Creativity and Depression

I was listening to the recent Author Strong Podcast where Nancy talks about her battle with getting the words out now that she quit her day job. She took a leap of faith, and now she has to deal with her depression trying to assert itself.

I listened as she stumbled, trying to explain to Matt (a very cheerful and go for it type of person) why it was easier to say “do this to work around it” then it was to actually do it. And I saw myself reflecting back at me.

I’ve dealt with depression for as long as I can remember. As a teen I had school, and sisters to help pull me from it. When I got married I had the children to help. In the last six years I’ve been happier then I’ve ever been with a new life, a great boyfriend, a supportive family, and an outlet for my creativity. And yet for the last month I’ve had that old beast, depression, rearing it’s ugly head.

I know what’s causing it. I know what I need to do to make it shut up and stop all the self doubt and whispers in my head that I’m not worthwhile. But that doesn’t make it easy.

For creativity, this is horrible. Every time I sit down to write I have to talk myself into it. Not just the act of writing, but the act of sitting at the computer for anything other than playing a game or checking email. Just opening the files so that I can read through them is a huge stress when depression starts whispering to me, and it’s not always easy. When I do start to clunk away at the keys sometimes I can write, other times I will put down a few words before the whispers in my head telling me I’m not good enough, I’ll never get anywhere with this, I’ll never finish, get too loud for me to write anymore. I’ll get up, do something else, change perspective, but I simply can’t continue on with that work…yet.

I sent a tweet out yesterday that said “Depression is a lying bastard.” It’s a common refrain now, a reminder that all the whispers in my head are wrong. I am worth it, I will finish, I am stronger than I seem. All those things and more.

Someone replied “I don’t believe in depression.” I don’t know if he meant it as a joke, or he honestly doesn’t believe in it. It really didn’t matter why he said it. I looked at the tweet and all I could think was: “Man, I’d love to have the luxury of being able to dismiss depression as nonexistent.”

In some ways knowing what’s wrong, and why my creativity is floundering, helps me get through it. I can write a blog post, or tell Gregg about the things going through my head, and things tend to die down for a little bit. Sometimes. Other times I can’t seem to break free from the cycle. Even while writing this blog post I had a moment where I could not pull myself from the destructive thoughts.

If you think of the brain like millions of chemical reactions going off all over the curves of your cerebellum then it is easier to see how one miss fire could trigger a cascade effect that can run out of control sometimes. Thoughts that keep repeating themselves, destructive thoughts that keep cycling over and over, a lack of will because it is simply easier to avoid new things than deal with that destructiveness.

We do have some control over the chemical processes in our minds. There are techniques and medications we can use to lower certain hormones which cause the more harmful problems. But not all of us have access to medications, and the techniques aren’t effective 100% of the time.

How do you explain depression to someone who doesn’t have it, or someone who thinks it’s “all in your head”? I don’t know. I have trouble describing it to myself some days.

But I will continue to sit down at the keyboard and try to write, even when the chemicals in my brain don’t want me to, because this is important to me.


6 thoughts on “Creativity and Depression

  1. Many years ago, I read an article that said depression isn’t feeling sad, or listless, or any of those things; depression is being incapable of stopping feeling that way without external change.

    So, discussing it with someone who doesn’t have depression is like explaining why colour blind people can’t distinguish red from green: people who are highly empathic or good at considering theoretical consequences will be able to know there are negative impacts, but they won’t be able to feel it.

    • Exactly. And they are trying to be helpful when they say “just don’t be sad”…but it isn’t always possible. That’s like telling a person with a broken arm to stop being broken. Sometimes you can effect the brain chemistry and make it better, sometimes you can’t do so without outside help. Other times even the outside help isn’t enough to silence depressions voice.

      • Indeed.

        Many of the things people do to “just stop being sad”, like getting a breath of fresh air, going for a run, &c. at least partially work because they produce endorphins; the endorphins make the person feel good, which allows them to focus on new things. But for someone whose neurochemistry is off-centre, the endorphins don’t necessarily tip the balance over into happiness, so the mind doesn’t get that surge of optimism.

        So, for some people with depression, even if they can overcome the initial sense of futility enough to try doing things that are supposed to make them happy, it might not work. It can even trigger a (false) belief that they are a failure, making the depression worse.

      • Exactly. Not an easy thing for people to understand, especially when our culture and society stress the idea that “you can make your dreams come true with enough effort.”

  2. Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (SARK) has a technique that seems to help against self-criticism. I saw this effectively used by people with depression and writers in particular. It involves identifying the critic, realizing that they are parts of yourself trying to protect you, acknowledging their service, and finding them a job suited to their particular obsession. For instance, the critic telling you that you’ll never be as good as other writers is a comparer. That part of you truly believes their message, and is trying to protect you from disappointment. They are wrong. Thank them for their help and tell them there is a company someplace across the globe that needs them to write reviews of similar products. Send them out, asking them for weekly reports (an ignored critic becomes a noisy critic.) If you have an internal critic telling you that you will never be good enough, they are quality control. A great job for them is random checking for cracked shells in an egg packaging company in Fiji. This sounds silly, but really works. All writers are affected by these insecurities, but I cannot imagine how bad it is if the basis is enforced by brain chemistry. Hope this helps.

    • At the very least this will get me giggling instead of self criticizing. I know a lot of my depression has been made worse because of external pressures over the years, ingraining behaviors and thought patterns that are counter productive. But knowing a thing and dealing with a thing are two separate issues. Maybe this technique will help.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s