As a writer who suffers from motivation-affecting mental illnesses that can be exacerbated by stress, it’s important for me to be able to identify the reason why I’m staring at a blank page and feeling like I can’t write. Writing is stressful. My day job is stressful. Living in this country as a queer person is stressful. So it’s possible that my “writers’ block” is early stage depression.
But sometimes writer’s block is just writer’s block. How can I tell the difference? And why do I need to know?
As for how, it usually boils down to how my chest and stomach feel (heavy and acid respectively usually signals depression), and whether the time spent staring at the page leads to distractability (writer’s block) or negative self-talk (depression).
If I’m actually crying, chances are that the answer is depression.
Being able to tell the difference is important because my strategies for adjusting my writing life to accommodate my issues are vastly different. The only way through writer’s block is to power through it. I have to shut off the devices and just sit there until my only choice is to write my way out. I need to sit down and make myself write no matter how hard it is. But trying and failing to power through when the underlying issue is depression just leads to, you guessed it, deepening depression. I need to walk away and engage in some self-care and when I’m feeling better, the motivation will come back.
And there you have it: the effects of depression and writer’s block are the same, but being able to tell the difference can save tons of time and emotional pain.