Monday, 22 August 2011
In the spring of 2007, I got a call from an old friend who had just taken a job as the editor of a new quarterly magazine about depression. I can’t recall precisely how the conversation went from there but it ended up with my offering to write a personal “viewpoint” column about my own experience with depression.
I was first diagnosed with depression in 1992 and over the intervening 15 years, I had gradually become open about it. Doing so hadn’t gotten me invited to more parties but it didn’t become an albatross around my neck either. The opportunity to get paid for telling my stories sounded like a sweet deal. All I had to do was say what I wanted to say. I still couldn’t believe that they were going to pay me for this. So I wrote the first column and hit “Send” and started to think of ways to spend the extra money. I was totally unprepared for what happened next.
When my friend the editor wrote back, I realized that the guy that I had known for nearly twenty years, a guy who sang at my wedding, had turned into some kind of control freak. He wanted me to make changes! Changes!
He thought that it could be “tightened up” and “tweeked.” He didn’t think one particular sentence was “a good fit.” My nouns and verbs, lovingly shaped into sentences and whole paragraphs, needed “tweeking”? Well, I thought, this could get depressing.
In the end, the ego boost from seeing my name (and photo!) in print won out over my hurt feelings. The magazine, Esperanza, is going strong four years later and I have contributed a column to every issue.
I am working with my third editor now and I have learned that “Cruelty To Writers” is a required course in editor school. But I have also learned that the editorial process has forced me to think much more clearly about the ways depression has affected my life.
The columns are not just pages plucked from my personal journal, uncontested thoughts that please me when I put them in writing. The columns, rather, are hammered into shape. They are a lot like a string of therapy sessions – but without the $150/hour.
Writing a column for a magazine isn’t a road that is open to everyone but there are a lot of other venues out there for self-expression. It seems to me that anyone struggling with depression – an illness that creates and then thrives on isolation – will be especially helped by telling his or her stories.
--Michael Rafferty, Columnist for Esperanza magazine and Families for Depression Awareness volunteer