Creativity: On And Off Depression
As I sit here, somewhere between sick and perfectly fine, dressed in the same 7/8 Wunder Unders and oversized black crewneck I’ve been wearing for the last few days, I can’t help but wonder: is it a creative slump? Or is it depression? And whatever it is, WHY the hell do I feel so damn guilty about it?
I remember back to before I was diagnosed with bipolar, reading about how there’s often a link between mental illness and creative proclivities. I thought it was odd that depression was seen as, in a sense, this grand gift. I remember hearing about the tortured creative genius found in the likes of Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain, et al. I still have a paper that I wrote about “manic depression” (that’s what they used to call bipolar) and “the creative process.” At the end of it though, I ended up stressed out. Yes, some mentally tortured individuals have created some wonderful art, but what did it matter? They ended up dead. (Spoiler alert: more often than not, due to some self-afflicted cause.) Their art lives on forever, but for what? We enjoy their pursuits, but do we honor them?
This has been the cause of many a spiral. Welcome to my thoughts.
I’ve often told myself that unless I’m using my depression to create, I’m doing myself and others a great disservice. There’s definitely a difference between “Vesper” depression (if you remember that, I’m buying you a drink") and crying to Sex In The City in three-day-old Lulu leggings. The latter is more than I can conjure lately, and it’s a cause of a lot of my guilt. Why am I sad? And, mote importantly, why am I not making the great things I used to be able to make when I was sad? I’m more tired than creative and it doesn’t feel right.
In my quest for knowledge, I turned to Google. I found an article that summed up the link between depression and creativity, and it had this to say:
Rumination, if you’ve been paying attention, is one of the major keys of thinking like a creative genius. To be creative is to make sense of and connect the small details of everything we experience, the good and the bad.
Creatives naturally tend to think more, and think about their very thoughts too.
And there it is. That’s the difference. Where I used to dwell on the sadness until I made it my bitch, (or so I thought) I shove it all down somewhere deep and inaccessible. It thrives on subtly attacking my subconscious. At the same time though, who has time to ruminate? Or more so, how do you do it in a healthy way?
I definitely don’t have all of the answers, and my relationship with my sadness waxes and wanes like my ability to keep healthy relationships with other humans. I’m far from perfect but lately, I’ve been more intentional about allowing myself to feel again—with appropriate boundaries, of course. I’ve been failing to practice these for myself lately and to be honest, I see a huge difference. I guess writing this blog post is one way to get back on track, yeah?
The first and most important way is to learn how to allow yourself to be sad, but in a positive way that does not further tear down your already broken spirit. I know, it sounds a bit like an oxymoron, but it can be done. This is why going to Quaker meetings and learning to meditate has been important to me. Ruminative thinking has a time and a place, and if you discover your triggers and learn affirmations to stop the negative thoughts in their tracks, you learn just how powerful (and beautiful) your mind can really be.
Example: when I allow myself to just BE, I take a careful note of how my thoughts naturally progress and figure out my triggers. I then pump myself full of positive affirmations to undo the negative notions I have towards myself. It’s have CBT, half Lao Tzu. If I allow myself to spiral, I feed into the anxiety and end up with a tightness in my chest and the inability to properly breathe for a few days. Looking at sadness as an opportunity to build myself back up instead of something to dwell on and build a home inside of has helped me immensely. Some common affirmations I find myself echoing like a mantra are, “I am no my mistakes,” “I am not broken,” “I am worthy of the things I want and then some.” Try it.
I often feel incredibly guilty by the lack of motivation. How am I supposed to write when I can’t even get out of bed? Pick one small task, do it to completion, then continue to work. What they say about an object in motion isn’t entirely untrue, and once you’ve come to a screeching stop, it’s difficult to pick up the momentum to get back to it again. A few days ago, I had no energy so I decided to start at the smallest of the small. My closet desperately needs to be reorganized but I might as well summit Everest at this point. Rather than letting that get me down, I grabbed a dirty pair of sneakers, small scrub brush, baking soda, and cleaner. I made them look (almost) brand new. It felt good, and I even felt good enough to put them on and go for a run. Start small. Do what you can. The rest will follow. I promise.
Lastly, make it a date. I know this sounds a bit like the ramblings of a madwoman (but you have read this blog before, I’m assuming) but make “worry and anxiety” a calendar event. When you know you have some time set aside yo just be alone with your thoughts, it helps you focus on other things throughout the day. You can focus on crushing that sales meeting or finishing that essay if you know you’ll have time to worry later. Don’t start too small: take all the time you need and focus on getting it smaller and smaller.
In those in-between times, try your hand at creating worry trees. Basically draw it out: write what you’re worrying about then draw two branches below it. One is what you can do about it. If there’s nothing you can do, the answer is simple: STOP WORRYING.
There’s a lot out there to worry about. So much, in fact, that your life will pass you by if you try to fill your finite vessel with the infinite amount of space that it can occupy.
What I’ve been learning and trying to practice is to take care of your thoughts and they’ll begin to take care of you. Tackle the cause and you’ll be able to treat the symptoms so much more effectively.
I’m cheering for you.