Why NaNoWriMo Is So Difficult For Writers With Depression And Anxiety
November is almost over, which means National Novel Writing Month, commonly known as NaNoWriMo, is also nearing its end. The annual challenge, which encourages writers to get down 50,000 words in one month, is a subject of both great excitement and soul-shaking dread. In theory, it's easy to commit to a schedule in the 30 days of the month and break the 50,000 words down into doable chunks. The reality, though, particularly for people suffering from anxiety and depression, is that doing creative work with high expectations and a deadline can feel painful and overwhelming.
The reality is that I (loosely) committed to NaNoWriMo only to get less than 2,000 words into it. Now, only a day or two from the end, I know I won't be able to finish. It's a dispiriting thing to fail at something you see other people doing so well at. Or, at least, everyone besides me seems to be doing well at it. I was probably doomed from the start because I felt from the beginning that I was going to fail and that I was wasting my time. This is all too common for many suffering people. We are hindered and defeated by our own selves, above all else.
The reality, though, particularly for people suffering from anxiety and depression, is that doing creative work with high expectations and a deadline can feel painful and overwhelming.
What makes NaNoWriMo a particularly difficult challenge for someone with anxiety and depression is that it asks for so much. It asks for commitment; unless you just write whenever you have time and somehow plan to get to 50,000. It asks for motivation; unless your keyboard hits your fingers on its own. It asks for participation in the world; because NaNoWriMo is a worldwide, community-based event. And finally, it asks for at least minimal self-confidence; because that's one of the only things that can stop people from deleting whatever they write.
When you're anxious and depressed that can all feel impossible. Failing at even one of them can make NaNoWriMo go wrong for you. While failing doesn't mean you wasted your time, it can be hard to feel proud of yourself when you didn't reach your goal. I know for myself, I feel pretty embarrassed that I didn't get even close 50,000 words. It makes it hard to value those 2,000-some words I did write. But there is a silver-lining to all of this, a simple one, too.
Failing at NaNoWriMo doesn't mean you failed as a person or as a creator. It just means you failed at one specific challenge, in one month, of one year, of your entire life. And just because you feel bad about it doesn't mean that you yourself are bad. Admittedly, I might not be able to convince myself of this — because don't we always give people the advice that we ourselves need — but I hope you'll believe me. It's universal, yet totally unique from person to person, to struggle with the hateful, unforgiving voices of anxiety, the debilitating physical exhaustion of depression, the inability to commit to basically anything, or "it's not good enough" mindset that tells you your work is bad before you even type down a letter. Some people struggle with all of these at once! What's beautiful, then, is that there are still people out there, living and trying.
It's universal, yet totally unique from person to person, to struggle with the hateful, unforgiving voices of anxiety, the debilitating physical exhaustion of depression, the inability to commit to basically anything, or "it's not good enough" mindset that tells you your work is bad before you even type down a letter.
Anxiety and depression are beyond hard and affect so much of what it takes to sit down and write something, creatively or non-creatively. That being said, it's important to think consciously about your anxiety and depression.
We should never want to become addicted to our anxiety and depression, and avoid challenges like NaNoWriMo in order to feel safe. The painful realities exist and we can and should find comfort in the fact that we're not the only ones, but we should never set ourselves up to miss our full potential. There's a fine line between challenging anxiety and depression, and setting yourself up for pain. It's up to you to find that line because no one else can do it for you.
No matter how well you did in NaNoWriMo, or whether you reached your goal, be proud that you tried. Take a moment to consciously love and appreciate yourself for trying even though you're dealing with a lot in your head. Find balance between realistically pushing yourself and creating a safe space when you need to recover. Don't let anxiety and depression beat you, and don't let it make you beat yourself up. Just keep on trying. You don't need National Novel Writing Month to write your story. Do it your way, on your terms.