On July 13, we sent the final corrections for “The Anarchist’s Workbench” to the printing plant. When I woke up on July 14, I couldn’t get out of bed.
Like a lot of writers and artists I know, I deal with clinical depression. I am open about it, but it doesn’t define my work or factor into my personality much (plus depressedwoodworker.com seemed too, well, depressing). In fact, I doubt I’ll ever mention my diagnosis on the blog again. I don’t want this disease to become my calling card. (Norm has his tool belt, Marc Spagnuolo has tattoos and Schwarz is like Eeyore, lol.)
But it’s part of the story of this book.
Two years ago I weaned myself off antidepressants (I hate taking pills), but after lying in bed for two hours that Tuesday morning I knew I should call my doctor. He put me back on medication, but the stuff usually needs to float about my brain for about four weeks before I feel relief.
(I suspect there are well-meaning people out there who want to give me advice about depression. Thanks, but really I’m fine. My health is my problem alone. I’ve been through the wringer and around the horn during the last 14 years. My doctor and I know what works for me. But I do sincerely appreciate your good intentions.)
The next step to get my head working right is to push myself into building things. Once I get moving, my body can handle the rest. Plus, working on a project helps speed up the time. When I’m depressed, every day feels 40 hours long. If I’m deep in a project, time passes normally.
Luckily I have a backlog of commission work. I knocked out a couple small pieces, and then looked at the next customer on the list: Two Scottish Darvel chairs.
Hmm, I thought, I could start taking photos of the chairs’ construction process for “The Stick Chair Book.” This serendipity seemed like a gift. I could build a couple chairs (which I love doing) plus feel like I was moving forward on a book project.
The next day I got in my truck and headed for the lumberyard. It was too early for the drugs to start working, but I was already starting to feel more like myself.
— Christopher Schwarz
Note: The last few entries in this series have been pretty touchy-feely. Next up I shift gears into a discussion of photography and lighting and how we produce photos for Lost Art Press books.
Read other posts from the “Making Book” series here.
48 thoughts on “Making Book Part 4: The Curse of the Creative Class”
Good luck and Best wishes from Germany, you are one of the Best Wood teachers and I love your DVD‘s for learning
I don’t get the impression you need any helpful advice – you’re working with the things that work for you. If anything, I’d say that your words will be a big help to others to understand how to live their best lives. Thanks (and thanks for all the books, too)!
When I was an airline pilot, the CAA wouldn’t let me back flying if I took drugs for my depression, so I was restricted to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Worked, thank goodness.
The work you’re churning out notwithstanding your depression is outstanding.
I’ve heard about a few professions that don’t allow you to work if you’re “taking drugs” for depression. I have depression and take an antidepressant. I don’t have side effects. They don’t make me happy. They make it possible for me to be happy. I’m sure they’d be ok with you taking medication for cholesterol, heart, acid reflux or a plethora of other ailments. I’d much rather have a pilot that is getting treated than one in the middle of depression.
From the outside it looks like everything in your life is perfect. You run multiple businesses, you’re successful at writing about something you love, you have a good family, and you make cool stuff. From an outside perspective there seems to be no reason for you to be depressed. Yet you are and you’ve figured out how to go on in spite of the depression.
Woodworking is my creative outlet. My getaway from a stressful job. And yet there are days when I can’t seem to get out of my chair to go to my workshop. I know I need to get myself up and do something, anything. And yet, I struggle to do so. I know the things I make are nice, not great, but nice, and functional. And I feel almost normal when I’m in the shop.
Thank you for sharing. Depression is a lonely place to live. And while I wouldn’t want to come across as reveling in your depression, today you’ve made me feel a little less lonely.
Thank you Chris for your honesty ( and all your books and invaluable info)
You rock! Always have, and I’m looking forward to receiving the last Anarchist book.
You are a wonderful teacher and talented writer. Also your random mention of goats always makes me laugh. Thank you Chris.
Thank you for that.
Chris, your unvarnished approach to being shines brightly. Thank you!
