“All Writers are Depressed”


I wish I had the reference now, but a few months ago I was reading a successful writer’s blog and came across the unhedged statement that all writers are depressed. A quick google search shows that there’s an element of truth to this.

Me, I’m happy as a clam, except when I’m miserable, which mostly centers around my job as a pathologist. It’s always been that way, even during residency.

And there are a few other things that have “always” been there for me.

For instance, I always feel much colder than other people – unless I’m in cold water with a wet suit on, then they’re colder. I’m always more anxious than most people I know, though I try hard to hide it and often succeed, I think.

These things should have been a clue. Here are some other clues that could have helped me:

Slow movement
Slow speech
Prominent bags under my eyes
Cool skin
Slow pulse
Low blood pressure
Loss of the outer third of eyebrows
Brittle nails
Red face with exercise
A tendency to be slow to heat up even in a sauna
Hoarseness for no apparent reason
Accelerated worsening of eyesight or hearing
Mood swings, especially anxiety
Gum problems
Various burning or tingling sensations that come and go….
Bottom line: you could be depressed and anxious due to hypothyroidism and yet have normal T4, T3 and TSH values, and a brilliant, concerned MD standing beside you telling you that you definitely do NOT have hypothyroidism.

Trust me on this.

I was close friends with a psychiatrist who told me that he never could understand how to interpret a thyroid panel. He likened it to the macroeconomics I was trying to beat him over the head with in the context of an ongoing political argument that finally destroyed our friendship.

I mention this so you won’t write off undiagnosed “mild” hypothyroidism as a fad or a fringe development. It’s a complex issue for everyone involved, myself included.

I’m a pathologist, for goodness sake, a clinical laboratory guy, and I did not know how easy it is to miss this diagnosis by “treating the numbers instead of the patient.”

I discovered that I have hypothyroidism of long standing. It has gone undiagnosed all my adult life because my blood tests (TSH and thyroid panel) have always been within the “normal” ranges (up until the last test which showed only a slightly elevated TSH).

I recommend you read Thyroid Power by Richard Shames, M.D., et al. if you’re overly anxious or at all depressed, even just intermittently about specific things.

Long story short: I took my first thyroid meds (a T3 and T4 combo, not just T4) yesterday morning and within five minutes felt my legs go from cold (the usual) to warm. Yesterday I felt as normal emotionally as I ever did when I was a kid. I could think about my job without a sense of impending doom, disaster, and free-floating fear. I suddenly wanted to go out and do something outside, rather than sit in the house. I suddenly wasn’t craving food and caffeine all day. My mind was sharper, despite a poor night’s sleep the night before. I scored in my top 5 scores on a Lumosity game, for heaven’s sake!

The book claims that 10% of the population has hypothyroidism. If true, it’s astounding. Not everyone who’s depressed or anxious has hypothyroidism, and vice versa, but wow, with numbers like 10%, there’s bound to be significant overlap. There was for me.

Hypothyroidism can run in families. It’s difficult to diagnose because the tests are not as sensitive as most docs think. And the doctors, myself (previously) included, almost all believe that a normal TSH and a normal thyroid panel exclude (rule out) hypothyroidism. Baaaaaamp! Wrong answer!

Chances are, if you have “mild” hypothyroidism that is causing anxiety and any degree of depression, your numbers are going to come back “normal” and you’re going to need to educate your doctor. That is going to be next to impossible, but if you read the book and memorize parts of it, you may have a fighting chance if you’re a confident person and an effective talker.

A better approach would be to shop around for a doctor who already knows what’s going on with the latest thyroid tests and current knowledge of the disease. Even though I’m a pathologist, I went that route, and found a doc who isn’t an MD. I forget what he is, I’ll go look it up…

He’s boarded in Naturopathic Medicine.

My dad was an MD – so was his dad – so am I. We kids were raised to believe that there are MD’s and there are quacks. Nothing between. I don’t believe that anymore. Hopefully you never did.

Sometimes the “experts” are not at the cutting edge. It’s like that in every field I’ve explored, including fiction writing and archaeology. Being able to think outside your own box is possible only if you discover that you’re in one. Then you’ve got to value objectivity more than the sound of your own voice.

Be happy. Keep writing. Your story could open minds and save our species from itself. You are that good.

M. Talmage Moorehead

If you’re interested in glimpsing strategies for depression, and don’t mind hearing from an opinionated nineteen-year-old girl in another universe, my in-progress novel may be a helpful read. She’s a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression. Her evolving story starts here (as a “one-page” document).

It’s an experimental novel called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a “hapa” thing itself – a hybrid of fiction / non-fiction. Hapa is Hawaiian for “half,” and Johanna, the protagonist, is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, because we both like to question dogmas and test things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them thoughtlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that will place you on my short list of people who wouldn’t mind being notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t even written to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks! I appreciate your thoughtfulness.