Exile In Your Own Head: Why So Many Writers Kill Themselves
Writing is an interesting form of expression, and in the same breath, a very interesting profession. For everyone who has ever dreamt about doing it, have you spent a great deal of time wondering what it would be like as a profession? You imagine the pure elation of what it must be like for people to want to read what you have to say. You think about how stellar it must be, once you know you have affected hundreds of thousands of people, in some way or another, with your words. You think about that high, but you don’t think about the other extreme. The act of working, and what that entails. If you want to know the cost, look no further than the number of high-profile, life-changing authors who took their own lives. This is not some weird coincidence. This is a fucking job hazard, and the numbers speak for themselves. How much you will enjoy writing as work is directly proportional to how much you love spending time with yourself. Do you love yourself? Well, you better atleast be able to stand yourself if you come into this field, because it seems, in most cases, we are our own worst enemies, and we don’t know it until it is too late.
First off, please know, I am not holding myself in the same breath or regard that I am holding these real authors I am about to speak of. I have simply felt one one-hundredth of what they experienced, and know how heavy and lonesome it can be at times, and I am only a few years deep into it (on a public scale). I mean, look at these three to get an idea:
Hunter S. Thompson is pretty much a God to me. I know holding people in those terms is silly, but no more silly than the invisible guy in the sky some of you pray to.
Ernest Hemingway wrote works of fiction that are essential reads to almost every human. Do you realize the scope and magnitude of that?
And screw all the “woe is me” tween fan fiction that is forced on young girls now by pop culture. Hand every girl a copy of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, so they can know true pain and longing, as well as what beautiful writing ebbs and flows from the hand of a sad soul. That is just three. Three writers out of the hundreds who have ended their lives by their own hand. What about Virginia Woolf, John Kennedy Toole, David Foster Wallace, Anne Sexton, Yukio Mishima, Stefan Zweig, Arthur Koestler, Hart Crane, John O’ Brien, Spalding Gray, Iris Chang, Paul Celan, Robert E. Howard, and many more? You think this is just some weird coincidence that these people ended their own lives?
While various factors were individual for each (bipolar, addictions, traumatic past), the one thing that linked these people was the fact that they, as writers, chose to spend great lengths of time inside their own heads. That is what writers do. They go to the places, proverbially (and internally), that most would fear. The problem once they go there is, it is very hard to get back out. I only say this because, on some weird level, I get it, even though I am pretty far removed from that level of talent. Though I have been writing my entire life, I started pursuing it aggressively in 2010, after an accident at my old job left me partially broken for a few years. Accident at old job means car smashed into me while I was protecting retarded kids. So I had to pursue other things. What better to pursue when you are partially broken, than writing? So I did. And thus, I was thrust into a world where I would be glued to a screen and a keyboard, religiously, for the next two years, barely coming up for air. While that, in itself, may not sound bad, it isn’t all bad. You take the good with the bad. So what is the real bad of that?
Self imposed exile and isolation.
You know that moment at night, when you are suddenly done doing all the shit you had to do that day, and you lay back in the darkness of your room, and all your thoughts you had held back with a day of busy work suddenly come flooding in to your head, preventing you from sleeping? Well, that is what it is like as a writer. Except, you know, all the time.
You are forced into parts of your brain normal people don’t use, because you are trying to pluck thoughts and make visuals. And that place in your mind just happens to be the place where you also repress all the terrible shit that ever happened to you, and all of your regrets. So, naturally, while you are plucking thoughts like sunflowers, you tend to pull some weeds here and there. And you can’t just throw them away. They are rooted, deeply. So you learn use them. And turn them into a muse. And you use them, as they use you, and it goes back and forth. An unending cycle begins, but it also begins to take a toll.
You then add the fact that sometimes, the only person a writer talks to is an editor, and for the most part, you only hear from editors when you’ve done something wrong, and you can see why it it might not be everything its set up to be. You think your job sucks, right? Well, you ever pull an eight hour shift and then have your bosses not pay you? You ever had that happen after a full week of work? And don’t even get me started on the shit talkers. Okay, I got me started on them. They are the fucking worst. Take a troll, up it by ten, and then make them into an actual person. These people pop out at parties and shows and wherever you are, and always have to ask, in front of everyone: Oh, you’re a writer, huh? Well, what do YOU write? I have learned there are two ways to answer those kinds of people. One, you just tell them, and fuck what they think. Or two, twist the situation. “In about three minutes I will be writing an epitaph unless you change your patronizing tone when asking me about what I do ” seems to work incredibly well at shutting up people like that. Alas, petty threats are juvenile, so you laugh them on and crawl back into your head.
This joke is one of my favorite Family Guy running jokes, though.
But what about a relationship, Remy? Can’t love save these people?
Well, look to most of the examples of suicides I just mentioned. A great deal of them were married, as a matter of fact. Do their suicides hint that they were married to less-than-stellar people? Not in the least. You see, married or not, relationship or not, the time you spend writing and researching, which will be a BIG chunk of your time if you intend to make a financial living off of this, supersedes the small chunk of time you will be lucky enough to spend with your lover or family at the end of the day. I live with a wonderful woman, who is warm, and stunning, and makes my life a hundred times better, but our actual paths cross for about an hour a day. And if you live AND write from home. Yeah, good luck with that. The reality is, time you spend working, trying to keep the roof over both of your heads, will ask so much of you, there will be little left to say after your fingers have just done the talking for fourteen hours. Yes, unless you are Stephen King, expect fourteen hour days, and few days off, because this gig sure as Hell isn’t lucrative unless you know the right people. And let’s be honest, if I knew the right people would I be a fucking blogger?
But, I love this gig, as most writers do, which is why they do it. I just don’t know if we all know what we are signing up for . Which is just why I am writing this.
This is by no means a complaint about my field, or what I do. We, as bloggers, or writers, or whatever you call us this week, are lucky and blessed in far brighter a fashion than we are cursed. But when you crawl up into your head for a living, and decide you are going to stay there, there is a genuine risk of the price you pay. Go deep enough, into anything (including your own subconscious) and you will drown. Loneliness is one hell of a feeling, and for some, become obsolete is even more frightening. I am already obsolete, so that fear never bothers me, though. And loneliness is a place I know well, by choice. But there are moments, when the unspoken words bounce around inside your skull like a superball, trying to get out. And once you get lucky enough to write it down and get it out of your head, you realize that wasn’t the thing driving you insane at all.
It was you. It was always you. Being a writer just made you more aware of it.