Today’s post made me realize that finding your words 20 plus years ago helped me then and now. Thank you. Reminds me of these words by David R Loy from his book Ecodharma; “We don’t know if what we do is important, but we do know that it’s important for us to do it.”
Change the landscape
Thank you for your honest comments. I know you don’t want suggestions, BUT I have actually seen this work. Tryptophan is an enzyme in milk and other foods. You get it in capsules from any health food store. It is better than pharma meds, no side effects. Thanks for all you do for all of us.
Chris, thanks for all you do. I’m a 74 year old Vietnam vet (USMC) with PTSD. Woodworking (and Cymbalta) enable me to stay alive. Peace.
Thank you for your service. Welcome home.
Eeyore is my favorite Poo characters. Like woodworking his sayings are iconic. 🖤
Thank you for your courage and honesty.
Thank you Chris. You bring a lot of enjoyment and happiness to people, and you appear to have a great family for support.
Be good. Build great things. And thank you
You are far from being the Donkey type. I see you more like a buckjumper, always working to unseat the status quo. Thank you for sharing your feelings. It is a relief that men from our generation (I was born in 1968) can now without being shamed, like our fathers would have been or us when we were teenagers, openly talk about depression.
Have a good week-end,
I told my doctor once that I’m not depressed, the rest of you just aren’t paying attention. He was still chuckling when he left. . . to write the prescription. Thanks for getting up and doing what you do. Nuff said.
Looks like you picked a bad day to quit sniffing glue.
I’m really looking forward to photography and lighting. I really, really suck at that.
Another form of anti-depressant. Great movie. 🙂
Depression is nature’s way of protecting us from ecstatic stupidity.
Your advice, instructions, and books have meant a great deal to me. Platonically, I love you man.
Chris, I value you and everything you’ve ever written. I met you at one of your Lost Art Press open house Saturdays and consider the event as having met with greatness. Never doubt your value to all us lesser mortal!
On any given day lately depression might be the only rational reaction.
I’ve been there too. Sounds like you (and your doc) are managing things well. Congrats.
I built a Roubo bench from your first book about 12 years ago and had to flatten the top finally this summer. I put extra front-back stretchers on the tops of the legs and screwed up into the top. Theoretically it is now disassemble if I ever move.
As a creative type and someone who has struggled off and on with depression (and motivation to do anything when depressed) it was refreshing to see this post.
I’m depressed from not having any commissions since Covid- feels hopeless, my business and dreams are ruined. I guess be glad you have the work to keep you grounded, glad someone does…
I would stay away from any medications if I could, look up to what happened to Jordan Peterson it’s just heartbreaking what happened to him. He knew what he was doing as a clinical phycologist and the meds almost killed him. Someday soon I hope they find a cure, it seems that the stigma is slowly going away at least as people begin to understand it a little better.
Stuffing yourself full of beef and benzos isn’t the same as taking antidepressants. Jordan Peterson clearly did not know what he was doing, or he wouldn’t have ignored the near-unanimous advice of the psychiatric profession.
Depression, it’s all in one’s head.. Everything/one sucks if you want it to or its/there all great or its everywhere in the middle its all a choice. Happiness is a choice. Kindness is a choice, both worth making. The only real requirement is that some one else makes the coffee 5 out of 7 days and you keep moving, as wacko as times are lots of folks got the much shorter end of the stick. If its bad enough go for the $40 lb coffee as required. Whining gets you less than you started with cause you now wasted time back to work.
Fellow depression sufferer here. I know the feeling of being locked in like that. You know you’re OK on some level, and it will eventually be fine, but right then and there it’s an invisible weight pressing down on you… and you can’t see through the gloom surrounding you full daylight. Good luck, and thanks for being open about it. Understanding it helps me get through, knowing it’s just a thing that happens and eventually it will fade. I sometimes just go out to my shop and sit there with the music on.
I too am not one to step in horse shit and say, “Where’s the pony?” Thanks for your openness on this issue. I’m very much looking forward to the next chair book particularly since it has more than one option on how to do a task. That was one of the features I liked about one of my first woodworking books, Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking.
