Mental Health and NaNoWriMo

Back to 2006…

I suffer from chronic depression, and spent 15 years on disability leave (1999-2014) because of it. In 2006 we finally found a drug that stabilized my moods, but I still couldn’t concentrate well enough for long enough to do what a professor needs to do. I was stable enough to look for something else that used whatever brainpower I did have, and remembered that when I was in grade school I had written stories. My psychiatrist said this would use different parts of the brain from the analytical thinking I’d been robbed of, so some amount of creative writing might be possible. That November I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the first time, with the goal of writing a 50,000-word partial first draft of a novel in 30 days. This kind of creative writing, in “discovery writer” (“pantser”) mode, basically consists of connecting your subconscious to your fingers and applying at least enough brainpower to make coherent sentences and paragraphs. It’s a very different kind of brain work from creating lectures and reading or writing technical papers, and it was quite an emotional uplift to be able to succeed at it (51,970 words, according to the NaNoWriMo website).

It wasn’t until 2012 that we found an augmenter that aided concentration, and over the next couple of years I slowly worked up the number of hours in which I could do my job, until in 2014 I got to 60% of a normal workload, the minimum for going back to work. Unfortunately, that drug recently starting causing unacceptable side effects, and at the beginning of March I started a trial of going without it. The bad effects nearly disappeared, but my concentration collapsed back to 2006 levels. I still have an hour or so on a fair number of days, but that’s far too little to do my job. So I had to go on medical leave.
Now we’re in April 2023, which features Camp NaNoWriMo, a variant of the November event where you can set your own word count goal. I picked 24,000 words (800 per day); at my historical 10-12 words per minute, that’s an hour to an hour and a half per day. I usually can’t concentrate on technical things for that long, but I thoughy maybe I could do some creative word generation.

Eleven days in, I’ve managed to get ahead of my goal and it seems likely I can succeed, which to some extent mitigates the angst over not being able to do some academic things that were important to me. I’ve missed the “achieve par every day” badge, but I have managed to do at least a little writing every day. Perhaps I can keep it up after the extra motivation of NaNoWriMo fades.

Wish me luck.

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