We’ve probably all experienced post-series depression after finishing a book or TV series. I actually went to bed and cried at the death of Showtime’s Robin Hood) And don’t even get me started on how I lived through the dark, dark times after finishing Robin McKinley’s Sunshine and realized she wasn’t a sequel-writing author.
We throw our hands in the air and cry out “How can I be this upset over a fictional character!”
There is a ton of research out there related to how reading forces us to create mental models of how other people think and act in order to predict actions. This can teach us empathy and whether the characters are Robin Hood, a 900-year-old Vampire, or Barack Obama—none of whom I’ve met in real life—if I spend time and mental effort imagining a person through a book or show, then I’ve created an emotional and cognitive bond with him or her. See Jason Tougaw’s handy article about The Reading Brain for a quick summary of three popular scientists studying cognitive load, mirror-neuron empathy, and how representations of art help us predict social relations.
The post-series—postwritum—depression or hangover is worse when you’re an author. Based on a time metric alone, who in the world has spent more time with Constantine from Sunshine? A fan or Robin McKinley? Okay, maybe that’s not the best example because Sunshine is one of the few books I’ll reread and I’m pretty sure McKinley has moved on. As authors, we think about our characters for a long time before pen ever touches paper, or fingers ever touch a keyboard. There’s the rewrites and copy editing. And then there’s forgetting what color the parents’ eyes were so we have to go back and reread the first book for nitpicky details.
I came across an article by Jeanne Kisacky in Writer Unboxed that suggests recharacterizing post-project or “postwritum” depression as post-project recovery. As soon as I read her story of walking a line between drifting and deadlines, picking up old hobbies like knitting and hiking, I realized that authors and fans should stop judging ourselves for having feelings. For caring. Mourning is a natural process.
Now I refer myself back to the mental health all-stars poster when I feel that sadness. I just don’t use writing as one of my coping mechanism. Instead I do yoga, bake chocolate cookies with marshmallows, and go on more walks with my coffee buddies. It helps to think of it as recovery because not only does it give me permission to have those empty feelings, but also frames it as something temporary instead of permanent loss. I’m sure at some point, but not now, I’ll crack open Last Dream of Her Mortal Soul and revisit those folks again. Meanwhile, you’ll have to excuse me, I have some downward dog and a Lavender Latte waiting for me.