Depression and Art: Writing Chasing Nirvana

I said I wasn’t going to drink. Naturally emotional, I usually shed at least a tear or two when I told the story of writing Chasing Nirvana. About 60 close friends had gathered to celebrate the book’s publication. The plan was to thank the hostess, my friends, my kids, and my husband for all their support. A minute before I talked, I told a friend what writing this book had taught me. “It’s personal. Very personal.” Others assumed that my books touched a nerve, but years of screenwriting and endless meetings and proposals had given me a craftsperson’s bag of tricks. That professional veneer got me the job, the contract, the readers. Just read the headlines about women working in Hollywood. I needed to be tough.

But Chasing Nirvana, about a gay girl bullied and feared in 1993 Aberdeen, Washington, who defiantly embarks on her own journey to meet her hero, Kurt Cobain, brought me to my knees. On page 260 of a 310-page book, I found myself unable to write, inexplicably depressed. In an effort to understand what was happening, I wrote a mini-memoir, a history of my own depression. I called it Funny Is the New Sad. In hindsight, I realized that tapping into my own decades-long depression (which got so bad I was shoplifting, was caught, and finally got help) helped me access the emotion needed to write Chasing Nirvana. Somehow my brain hid the reality of what I’d written: my own isolation and detachment in fictional form.

Maya Angelou said writing down her worries stopped her from feeling suicidal. It’s a never-ending process. Whether we garden, paint, decorate, doodle, knit, or work magic in parenting or business, whatever art we choose keeps us in the moment and saves us. Endlessly. Art and the power of healing. Try it.

Of course, I bawled when I told this story at the book launch. I always will. And it’s embarrassing. I’m working on embracing it. Someday, I’ll get there.

About the Author | Ellyn Oaksmith

Ellyn Oaksmith is the USA Today–bestselling author of four novels, most recently Chasing Nirvana (November 2017). When she’s not writing, Ellyn can be found with her nose in a book, swimming, and baking. She lives in Seattle with her family, a rescue dog, and a polydactyl “Hemingway” cat.

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