In the last year and a half I’ve gone through several project milestones on a non-fiction project–completing the manuscript, wading through final edits, poring over proofs, and waiting for it to be published. The milestones came with tight deadlines which were additional workloads on top of the usual day job and family schedule. Getting it all done was exhausting but surprisingly energizing. I had to work at an intense pace, with extreme focus. I got Efficient (Capital E intended) at getting through the daily requirements so I would have time for the manuscript. I jettisoned unnecessary commitments. I let my spouse take on more of the daily chores. As I immersed myself into the writing, inspiration seemed to come hand in hand with the overload. I saw more and more connections, reached better insights. And then, after each deadline passed, I was euphoric, hopeful, excited, . . . sad.
What? Sad? What was wrong with me? I had no reason, no excuse, no justification to be sad. And yet there was no denying it. After each deadline, instead of getting up early to write I was sleeping past the alarm. Instead of being efficient at getting through the day’s requirements so I could have time to write in the evening, nothing got done. Not even the day’s basic non-writing requirements. It was a low almost equivalent to the writer’s high I had been on.
My initial response was to invalidate the sadness. To tell myself how lucky I was and that I should get over it and on with life. Not surprisingly, that approach was an utter failure. It simply added guilt to the lethargy.
It took only a little research to discover I was not alone in my experience. In fact, according to a 1987 New York Times article by Charles Salzberg, I was in exalted company. Writers including Jack Kerouac, Joseph Heller, Larry McMurtry, and Joyce Carol Oates (among others) experienced versions of what Salzberg termed ‘postwritum depression.’ Allison Winn Scotch wrote about it on our very own Writer Unboxed. A google search for ‘post-publication depression’ offered a host of other articles–some satirical, many serious. This brought me to a very helpful realization. Post-project depression is NORMAL. It might even be necessary, a way to replenish the batteries before tackling the next project, the next deadline.
What would change if I called my experiences a post-project recovery instead of post-project depression? [Read more…]