On the subject of making books. Are you re making the book by Alexander? How to make a chair from a tree? It is impossible to get in the UK!
Your a fantastic teacher and writer. Thanks for everything you do. My skills have have improved significantly because of the remote tutelage I receive from your books, DVDs and online resources.
You should know that your books have helped me though my own mental health struggles. Thanks for being a different kind of pill. Truly.
As much as talk therapy, the ability to make useful things out of wood has helped me through some very difficult episodes during the last 10 years. The first few LAP books (and your sawing demo on The Woodwright Shop) are keystones of everything I’m able to do now. Thanks.
By the way, good on you mate for even being willing to admit to having depression. Been thru both depression and cancer (full course of chemo and rad) treatment. Cancer was easier because people can talk about it.
You are a brave man to open up to the internet about personal struggles. Stay strong
Thank you for this. No advice, as you requested, but personally, I also have struggled with mental health. My first doctor didn’t believe I was depressed (when I was really at my worst) and I got no help for years. When I finally did start taking anti-depressants I did it secretly, and so ashamed to asked for help as a man with feelings that when I got tired of the side effects I just stopped taking them- which caused severe vertigo for a week, and made me miss work. Then, I was forced (not really, but I felt it was time) to explain why. Turns out the other managers at the tech shop I worked at also had their own experiences, and it was the first time I felt like it was OK to talk about it even a bit openly. I don’t take any pills now either but I prioritize my mental health, and I love to see when other people share theirs as well, because I know for each of us, there’s dozens of (especially men, but maybe that’s just what I know) who could use the validation that it’s ok to talk about, and definitely ok to get help – from a doctor, a therapist, a parent, friend, partner, mentor- anyone who can be a reflection and help. Or just be able to ask ourselves what we need and understand that it’s not selfish to want to be healthy. It’s how we are able to serve others.
So thank you for that. Well wishes to you and yours on this journey. If I had read something like this as a teenager it would have helped me immensely.
Thank you for that. I know this step of the creative process well, though due to the way I’ve monetized my creative abilities, woodworking is often the escape rather than the cause.
I appreciate and share your aversion to being defined by your brain’s chemistry, but I’m glad you mentioned it. It simultaneously humanizes and pedestalizes your work: Human in that it is the product of someone who struggles just like me, and on a pedestal in that work I greatly admire is still possible under that load.
Thank you for sharing this. I too have clinical depression, and take medication to help regulate my brain chemistry. I hate taking medication but I’ve learned that it’s just something I need to deal with to be my best self. Often I feel the same way after completing a project. I’m feeling really down today, nothing is “wrong” but instead of hitting the ground running I’ve done nothing of substance today.
Thank you. The Superman myth is unhelpful to those who struggle. You are helpful in all the best ways. As the kids say, “Sharing is caring.” Thank you for caring enough to share on a deeply personal level. I’m married to a writer, so I know a little of what it takes to get a book completed. Your commitment to putting one foot in front of the other each day is a good demonstration of how to get a book published and how to make a life. Bless you.
I’m obviously a bit late to this post, but thanks for even just this once discussing your issues–in a time when so many of us are maybe for the first time realizing what clinical depression is or feels like, simple admissions like this matter a lot. It’s easy to look at people with volumes of visible work and assume they just have a different motor inside. Basically, reading this helped, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
Anybody who would presume to give “advice” about depression needs to first understand that it is not just one simple thing. The brain is every bit as much part of the physical (medical) body as any other physiological organ, and is as susceptible and vulnerable to at least as many maladies and malfunctions as any other organ or combination of them as any other part of us. However it is MUCH more complex and involved than almost any other part of us. Given its central function in our lives, it is probably also a central cause of most of our dysfunctions. It’s actually quite astounding and incredible that our medical insurance does not regularly, routinely, and PRIMARILY include brain maladies in our insurance schedules, protocols, and primary insurance coverage. I don’t know many people who have not at one time or another had cause for treatment.
As someone who suffers for depression, it is amazing how just getting out into the workshop and doing something helps with my mood.
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