Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Welcome, Jannine Corti-Petska

Writing Through Depression

“On an afternoon in September of 1994, I sat by myself with a razor blade in my hand. Outside, the weather was hot and still. But in my head a storm raged. Dozens of disordered voices howled in the wind of that storm. Most of them were of the opinion that my work had no value; that I would never succeed as a writer, and thus would never realize my most cherished dream; that the pain of my existence had made me a liability to myself and to my family; and that I would be better off dead. Luckily, the voice I heard most clearly as I held the razor poised above the veins of my wrist was that of my young son, asking me to think about what his life would be like without a mother. I put the blade down and cried, unable to do what I had intended, but finally convinced that I was seriously ill and needed help.”

 The above quote was the beginning of an article written in 1995 by Nancy Etchemendy. I could have written it, replacing the razor blade for scissors and the young son for my teenage daughter who found me standing at the kitchen sink. I had actually pressed the opened scissors into my skin. A little more pressure and a quick slice, and my suffering would have ended. My daughter saved my life.

The dictionary defines writer as “one who writes, especially as an occupation.” That’s it. A single line.

But for depression, there are 8 definitions. Psychologically speaking, the dictionary defines depression as “a psychotic or neurotic condition characterized by the inability to concentrate, insomnia, and feelings of sadness, dejection, and hopelessness.”

All of the above characteristics have been with me for most of my life. Why then did I decide to become a writer? In a business where rejection is certain, you’d think I’d steer clear of that stress. But when you have a creative mind, even depression can’t stifle the plots, characters, and everything else that goes into writing a book. It did, however, make it difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

When I started writing in my late 20s, the ideas flowed, and the pen burned up the paper from the speed at which I wrote. I wrote long-hand. No computer at the time. I could write at least two full-length novels a year (including doing the research) while researching and gathering ideas for two more. It was non-stop. I worked on plot and characters in my sleep. And I remembered it in the morning and wrote down the details while they were fresh in my mind. My three daughters were young, and I wrote when they were at school, at lessons and doctor’s appointments. Depression wasn’t so hard on my concentration, and life didn’t seem so complicated back then. That was in the late 70s.

The doctors had labeled me painfully shy when I was a teenager. In my 20s, apparently it was all in my head. I lived with that diagnosis until my early 40s when I finally found a female physician who told me I suffered from clinical depression. I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. There was a term for what I felt nearly every day.

During those years prior to my diagnosis, it became increasingly difficult to write and to come up with creative ideas. But writing was therapy for me. It focused my mind on something more than what caused any number of my depressive episodes. I had even written through a traumatic experience one year. About fifteen years later, I pulled out the book and couldn’t believe how angry my characters were to each other, how down and depressed the entire story was. Yet writing it helped me through a physically and emotionally rough time.

Psychologists found that writers suffer from depression more than any other group. In a study Kay Redfield Jamison wrote about for the Scientific American, “….her study population met….criteria for manic-depression or major depression at a rate far greater than chance. ‘In fact, it seems that these diseases can sometimes enhance or otherwise contribute to creativity in some people.’”

There was a landmark study written by Nancy Andreasen and published in a 1987 issue for the American Journal of Psychiatry. She had taken 30 members from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and compared them to a control group. She discovered that “80% of writers had an affective episode at some point in their lives, compared to 30% of a control group.” And while “37% of the writers had suffered from major depression, two of the 30 writers killed themselves during the course of the 15-year study.”

Writing is a solitary effort, but I believe it is responsible for keeping many people who write sane. Whether we find an outlet for our troubles from writing on paper or typing directly into the computer, our creativity can see us through the worst of times. I can’t say that everything I wrote while depressed was all bad. I actually had some good, publishable stories. Yet there’s always that fine line between soundly sane and teetering on the edge in a writer’s mind. Perhaps creative people are just more sensitive.

Whatever I’ve been through in my life, I have an entire writing community who often lift my spirits. Writing is the key. No matter what the future holds, as long as I have all my faculties, I’ll be writing. And, of course, my husband and daughters were always—and still are--there for me.

Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or someone close you can confide in. The important thing to remember is to seek help. I am so grateful I did.

Note: I go in-depth into what brought me to that point in my life when I tried to slice my wrist during a weeklong blog about my writing life at Novelspot, November 15-21.

Available now from Jannine:

CARINA AND THE NOBLEMAN, book 1 in the Sisters of Destiny trilogy.
Look for the re-release of book 2 in the Sisters of Destiny trilogy, CHARLOTTE AND
THE GYPSY, from DCL Publications in 2011.
Three psychic sisters separated at birth; will they discover the secrets of their past?


Visit Jannine at



Sloane Taylor said...

Jannine, I'm glad your daughter found you and that you finally landed a good doctor. Your creativity and writing skills are too wonderful for this world to have missed.

Heather Haven said...

A heartfelt article. Thank you for sharing. Everyone gets depressed from time to time, either situationally or clinically. There is no shame in any of it. The more it's talked about, the less stigmatism will be attached to it. Good for you.

Ginger Simpson said...

