Sionnach Wintergreen

author of fantasy and romance


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Depression Feels Like…

I’ve been sort of beige and muffled lately, mildly depressed. I’ve been functional, for the most part. My mood is lifting, and I’m grateful. While I was sifting through some files today, however, I found something I wrote while in the midst of one of my worst depressions. A lot of people don’t seem to understand what clinical depression feels like. To me, if feels like this:

I feel numb. I get out of bed in the morning because I know my husband expects it. All I want to do is sleep. Everything seems difficult–little things like brushing my teeth and hair feel arduous. I don’t want to be around other people. I cringe from my friends. Just attending a social function physically hurts–I have to escape to another room or outside to make my skin stop crawling. I have so little energy that I feel like I could fall asleep standing, like a horse. Everyone around me seems to be moving at eighty miles an hour while I stumble through a sea of gelatin.

I know it wasn’t always like this, but I can’t remember feeling normal or competent or whole or anything. I can’t feel anything but the overwhelming numbness. I am a hollow tree or a frozen landscape, something empty and barren, something dead–a waxwork of the person I distantly remember being.

A few weeks after I wrote this I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My variety tends more toward Bipolar II, which is characterized by long, deep depressive episodes. The antidepressants that work so well for many people with unipolar depression can actually drive bipolar people into manias or suicide. I had tried different antidepressants in the past and none of them worked. I believed the fault lay somehow with me, never realizing that I had been misdiagnosed with chronic depression and that I simply hadn’t been given the right medications.

I still have low moods, but I rarely feel the level of emptiness that I felt in the throes of my worst depressive episodes. Medications are not for everyone, but I credit a combination of mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic medications with saving my life.


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Remembrance

I’m depressed. I’ve been trying to hide it. I’m still writing (a comedy of all things), but everything is kind of hard, my body feels heavy, and I want to sleep more than I want to be awake.

I know one of the reasons is that today is the birthday of someone I loved very much who is gone now. She died of an overdose, but I don’t know if it was intentional or not. She was beautiful, kind, and generous. There aren’t words that describe her well. This is an excerpt from an autobiographical short story I wrote when she was alive about a trip we took to Galveston. She was a heroin addict and had just been diagnosed with hepatitis C. This was about four years before she died. Names have been changed.

Alice and I puttered along the seawall and bought two hermit crabs and some waterguns at a souvenir shop. We shared a love of animals and trash—anything the rest of the world considered useless.  She was tired and wanted to go home, but I coaxed her onto the beach, telling her we needed sand and shells for the crabs, so they would feel at home in our apartment.

I loped along the beach, trying to entice her into the waves with me. She lagged behind, finally stopping to stand by herself.  I backtracked to stand with her, wondering if she was okay.  She stood at the water’s edge and took off her baseball cap, unleashing about two feet of blonde hair.  No emotion showed on her face. The wind swept up from the ocean, tossing her hair and unfurling it behind her. Her open white shirt billowed about her taut body like a waving flag, the thin camisole beneath it clinging to her skin.  I stopped a little behind her; she twisted her fragile neck to greet me as I approached.

“Do you want to get in the water?  Cool off?” I asked.

“No, I just want to go home,” she said listlessly. She turned her face skyward and squinted into the white sun. “The doctor told me I was lucky I didn’t have HIV.”

I dug my toe into the wet sand. “Yeah, she’s right. It could’ve been a lot worse. I mean, god, look at Geoff—that could have been you.”

She was very quiet.  In the bright sunlight, her face was yellow with greenish overtones; she looked like a faded bruise. “Yeah, everybody thinks I’m lucky—that it could’ve been worse.  That’s just what my mother said, too—look at Geoff.” She stared at the ocean with such longing that I thought she might dive into it.  “I never looked at him and thought he was unfortunate. We used to talk about it—about how it was better for his parents than if he had just hung himself.”

“I don’t see how—“

“Sure there’s a stigma, but it’s not as bad somehow as suicide. You know, your kid gets sick, and, yeah, that sucks, but there’s a safety there, like a buffer. It’s not their fault their kid was a junkie. They aren’t responsible. It’s society or music or friends or whatever.  It’s better that way, you know.  It’s kinder than suicide.” She stared out at the ocean, her voice a little wistful. “Much easier for everyone concerned.”

