When there’s something new to say, or something only you can say, or the impulse to write it is too great and none of what you have written so far quite deals with the itch, the need, to stop other people hurting in the same way that you hurt?
I don’t think I’ve every written properly about being depressed. Much of it is a blur: the parts I remember will be hard to write and painful to share. Maybe, 13 years down the line, I haven’t yet reached that point.
Matt Haig experienced depression in his twenties, and now, around 15 years later, he had finally addressed it head on in Reasons to Stay Alive. It’s a beautiful book, pocket sized, white binding, orange inner covers, rainbows dancing across the paper outer. And inside, it’s beautiful too.
The writing takes the form of scattered pieces, part memoir, part lists, a few selected tweets, and the story builds between the short chapters and sections. I don’t always finish every book I start, for a range of reasons, but I finished this one. It’s honest. It’s compelling. And it doesn’t tell you not to be depressed.
Haig skilfully avoids the ‘them and us’ of most self help style books: he’s there, deep in the depression, he’s there again as his current self, offering help, proof of a future, and most importantly, hope. He does end with 40 bits of advice on ‘How to live’, but none of it is preachy, it’s all tempered by the fact that he admits he doesn’t always follow his own advice.
And to finish, here’s one bit from the book that I love …
How to stop time: kiss.
How to travel in time: read.
How to escape time: music.
How to feel time: write.
How to release time: breathe.
Reasons to Stay Alive is an incredibly low priced £6.99 at time of writing. Well worth a read whether you have been depressed, or want to understand someone else a little bit better.
This week I’ve started to read Dear World: Contemporary Uses of the Diary (Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography) by Kylie Cardell.
She writes, “in this study I argue that diary is the genre Smilinked intimately to the representation and construction of self and that it crystallises a certain set of these ideas of self: confession/privacy, surveillance/public presence.”
I’m interested in how this relates to blogging, which Cardell goes on to address in relation in particular to two British bloggers, Belle Du Jour and Abby Lee. I’m not covering sex bloggers in this study, but I think Cardell raises some relevant points about diarying and blogging in general.
For me, blogging feels like an essential part of this study. This blog is a place where I can gather and categorise thoughts that may or may not later make it into the dissertation, thoughts on books that I have read and lists of books I need to read. It is a public blog: if you are considering taking part in the study, the blog makes it possible for you to get an insight into all aspects that I have written about, from a simple call out to more in depth academic pieces. It is somewhere that you can find out about me, prior to letting me find out more about you. And, as the project progresses, this blog will be somewhere to hold interviews with people who contribute their experiences, it will be a place to tell stories.
I’ve just added links to my other sites, so alongside this research project you can have a look at
- the flexible work blog that I’ve run for the last seven years: Family Friendly Working,
- my professional site: Antonia Chitty: author and journalist
- and the site where I keep my creative writing, works in progress in fiction and poetry, part of a MA in Critical and Creative Writing: 38to39.
Enough about me, although perhaps this brings up a useful further point. In this blog I feel I can write academicaly, but I can also write informally. This blog is a space between academia and real life, between academics and people who write their life experiences.
So, back to the project, blogging and diaries …
Cardell quotes Frank Furedi: “Contemporary society transmits the belief that problems of emotion ought not to be faced by people on their own.” She also touches on writing a diary as a confession, something I want to touch on in a separate post. Do you feel that in current society there is a need for transparency, a requirement to confess? Does writing your story, blogging about your experience, fill this function in some way?
Cardell also addresses, “The shifting boundary between public and private life.” In sharing a story that is based on life experience we open up our inner selves to scrutiny. There is, in that act, a hope that by sharing we will become better, more authentic, healed perhaps. Blogging, promoting a book, sharing your thoughts and experiences via social media smashes all ideas of ‘private’ that might in previous decades and centuries have been a fundamental part of a diary. Cardell highlights the Big Brother diary room as an example of the new norm about privacy of the confessional. This leads us back to ideas of self: self as a reflection of others opinions and views. Blogging creates a new self, a self on the screen. In writing a blog one can choose which parts of life experience to expose, and in that choosing, once can create a new self.
Authenticity is an important word in business, in blogging, in the world of social media promotion. Be authentic, be yourself, business gurus exhort. But which self are you true to when you blog? I’d like to suggest that blogging, a true blank page, allows anyone to create a new true self, find new virtual friends, and therefore the question of authenticity is warped. Being an authentic blogger means being true to something, perhaps to one aspect of the whole self, to the self that appears when writing life onto a blog.
In any writing, blog, diary or book, one gets the chance to become the hero of one’s own story. Philippe Lejeune writes, “Autobiography is a human right. Become the owner of your life!”
Furedi, Frank Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age Routledge 2003
Gilmore, Leigh The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma, Testimony, Theory (Cornell paperbacks) Cornell University Press 2001
Lejeune, Phillippe On Autobiography (Theory & History of Literature) University of Minnesota 1989
Smith, Sidonie Poetics of Women’s Autobiography: Marginality and the Fictions of Self-representationBloomington: Indiana University Press 1987
Smith, Sidonie and Watson, Julia Getting a Life: Everyday Uses of Autobiography University of Minnesota 1996