Dark side of the author
Among Olympic athletes, many return, after the rush of competition, home to their lives with a sense that now everything is ‘ordinary’. This new sense of ordinariness can spiral even lower to full-blown depression that can be difficult to escape from.
This experience is not much different to what we all can feel after achieving significant milestones like graduation, a wedding, a birth or, in my case, publishing a book.
Imagine working on a book at a marathon pace for months. This world absorbs you completely. Every thought, daydream, and moment is given to this book. Then the book is finished and you’ve never felt more accomplished. Along come the edits, followed by submissions and queries to publishers and agents. A publisher accepts the book and you are floating through the heavens for days, even weeks.
Each step that follows is like another hit of dopamine—structural edits, copy edits, the final proof, the gorgeous cover, advanced copies go out, reviews start coming in, and then the day that you have been working so hard towards arrives.
Your book is published and released into the hands of readers. Life can’t get any better. You are now permanently living in the clouds. There’s exhilarated bliss as you do promotions, interact with readers, read more reviews, check rankings and sales figures. Life is good. This is what all the hard work is for.
And then it stops. The excitement fizzles like a wet thumb and forefinger pressed to a lit wick. The flame extinguishes. Life becomes ordinary again, except this time that ordinariness in contrast to living in a state of prolonged happy chemical release feels like bright red is now sun-bleached beige. The breezy beautiful sky is now a hot, gritty bitumen road.
For a while, you keep searching around, looking for the next hit. You might check Facebook endlessly just to see that notification bell light up. Anything for a fix. Anything to get you back to where you were before. Not this dark cave where the air is thick with humidity. Where getting up feels painful. Where thoughts about the day ahead fill you with a deep sense of unshakeable monotony.
In the early years, I thought I was developing a mental illness. No denying, if the post-book gloom spiraled lower, it could end up as clinical depression. But, in my case, I questioned if I had manic-depression.
Eventually, I realised it was related to my writing schedule. This career is full of ups and downs, wins and losses. Of course, that would make my emotions soar and then drop like I was a flying bird shot from the sky only crash face first onto a dusty field.
I am a big believer in the power of ‘knowing’. My mother said when she was going through menopause that she would get a sense of impending doom just before a hot flush. Once she realised this, it increased her ability to cope with her symptoms. I then told this to a friend of mine and it helped her immensely too. She no longer bought into the feelings because she understood now that they were hormonal and would soon pass.
Knowing that my emotions are about to spiral after a book launch hasn’t stopped the post-book crash. But it has helped me cope better. Now that I know to expect a depression after all the fanfare of a book release dies off, I can anticipate it, prepare for it, and see it for what it is when it arrives.
I do this by acknowledging my emotions. I allow myself to sleep if I need to. I give myself the time I need to re-immerse myself in my life outside of writing. I do this by listening to podcasts, catching up on TV series, spending time with my family, exercising, eating better, catching up with friends, and getting out in nature.
So, at the moment, after the release of Bittersweet, followed so closely by the re-release of Catch Me a Cowboy in the anthology titled A Country Love, I’m starting to dip. I’m at the check-social-media-notifications-and-reviews-and rankings-every-ten-minutes stage.
I’ll get sick of it soon enough and move on to something else. But what I won’t do is succumb to the spiral. I recognise the gloom for what it is now, and I know it should pass if I turn my attention towards the other parts of my life that fulfil me.
Authors, readers, have you recognised this post-high gloom at various points in your own life? Do you have specific coping strategies you’ve developed?
I want to acknowledge that this is my own personal experience, not professional advice from a mental health expert. I recognise that mental health issues are not always able to be handled personally and do require professional intervention. So, if you think that you are not coping and do need professional help, please seek it.