Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Let's Talk About Depression and Creativity

I've talked about depression and creativity before. More than once, in fact. Why? Because it's a very real part of my life.

I've battled depression since high school. I remember long summer vacations from school when I would struggle to find any enthusiasm for much of anything. I still remember those feelings. People who have depression say that when they are in the midst of an episode, the world looks grey - it lacks color and life. That's absolutely accurate. And that's how I felt for many of those summer days.

In college, I decided to seek therapy for my depression, and my doctor prescribed me antidepressants. I wasn't keen on the idea. After all, who wants to take a drug to make them feel better? But I knew I had to do something - living in a black hole is not a way to live. So after I started on my antidepressants and gave them time to work, I was absolutely amazed at the change.

The world wasn't grey anymore. I didn't wake up in the morning with a sense of hopelessness, of "why am I even here?" I don't think I was ever suicidal when I was at my worst with my depression, but it was more along the lines of, "I want to stay in bed all day and sleep." There was no joy in the world. No sense of anticipation. No fun.

I wish I could tell you that not a day has gone by since I started taking my medication that I haven't experienced depression. But that's not true. Sure, we all experience life's up's and down's - you can't really appreciate the good things in life until you go through the bad. And I've gone through a few rough patches where I've teetered over that black hole again.

Lately, though, I've been researching the link between creativity and depression because I've noticed a decided shift in my mood. When I am in the midst of creating, I feel absolutely blissful - almost to the verge of tears that I am doing what I love and that I love what I'm doing! But there are other times when I can't manage the energy or the passion or the drive to sit down and write. It's not laziness - I want to write. But I can't make myself.

Is this depression? Or is this just my creative DNA? It is quite rare for me - lately, anyway - to have more than two or three good days in a row. Those good days are VERY good days - I'm pumped to write, can't wait to sit down and get to work, am bursting with ideas, and I feel very positive about everything. And then maybe the next day, I am completely down. No motivation. No energy. And it's not like I'm doing anything different! (And it's not lack of exercise or proper nutrition - I've been doing both.)

Since this has been happening more and more, I decided to do some research on this subject. Turns out that there are some very interesting facets to a creative person's personality. Psychology Today has an article entitled "The Creative Personality: Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I found myself nodding my head at several of them. For instance:

"This does not mean that creative people are hyperactive, always "on." In
fact, they rest often and sleep a lot. The important thing is that they control
their energy; it's not ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule.
When necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not, creative types
immediately recharge their batteries. They consider the rhythm of activity
followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work.
This is not a bio-rhythm inherited with their genes; it was learned by trial and
error as a strategy for achieving their goals."

The problem with me is that if I do let myself be idle after a period of creativity, I feel intensely guilty for it. I should be working, darn it! Maybe that's contributing to the overall feeling of depression? Am I not allowing myself downtime when my creative personality demands that I do so? Food for thought.

But of course, creativity and depression often go hand in hand - and writers are no exception. I'm eager to dive into Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression and see how other writers have dealt with depression in its various stages.

I guess the ultimate goal, in the end, is to understand my behavior and try to figure out how my own creative process works. Perhaps it's a simple thing of just working two or three days in a row, and then taking a day off. Maybe that's how I work. Maybe I'm not one of those people that must write every day, even though there are many that say you must do this. Maybe that is more detrimental to my creative process and thus contributes to my feelings of guilt and depression.

More food for thought.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts, as well.

Tomorrow, I want to share some insights on writing and depression from a wonderful writing book called Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer by Bruce Holland Rogers.

8 comments:

  1. Isn't that strange that we both tend to deal with depression more in the summer? You'd think the abundance of sunlight and fresh air in the summer would have an invigorating effect. Instead, I find myself slipping into depression. I'm at my most productive in fall and early winter.

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  2. Wordvixen - I am the exact same way! I am much more happy during the fall and winter.

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  3. One of the most fascinating books on creativity I ever read was Touched with Fire by Kaye Redfield Jamison. It focuses more on bipolar disease and creativity, but also talks about depression.

    The excerpt you cited from "The Creative Personality" really hit home. Taking time to reflect is vitally important for me--without that, I get off track with my characters and story. It's a fine balance between maintaining momentum and creating a deeply layered story. For me, at least, it takes time and reflection to discover those deeper connections that make a story emotionally satisfying. Which is why I don't understand how some people can produce a book (or two!) a year!

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  4. I know a lot of creative people who suffer from either bi-polar problems or depression. With me it's anxiety. From what I've observed, those people who feel things intensely tend to be very creative and as a result suffer from mood imbalances, depending on how they perceive they've applied their creativity.

    Does that make any sense? I haven't had any caffeine yet *g*.

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  5. Creative people (writers, artists, composers,etc.) are more prone to mood disorders, specifically depression and bipolar. I researched this when I went through my own depression. While it would be easy to say people who have mood disorders are drawn to the arts, many doctors don't think that's the reason. Creative people think differently, see the world in a light others don't see. It tends to isolate them ergo making them vulnerable to depression. Also, writing itself is not an ego-boosting profession. Whether you are multi-pubbed or starting your first book, you are surrounded by more criticism than praise. Is there anything more callous than a rejection letter? And how self-critical are we writers? Plus, our environments rarely provide the kind of support we need. How understanding are our family members and friends? Unless they write themselves, it is difficult for them to understand.

    This is an interesting article:

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  6. sorry,didn't past my link correctly.
    Creativity and Depression

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  7. Christine - That sounds like an amazing book. And as far as taking time off, I agree - I need it, too. But...if I take TOO much time off, I lose track of my story and then it seems to take me twice as long to get back into it. It's a catch-22 sometimes, I think! But I think we need time to recharge ourselves.

    Tess - I also believe that creative people feel emotion much more intensely than others. I'd like to see a study done on that, too. I'm sure there's one out there. :-)

    Rene - Agreed. I think creative people definitely think differently - which is why I think some companies have a hard time understanding their creative departments. Execs who are into numbers or other more structured things can't really grasp the mindset of a creative person. And that makes for friction in those companies. I know I've witnessed it at my last two jobs.

    I'm off to read that article now...

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  8. Good article, Rene. And Christine, Touched With Fire is also mentioned in this article.

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