Tara Edwards: Overcoming Major Depressive Disorder and Suicidal Ideation Through CBT

1Tara Edwards is a writer for Kpopstarz and story master at 8-Player Pictures film company. A native Ohioan, Tara moved to New York in 2009 to attend New York University where she graduated with an honors BFA in Dramatic Writing with a double major in Psychology. You can find Tara on her official WordPress blog or tweet her @findtaraedwards.

Tara was also the first person to voice her support for this website. I am eternally indebted to her positivity and friendship.

So, we know each other because we both graduated from the same program.

But we didn’t really become friends until we both worked at the front desk that summer. Then it was a match made in heaven.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I knew very early on that I liked writing, but I didn’t consider it as a profession until high school. I had this assignment in 2nd grade where we had to write a story, but I took it very seriously. I thought, “This has to be a great story with a beginning, middle, and end.” That’s all I understood then. I wrote this story called “The Copy Monster.” It was about this monster that copies your work, and every time it does, yours work changes to the wrong answers. And eventually, you have to destroy him.

That’s a really good story! Do you still have it?

No. I just remember it because my teacher was like, “I’m really shocked at how much I like this story.”

You studied both psychology and screenwriting at NYU. There are studies which posit a high correlation between artists and mental and emotional challenges. Do you think that’s true?

I think that’s definitely true. I have a theory about this. I think there are three kinds of depression. There’s depression that’s purely external, that comes from things like abuse and poverty. And then there’s chemical imbalance, where people don’t process things like serotonin properly. And then there’s a third type I like to call artistic depression, which is anyone who is introspective about the way the world works (horrible things happening that may not have good enough explanations), which I think a lot of artistic people have. It causes them to feel grief.

A lot of writers examine mental illness and suffering through our work. When we talk about self-care, what do you think about? Do you think there should be more ways writers and artists should be taking care of themselves?

I think it depends on the person. In my experience, if your profession is writing and you’re looking for self-care, you might want to choose something that’s not related to writing. During college, I didn’t write so much for myself anymore. I was writing to write something great or something that would get me a job.

You didn’t always feel you could express everything you needed to.

Even if you do a different style of writing. I occasionally write poetry in order to express my emotions without the pressure. I’m not sharing it with the world; I’m not expecting to make money off of it. Also in therapy, they encourage you to do drawings and paintings—

Like art therapy.

I think it’s really good for people who don’t have experience in drawing and painting because they’re forced to not judge themselves. Judgment often goes hand-in-hand with art.

You’ve struggled with depression. When did you start to be aware of it and when did you seek help?

When you have diagnosed major depressive disorder (MDD), you have these things called depressive episodes. And it’s sad because the first one that you have makes you that much more likely to have a second one. If you have a second one, it makes you that much more likely to have a third one. I’ve probably had two major episodes in my life. The first one was the worst one because I went into it blind without a background in psychology. I was 13-years-old. I was spending almost every night crying myself to sleep and there was self-mutilation. There was lots of suicidal ideation. I spent three or four years struggling through it on my own. Sometimes, communities of color are the first to say, “You need to get it together.”

Get over it.

Yeah. Eventually, it got so bad that one of my teachers came to my house and said, “I think you guys need to send your daughter to treatment.” I was hospitalized, and then I was in therapy for a while. But I felt like I came to a really good place heading to NYU. NYU was really good for the first few years. Then junior year, the stress started to weigh on me. There were all these classmates interning at MTV which made me think, “Why was no one responding to my letters?” I was taking 18 credits and I had to work because I was dead broke. I was aware I was starting to spiral again, but I kept putting Band-Aids on the problem. This [depressive episode] was about feelings of inadequacy, and I was forced to confront that when I had to move back home after college.

Did being in a community of artists and writers like yourself help you with your personal struggles, or did you feel it exacerbated things?

A little bit of both. My close friends were very helpful and I felt encouraged by them and the things they were doing. But goddamn Facebook, man. It was like every other day while I was at home somebody would say, “My script is featured on The Black List. I’m doing L.A. I have a meeting with an agent.”

They’re probably struggling the same way you are, despite what it looks like on the outside. I noticed people at DDW who got a ton of awards had a lot of negative self-talk, and it wasn’t my place to say, “Who are you to be negative? You have this and this and I don’t.” 

I learned that too. One of my colleagues at 8-Player Pictures

Plug!

[Laughs] I always looked up to him because of how social he was. I always admired his ability to make friends with anyone. But after having dinner with him, I realized he was haunted by the same social anxiety as me.

As artists, maybe we are willing to express ourselves and be vulnerable through our work. But it doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t hide our interiors.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt anxious about people reading too much into my work as much as whether they like it or not.

So my big question is, do you think there needs to be a bigger conversation about self-care, particularly for artists?

Definitely. I feel therapy is almost necessary for artists, especially if they get famous, not only to deal with the pressure to perform, but criticism is just so much more in-your-face then, say, 50 years ago.

We had a fellow classmate at DDW who didn’t want too much therapy because then he wouldn’t have anything to write about. What do you think about that?

I can see why he could say that, but I also disagree wholeheartedly. As a writer, you can draw conflict from your life, but you don’t have to be in it all the time. Though I’ve written about characters who were depressed, I was only able to successfully write about them when I wasn’t depressed, because I had a space between me and that character. I could then say, “When I’m depressed, this is how I am. Now how would this character be?” If I’m depressed, they’re just going to be depressed the way I am.

Tough and emotional situations are going to happen to us anyway, so I feel like this idea of leaning into emotional dysfunction is not necessary for your creativity to thrive. And of course, sometimes it hurts your quality of life.

And I actually feel it can hurt your writing because you have to make your writing accessible, and not everyone has experienced clinical depression. So if you can’t step outside of it and provide a more omniscient view of it, it might not translate well.

What are some things for you that have improved your level of self-care?

I am a huge fan of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which is about changing the way you think about things. One of the exercises you do when you’re overwhelmed is to ask yourself questions. Why am I upset? How valid is this feeling and why? What can I do to change the situation? Questioning your own thoughts is what CBT is all about, which I think is really important for self-care. On a smaller level, I think journaling is really important. I mean, you don’t show this to anybody, it’s not accessible to anyone. It’s just you and your thoughts. There’s a lot of self-editing that becomes natural when you put your work out there. And there are so many bad habits you can pick up when you’re depressed. Not analyzing your feelings, sweeping things under the rug. It’s why you end up with all these seemingly “random” suicide cases.

Because we never talk about it.

Anyone who reads this who is suffering at the current—please talk to someone. The more alone you feel, the easier it is to kill yourself. It may seem irrational to tether yourself to people, but sometimes people are the reason people stay alive. And if you can find that one reason, you can find more reasons to stay alive.

As you stand right now, what are some things you feel as a human being that gives you the drive to live? What keeps you creating and keeps you going? This sounds abstract, but we all have gone places where we struggle for that.

When I feel my lowest, I list the people who would be upset if I died. After that, I have always wanted to make something or write something that would make someone feel good or understood. After college, I’ve specified that more towards women of color, like myself.

4 thoughts on “Tara Edwards: Overcoming Major Depressive Disorder and Suicidal Ideation Through CBT

  1. So beautifully done! I have some theories about the artistic mind: it just doesn’t function like everyone else’s. There is a greater acute awareness of the human condition that pervades the mind of the artist. It creates a sense of hopelessness and desperation that others don’t sense or only get glimpses of. Thanks for this interview!

    Like

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