Joe Hill — Taking Off The Crazypants
I seem to have gradually become quite the fan of Joe Hill. A friend of mine recommended his rather excellent comic series Locke & Key a few years back, and that led me to read Heart-Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts, which I also enjoyed, but it was just a few weeks ago that I finally picked up Horns, which I loved so much that it immediately put NOS4A2, his next release, on my “must-buy” list.
I had the pleasure of getting my hardback of NOS4A2 signed at Seattle’s University bookstore recently, and went home and started following his Twitter and Tumblr accounts.
Just in time to see this post today, right when I needed to. One of his followers asked him if treating OCD would hinder his writing process. He writes:
I struggled with mild OCD and not-so mild paranoid ideation for decades; it was especially bad in the year or two around the publication of HORNS, a paranoid book written by a paranoid and unhappy man.
For a long time I was determined not to get help, because I was very afraid that if I took a pill, or saw a therapist, it would destroy me creatively. Then one day I realized I didn’t give a shit about whether or not I could go on as a writer… it was far more important to find a way to go on as a person, so I could be the best possible father to my kids, and not a miserable man who couldn’t make his appointments because he had to keep driving home to see if the oven was on.
[….] Completing HORNS, and getting it right, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a creative person, because I did it with an interior voice constantly screaming in my ear that it was all wrong, that publication of the book would destroy all the good will I had created with Heart-Shaped Box. I got the novel written – and it came out good, Goddamn it – even though I usually began my day by searching my office for listening devices.
Can a little bit of OCD be adaptive for a creative person? Maybe [….] But it’s very hard to be successful as an artist when you’re flinching from imaginary terrors and on the run from imaginary enemies. [….] I wrote most of NOS4A2 after getting on Paxil and getting into therapy and dealing with my problems. It was hard-going at first, but in the end I wrote the novel with joy and excitement. I owed it to my kids to get my shit together. If getting right emotionally has helped me to do some of my best work, that’s just a fringe benefit.
Honestly, before I read this, I had no idea that Joe Hill struggled with mental health issues. I know I’ve written before about writers and depression, and about the problems with depression I’ve personally faced.
I’ve actually been having a hell of a hard time lately, even though I really haven’t talked about that much here0. Left to my own devices, having no other obligations other than simply to write hasn’t been the liberating experience I thought it would be. It’s been paralyzing. On days when I’m not feeling too overwhelmed and depressed to sit down at the keyboard, I too often find myself instead sitting there in a blank state of free-floating anxiety – elevated heart rate, shallow breathing.
I’ve been getting through it, a little at a time. I have been managing to make myself write, although not nearly as much as I want to – my daily word count is still pretty pathetic, which is another source of anxiety.
Another big issue I have at the moment is that my current work-in-progress is very, very different in style and tone from anything I’ve ever published, and so I have that very same interior voice thah Hill mentions constantly screaming in my ear that I’m not writing what everyone wants from me, even though I think what I’m writing is fun and good and even though everyone I’ve described the project to seems very enthusiastic about it. I still can’t seem to just relax and let myself work on it.
But reading this post reminds me that even artists I greatly admire have some of the same problems, and that they’re not insurmountable. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train.
So, just in case you ever read this – thank you, Mister Hill, for sharing this much, for being so honest about what you’ve been through. It helps a lot.