Monday, March 14, 2011

Depression Confession

There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in. 

- Leonard Cohen

Hello again, Blog-o-sphere.

I am here to strip myself bare, metaphorically, of course. Why? Better question, Why not? I have been struggling with DEPRESSION. Ugh. Who hasn't, to some degree, with all that is going on in the world? I need to come out of the dark into the light, and write about it.  I have been closed down for way too long. This is going to be a wordy post.

Why have I been depressed? Is it chemical? Perhaps. Is it my health (major back issues and chronic pain)? Definitely a significant struggle, but not one I want to hide behind (although sometimes, irrationally, it seems like a "safe" place to "hide" when times get tough). Is it my personal life (struggles with loved ones and friends)? That doesn't help, especially when I've prided myself on being a good partner, friend, etc., but haven't been doing a particularly good job of it lately. Is it being a creative spirit? I've always been interested in the link between creativity and mental health.

In an article on Psychology Today's blog the author, Shelley Carson, Ph.D. writes:

"Since the time of Aristotle, creativity in the arts has been linked to melancholia...but depression itself doesn't necessarily enhance creativity. Quite the opposite: most poets, artists, and composers have reported over the years that they are decidedly unable to work during episodes of severe depression...So if depression inhibits creativity, why the long-standing recognition of a connection between the two?

"Here are four suggested theories: First, some artists and writers admit to engaging in their craft as a kind of auto-therapy for depression...So depression (or the effort to avoid depression) may provide an incentive to do creative work that wards off melancholia. A second theory is that the experience of depression may provide subject matter for artistic creations... A third theory, one held by many Romantic-era luminaries, is that one cannot truly comprehend the human condition (or convey it meaningfully in creative work) unless he or she has experienced the highest emotional highs and the lowest lows. Thus, depression provides the existential angst from which great art arises.

"Finally, recent research on mood disorders and patterns of creativity suggests that it may not depression itself but recovery from depression that inspires creative work. Kay Redfield Jamison found that periods of creative productivity occur when individuals are...transitioning out of a depressive episode...In other words, creative productivity is linked to upward changes in mood."

Although, I think each theory has its merits, it is this last theory that truly resonates with me.

In another article, the author writes:

"In his book “Van Gogh Blues,” Eric Maisel proclaims that virtually one hundred percent of creative people suffer from episodes of depression. He supports this claim by asserting that every creative person came out of the womb ready to interrogate life and determine for herself what life would mean, could mean, and should mean. He believes that depression in creative individuals is thought of as a crisis caused by chronic, persistent uneasiness, irritation, anger, and sadness about the facts of existence and life’s apparent lack of meaning. In fact, those who try to understand the reason for their own existence will most likely be more prone to depression."
While I disagree, wholeheartedly, about finding no meaning in life, I do agree that the endless pondering of life's intricacies have sometimes flung me into a depressive or anxious episode.

This article in The Examiner took it one step further stating:

"Rumination may be the underlying link behind creativity and depression as depression instigates people to pay close attention to their inner thoughts and such introspection facilitates emergence of creative ideas (Richards, 1981). "

Whatever the cause, let's say all of these theories are true to some extent or another; I have OCD, I ruminate, I have anxiety and sometimes enjoy steeping in "Melancholia", but there has to be some positive to come out of all this. If bouts of depression are inevitable for me, which history has proved, then perhaps I need to spin the meaning of them. 

"Sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands."
 -- May Sarton. 

In other words, what will I take from this episode, what can I learn?

I realize that the biggest problem I've been struggling with is my lack of action. I like to think of myself as a crafty, artistic person, yet I have produced NOTHING in the last 3 months. My significant other is out there chasing his dreams, and I feel like I have nothing to show for myself, nothing to share. I have been too easily sent off track by looks of disappointment in my hampered emotional state and my lack of drive. 

But I came to a very important place last night, while crying and scrubbing the stove (which I had put off for eons). I KNOW I can't do this for him, or for us, or for anyone else:  I have to do this FOR ME. And by "this" I mean LIVE. Put myself out there, do things better, push myself.  I will admit, that I have been here before, coming out of a depression to feel enlivened and inspired.  Though, this time feels different. Recognizing that I have to put me first is a new (and duh! obvious) concept  to me. How can someone love me when I don't love myself? How can someone believe in me if I don't believe in myself? I often envy people's artistic accomplishments and go-getter nature even though I know in my head that they have WORKED for it. I often feel like people are judging my lack of drive or achievement, but the truth of the matter is that I AM JUDGING ME, so of course they will and that HAS TO STOP. The critic in my head has been deafening. I have been stuck in thinking mode, beating myself up for not being in doing mode. I know that is the only way to feel better is to DO better.  My inner thought landscape has been bleak.  I realize my brain landscape needs some serious sprucing up: flower boxes, and sunshine and bubbles and rainbows and happy, self-encouraging thoughts.  I am the only one who can do this for me, I am the only one who can put me first.

So, what am I going to DO about all of this? DO, being the key word. Goethe had it right;

Thinking is easy, acting is difficult – and to put one’s 

thoughts into action, the most difficult thing in the 

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

So, I have come up with a PLAN! WOO HOO! I am going to do something creative/crafty/inspired EVERY SINGLE DAY, regardless of how big or small it is and document it here.

It is better to paint for one minute a day than to think 
about it for 24 hours a day.

-- Andrew McDermott

And to help me along the way, I am going to remember what the woman from Psychology Today reported:

[W]ork done by Alice Isen's group at Cornell... found that people scored higher on creativity measures after a positive mood induction in the lab. Positive mood was induced by giving study participants a small, unexpected gift...The point is, perhaps an upward change in mood can mimic recovery from depression and increase creative thinking. If you're currently suffering from creative block, try the "unexpected gift" strategy. You could either arrange for someone to surprise you with a small unexpected gift...or you could find a small, unexpected gift on your own (a flower growing in a crack in the sidewalk, a full moon rising over the trees, or the taste of a ripe strawberry - anything that inspires unexpected joy.) By keeping your senses open to unexpected pleasures, you may be able to get your creative juices flowing."  

Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action. 

--Benjamin Disraeli

As my Dad always says, onward and upward...and so it begins.  Wish me luck!



  1. Oh, honey. I want to come over and give you a big hug (and an unexpected gift).



Tell me your thoughts!