I nodded silently and felt cold in the ocean wind. Her suicide wishes were nothing new.  We had both been enamored with death since childhood. I could have told her that I loved her—that I would be devastated if she died, that I couldn’t imagine a world without her, that was she was my sunlight, my hope, my only and truest friend—but she already knew these things, and none of that really mattered. I possessed no tether that would hold her should she choose to go, but I would have chased her anywhere. My feelings were trivial, my desires were lurid, selfish.  I let them scatter like sand in the wind, let them rain down on the turgid waves to mix with the oil and mud, the plastic soda rings and dead fish.


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Compulsion

I love this J.K. Rowling quote:

“Writing for me is a kind of compulsion, so I don’t think anyone could have
made me do it, or prevented me from doing it.”

I can definitely relate. Yesterday I uploaded Lover, Destroyer to Amazon. It’s awaiting approval. Almost as soon as I uploaded it, I started working on the sequel to Because Faery Godmonster.

I did this because I need some comedy this month. I have two sad anniversaries coming up, and I need to work on something simple and fun. I also did it because I simply can’t help it. As long as I’m not depressed, I have to write. Have to–it’s not a choice. It’s a need like sleeping or eating.


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The Gift of Wounds

One of the themes of the epic fantasy, Another World’s Song, is summed up in the African proverb, “the blessing is next to the wound.” It’s something I believe strongly–wherever you have a deficit, you will find a gift nearby.

A few years ago i started taking classes in hopes of becoming a surgical tech, and, eventually a nurse. I made good grades and was filled with excitement. Just as I had finished my prerequisites and was admitted to the program, I was diagnosed with essential tremor. This promised a better outcome than Parkinson’s, the disease it mimics, but the tremor was enough to permanently douse the tiny flame of my future career. I spent about six months in a funk and was even suicidal. But I wrote the entire time. I have been writing my entire life, but now it nurtured me in a new way. It filled all of my empty spaces.

I had tried off on and on for years to publish my work through traditional publishers to no avail. I had flirted with self-publishing, posting a few short stories on Amazon. I took the plunge last year and published the erotic romance novel, The Inquisitor’s Gift. I started writing full time soon after. (Not because I was a great success, but because my husband allowed me to pursue my dream.) With my anxiety and temperament, I probably would have been a miserable surgical tech. I’m a happy writer.

I had actually written Another World’s Song prior to my diagnosis, but that theme now resonates with me even more deeply. No curse comes without a blessing.


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Writer’s Block or Depression?

Sometimes I get writer’s block because I’m out of ideas for a story, stressed and having trouble relaxing or focusing, or just need to get a better feel for the backstory. These are all things that can be solved rather easily through writing exercises, or simple things like mediation, bathing, or going for a walk.

However, for me, sometimes I have writer’s block because I’m depressed. It’s almost a warning sign that something is wrong with me. In that case, taking a quick inventory of what is happening in my life can sometimes help me track what might be causing the depression. Clinical depression is serious. If you think you may be clinically depressed, please seek help. I’m bipolar, so I see a therapist on a regular basis. I also see a psychiatrist periodically and take medication for my illness.

For me, the red flags that I’m not just having writer’s block but am sinking into depression are:

  1. Either sleeping too much or waking up too early.
  2. Not paying attention to personal hygiene. (Like wearing the same clothes several days!)
  3. Overeating (especially sweet stuff.)
  4. Withdrawing (more than usual–I’m an introvert, so I’m always somewhat withdrawn.)
  5. Not wanting to do anything, not being interested in anything.

Number 5 is where writing comes in. I’m interested in and passionate about many things, but writing is where my heart is. If I’m not writing–and maybe not even wanting to try some writing exercises–I know that’s a big, flashing warning sign that I’m not okay.

One of the worst bits of advice I ever got regarding writer’s block was someone online suggesting to take a break from writing and not write until you feel like it. Maybe that works for some people, but for me it sent me into a downward spiral of not writing that lasted over a year. Not writing led to more not writing, and I became more and more depressed. Once depression gets a toehold, it’s easier for it to get worse.

So, instead, I recommend being mindful of how your body is functioning and how you’re feeling. Make sure that your writer’s block isn’t a cue that something else is going on.