Thursday, August 4, 2016

Are Creative People More Prone to Depression?


I am not a psychologist and therefore not an expert on this topic. If you would like to do some further reading, the following links may be of interest:

An Apparent Trend

We're constantly hearing stories about celebrities falling victim to drug addiction, or seeking treatment for mental illness, or even committing suicide. And every time it happens, there's always a discussion about the connection between creativity and depression. Does this connection actually exist? Is it creativity that troubles these people, or is it simply the stress that comes with their celebrity status? I personally think there are too many variables to answer that question effectively, so I won't even try. I will, however, tell you about my struggle to balance my creative side with my practical side.

Another Disclaimer

Wow...two disclaimers in one article! Maybe I should have been a lawyer. Well, anyway, here it is: I have never been diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety, mood disorder, or, well, any psychological ailment. But that doesn't mean I've never had bouts of depression. I mean, we all get the blues sometimes, right? In this article I want to talk about some patterns I've observed in my own life that I feel shed some light on the question of creativity and its possible link to depression.

Domestic Me

I go through these phases where I want nothing more than to throw myself into domestic life. I want to be June Cleaver. I want to cook breakfast for my husband and kids every morning. I want to have a fresh hot meal on the table every night. I want to bake cookies. I want to keep my house clean. I won't say I want to scrub the toilets, but when I'm feeling domestic I do it and I do it with a smile. I am never happier than when I am feeling domestic. There may be some science behind this. After all, it's a well-known fact that clutter increases stress, and when I'm in a domestic mood I'm able to control the clutter in my home, thereby raising the happiness level of all who live here, including myself. This happiness is a wonderful feeling, but unfortunately it never lasts.

I said I go through domestic phases. Funny thing about phases. They don't last. I'll be cranking right along, cooking and cleaning and morphing into the perfect little Suzie Homemaker and then suddenly it will all end. I'll have a day when I'd rather watch YouTube than cook dinner. And while I'm watching YouTube I'll be thinking about dinner. But when I go to the kitchen to try and cook dinner I get overwhelmed and run back to the comforts of YouTube.

It's not always YouTube. Sometimes it's a book I'm reading. Sometimes it's a book I'm writing. Sometimes I just want to sit and play piano for hours on end. Whatever it is, it distracts me from my domestic duties. And when I say it distracts me I mean that I can barely focus on a task because I so desperately want to be doing something else. So the house gets cluttered. Fast food gets purchased and all plans for a healthy diet or a balanced budget go down the toilet. And the happiness level of the home plummets. We all become stressed and cranky and just plain unpleasant to be around.

Creative Me

The end of a domestic phase usually heralds the beginning of a creative phase. Even watching YouTube can be a part of the creative phase because the things I watch get my creative juices flowing. Sometimes I get obsessed with a movie or TV show and it sparks an idea for a story I'd like to write. Sometimes I spend hours watching dance tutorials. Sometimes I get into watching all those videos describing the subtle differences in the various dialects of the English language. Whatever it is, it gets my mind thinking about anything and everything except what needs to be done right here and right now. And then I get depressed because I still have to live in the here and now but I don't want to do the things the here and now requires of me.

The Opposite of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a specific form of meditation in which all concentration is focused on what's happening this very moment. The goal is to prevent the mind from wandering. I have a mind that cannot be contained. It wanders constantly, and it sometimes goes to some very weird places. Ask my husband. He could tell you some stories. Think Anne of Green Gables. That pretty much sums up the internal world I inhabit.

Have you ever walked outside and noticed the beauty all around you? How does it make you feel? Do you feel content? Glad to be here and thankful to be alive? Do you know what I think and feel when I go outside on a beautiful day? I think, "This looks like a scene from a movie." Then I feel sad because it's not a scene from a movie. It's just my mundane life. So I think, "One day I'll come outside on a day like this and make my own movie." Then I get depressed because I've set a goal for myself that I don't know if I'll ever achieve. And then I think, "What if I do achieve it. I'll have made a movie on a beautiful day, but it will be just a movie. It won't be real." So reality makes me sad because it's not a movie and movies make me sad because they're not real. These are the thoughts that are provoked by every sunset I see, every cool breeze I feel, every birdsong I hear. I told you my mind is a weird place.

The Origin of Art

I don't want to generalize. I don't want to imply that happy people can't be creative. But I do believe that a large amount of art is born out of pain. When we're feeling sad, angry, or just frustrated, we need a safe way to let those feelings out. So we sing, or we write a poem, or we paint a picture, or we dance. So maybe the truth is not that creative people are depressed. Maybe it's that depressed people are creative.

Unrequited Creativity

Have you ever seen an artist without a creative outlet? Again, my husband could tell you some stories. One of them involves me walking around my house singing Let It Go at the top of my lungs, usually with tears in my eyes, every day for about six months. Yeah, I actually did that.

If you follow me on Twitter you may know that my pinned tweet states, "My four great passions are writing, singing, dancing, and speaking Spanish. When I can do more than one at a time I am deliriously happy." What it doesn't say is that if I can't do one of those things I am utterly miserable. And then my inner Elsa comes out and...well...let's just say it's not a pretty sight. I need a creative outlet. When I don't have one I feel like I'm not really living. Like I'm just sitting on the sidelines watching the world pass me by.

Reclaiming Domesticity

I've said that I'm happier when I'm feeling domestic than I am when I'm feeling creative. When the domestic phase starts to wane I get desperate to hold onto it. And I do some pretty weird things. I watch 50s sitcoms. I read the Little House books. I surround myself of images of diligent women caring for their families with smiles on their faces, all to motivate me to do the laundry. But here's the thing. Those images are fake. I'm trying to use art to make me crave reality. So I end up standing at the kitchen sink thinking to myself, "I feel like June Cleaver." Then I get sad because I'm not June Cleaver. I'm just mundane me. So I think to myself...well, I've already outlined this train of thought to you, so I won't do it again. I think you get the picture. Or maybe you don't. If you're a perfectly normal individual whose brain doesn't go off on odd tangents at the drop of a hat you may have no idea what I'm talking about. But just the same I hope you found this article enlightening.

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