Greg Taylor had problems posting his response, and I felt it was too valuable to miss out on. He's a welcome addition to my own personal loop, and I truly value his friendship. What he's been through...I'd never make it out in tact. Speaks to his strength and faith.

Greg said...

Wow !! Does this blog ever resonate with me !! As Ginger knows, last October I was a finger twitch away from shooting myself with my .40-caliber pistol. I was blessed in that God intervened and I sought help for my depression instead. (A severe depression brought on by job loss, homelessness, and deteriorating health.)
This was the fourth suicide attempt for me in the 35 years I've had depression, (since I
was 15). I had also tried death by hanging, rat poison, and swallowing 78 sleeping pills. I have depression, not psychosis, so I haven't had voices telling me to end my life. Just a total feeling of being a failure, of worthlessness, and of having to live out a life I no longer valued.
From that day in October my life, and my thoughts and beliefs, have been transformed. A key aspect of that was certainly getting professional treatment, as well as building a support network of friends and resources to turn to.
Another key component was being welcomed into our group, Ginger's Group, with a warmth I've found nowhere else online. Though I was homeless and my contributions to the group were few and interrupted, I found no judgement nor bias, just supportive listening hearts and minds. Though I am a writer still in the infancy of writing professionally, I've been overwhelmingly encouraged to document my experiences and to write creatively.
Though still jobless, I now find each day to be an adventure I can look forward to. I've found peace and joy, and rediscovered my self-worth and self-respect. And I'm now looking to possibly be a strong vocal advocate locally for education about depression and the reality of suicide. Over 35,000 people commit suicide each year, and I must do what I can to try to stop this carnage.
I thank Ginger for having this blog today, and I thank you, my many e-friends, for the love and support you've given me. May God bless each of you richly.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

A powerful post and knowing how private a person Jannine is, a hard one for to write I'm sure. But knowing there are others out there in the same boat is very helpful.

Like all mental illnesses, we need to remember that they are physologic the same as diabetes. We wouldn't shun a diabetic, but we as a culture are bad about shunning those who have a brain disorder. thankfully, more and more of those disorders can be controled with medicine.

Barbara Wallace said...

What a brave post Janine. Thank you for sharing. You're right that depression is nothing to be ashamed about. I've suffered bouts for years. I never got to such a dark place fortunately. On the other hand, I think I'm like a lot of women - that is suffer from ongoing clinical malaise that allows you to function but not be completely happy or present. Thank you for reminding everyone that the "blues" is a disease and can be helped.

Good luck with your book sales!

Susan Blexrud said...

Jannine, that was a beautiful and courageous blog. Thanks for putting into words what so many of us feel. It's wonderful to have a fellow author willing to share. XO, Susan

Cate Masters said...

My heart goes out to you, Jannine. Thanks for your courageous words. Lucky your daughter intervened in time. We all need reminders that we depend on one another sometimes, and that if we reach out, others will help lift us up.
Writing has the same cathartic effect for me, and definitely helps me through rough times.

Lisa Kessler said...

What a brave blog, Jannine!!!

Thank you for sharing your experience... I wrote my first novel while my marriage was falling apart all around me. I'm sure that book was the only thing that kept me sane.

Writing is a wonderful escape when reality is painful...

Too bad there is so much rejection though! LOL Ouch!

Thanks for sharing this Jannine!!! I'm very glad you found a good doctor to help you through the rough patches...



Brenda J Weaver said...

That was a great blog post Jannine and very heart felt. Glad you are still with us. And yes, as you said many of us battle depression in one form or the other. As creative entities we are more sensitive to our surroundings and our imaginations. Thank you for speaking so plainly. I am sure it will help many of us.
Take care,

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I am so glad you've been able to work through the depression and found solace in writing. I also found peace writing my stories when my daughter was going through extreme cancer treatments and then died eight years ago. Just by being able to go 'someplace else' for a while I could escape the horror that we were going through. I might also add that it was my writing friends who know emotions so well that helped me keep my sanity. Now that we are healing, I can use a lot of these emotions in my stories and even though I tear up putting the thoughts on paper, I know it helps me to share my thoughts and pain.

Bless you and may you always be able to write your wonderful stories.

Miriam Newman said...

Glad you shared this with us, Jannine. I began my writing career in poetry and think poets may suffer from depression even more frequently than writers. I lost two close friends over the years. Support and understanding from others is crucial.

Margaret West said...

It's a bit of a taboo subject, depression. Some people seem to think you can 'snap' out of it. My daughter had a complete nervous breakdown at 14. She was bullied for years at school, then finally set a light and stabbed at school. That sent a strong, bright girl over the edge. She is 21 now and still slides back to those days occasionally. It's a cruel illness.
Not one to be taken lightly.
Great post, Jannine.

Jannine said...

Oh, my gosh everyone. I had been gone all morning and am just now reading all your comments. You've brought tears to my eyes, good tears for your kind words and sad tears for those of you who have suffered or know someone who has suffered from depression.

I can't tell you how much your comments mean to me. I hope you don't mind one response for all of you, but if I had to write individually, I'd be bawling like a baby. lol

God bless you all.

Diane M. Wylie said...

Janine, you are so brave to be able to write so openly about your struggles. I admire that. Thank goodness your daughter stopped you. You have a wonderful mind and heart. Your stories need telling and I wish you all the luck in the world in your writing career.

Lin said...

How do you thank a sister who puts into words the same war so many of us have had to fight? How do you say to the others who say sometimes we need to know there are others out there who care when in truth we ALWAYS need to know there are others out there ready to open their hearts and hear the pain that sometimes is so deep it feels like it will never ease? How do you praise another for having the courage to let the words begin to weave never knowing if they will truly create a tapestry strong enough to reveal all that has torn through our souls and left us shaking and exposed? Bless you Janine. You have given all of us who have dropped into Ginger's blog comfort beyond anything I am sure you could have imagined when you decided to share. And thank you, from the bottom of my heart. As for you Greg, I am not a part of Ginger's group, I am a newbie to this author's world, but Ginger knows how to reach me. If you ever need another friend, feel free to reach out, I will happily be here to answer. I am so relieved you found the strength and grace to be here among us to share your powerful story too...and Ginger, once again, you leave me speechless. In case I haven't told you this lately, Girl, I adore you.

Jannine said...

Diane, thank you for your comments. I have been quite emotional over all the kind-hearted people who have read my blog entry. It's a wonderful feeling to know we are all one big sister- and brotherhood in the writing world.

Jannine said...

Lin, your comment really moved me, and once again I teared up. Maybe it's because everyone has been so supportive of a subject that at one time was taboo.

My mother went through depression and had a nervous breakdown twice when I was growing up. If she were alive today, she'd have gotten the proper help she needed.

Thank you so much, Lin.

DCL Publications said...

Jannine, I have always loved having you part of the DCL fam & after reading your blog, I am more honored then ever. You have a powerful story to share & I am glad you are doing it. So many of us suffer through depression that its wonderful for all of us to see that if you can make it through so can the rest of us. Really looked forward to your new DCL novel with us! xo

Jannine said...

Pam, you're so sweet. I love my DCL family and can't wait to have more novels published with you.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Anonymous said...

Mom, you are a wonderful mother who I never want to think about being gone from my life. I am honored and lucky to have you as my mother. I know it wasn't easy raising me and my sisters! LOL You are a talented woman and I am proud of all your accomplishments. Love you, Gina

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

some interesting information. thank you Jannine

Lorrie said...

Thank you for sharing with us Jannine. So many suffer depression it's almost unimaginable the number.
Life really throws us curves. You and the rest of you that have posted have another sister here.
Few know this, but I lost my 22 yr old granddaughter three years ago. She was murdered, her body found in a dumpster. The murderer is now serving hard time. A year and a half ago, I lost my son in law. 47 yrs old, massive heart attack. Three weeks ago, I lost my oldest daughter the same way as her 47 yr old husband. She went to sleep and never woke up. I'm still working through the pain. My husband is very ill and I am caretaking for him. Many a time in the last few years I have reached the point where I think I can't go on. But with my friends, those who bolster me, those who understand are a true blessing. We are not alone and for that I'm truely grateful. Gosh, I sound like true confessions. I didn't mean to whine, or make this post sound like group therapy, I only wanted to say, if we hold each others hands, we will make it through.
And a few on here have been holding mine. Thank you friends.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Jannine, dear,

Thank you for being so brave and so honest. I spent three months in the state psychiatric ward when I was a teen, and also tried to commit suicide. Some people do not understand that "mental problems" are as real as cancer or heart disease.

I agree that writing can be a solace. Never doubt yourself--allow your imagination to soar.


Ginger Simpson said...

I've already thanked Jannine ten fold for being so honest and open about her depression. I want to thank those of you who "supported" her in her "confession," and added your own comments and feelings. For Lorrie, you my dear have certainly tasted the bitter wine of life. Your depression seems justified, and my prayers continue to be with you, asking for added strength and understanding as you try to deal with all the loss. I've found new role models here who have put things into perspective for me. Thank you each and everyone.

Janet Elizabeth Jones said...

Jannine, as someone who thinks of you as the sister I never had, I can say without doubt that my life would have been missing a chunk of sunshine if you were not here.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and wisdom. I think you're right about writing. It's the "fix" that always lifts our spirits. I think creativity is a very giving gift in general, and perhaps, for writers in particular, especially when they want to escape into their imaginary worlds.

Jannine said...

Gina, I know I can always count on your support, as well as Dad's and your sisters. It's a comfort knowing I have all of you.
Love you, sweetie.

Kim Richards said...

Jannine, I'm right there with you. My sons saved my live back in 2001 when they came home early. I'd taken two bottles of pills. Since then, I've learned Depression has held me down since I was 17. I spent ten days in the hosptial and every patient there with the same problem was a creative...writers, rapper, artists. We all agreed the creative process is a vital outlet.

The first step is realizing it's not shameful to be afflicted with depression. Then you can learn what triggers it in you and how to best defeat it.

Fight on gal! I'm there with you.

Janice said...

Thank you for your candor. Depression can be an awful debilitating disease. I'm glad your daughter found you in time and you got the help you needed.

Take care and keep writing. :)


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