Depression and Creativity: Don't Wait Until You Feel Better


I’ve been talking with friends about creativity a lot lately, and how difficult it is to sustain riding the surf once you catch the wave. The dilemma of the creative process — and this is especially true for artists — is that we impose pressure on ourselves to make impressive, or at least good, creations; they must be meaningful and make sense right off the bat, and if they are none of those things, then self-doubt, fear and discouragement seep in like poison to passion.

This unrealistic pursuit in thinking every painting must be a Sistine Chapel or every novel should be literary prize-worthy is toxic to the creative process, and that’s what it is — a process. Creativity is a process and a practice. As with chores, you must press on with the creative practice even if you aren’t in the mood, and especially when you’re not in the mood. In the long run, fighting and forging through the doldrums of uninspired and passionless episodes of “forced creation” inevitably proves the juice is worth the squeeze.

But there’s a distinct difference between falling into a creative lull due to a natural periodic lack of inspiration versus experiencing the absence of inspiration at the hands of depression. It’s common knowledge that one of the symptoms of depression is the depressed person loses interest in activities that were once enjoyed. But the thing is, you lose interest in everything, which makes the effort a depressed person must put into convincing his or her mind to be creative, in spite of the depression, exponentially more challenging.

Julie A. Fast reminds us that, “[d]epression makes you feel that you’re artistically limited, but you’re not,” and she has some really good thoughts to consider in “Create Creativity”, Chapter 49 of her book, “Get It Done When You’re Depressed”:

  • Think of the supplies you use to create your artwork. Put them on a table and look at them. They are your friends, not a sign that you can’t create anymore.
  • Don’t think of how it used to be. Think of what you can do now, and create something that comes from this moment.
  • Create something that shows what it’s like to be depressed, a snapshot of where you are now. If you cry on the art, that’s just a part of where you are now.
  • Expect resistance from depression. It hates creativity for some reason. You need to break the hold depression has on your creativity by making something tangible, so you can see the results of your work.
  • Think of how you feel in the middle of doing something creative instead of how hard it is to start.
  • Remember: Don’t wait until you feel better! Create something now! When you’re better and you look at the work, you’ll see that you are just as creative as always.

I especially appreciate Julie’s reminder to ‘create now’ because when you look at your work later, you’ll realize your creative juices flow even when depression fools your mind into thinking it’s put a dam in place and the depressive levee will break only after the cloud has lifted and you feel better. Not true, if you don’t believe it. Try it and see. Even if you’re not depressed and you’re feeling uninspired, create something. Create it now, and remind your “future self” to look back at what you’ve made so you can prove your “now self” wrong, later.

And so, I’ve spent some time reading through my old writings, and I must say I’ve read some great stuff. The process of reading through my old writings inspires me to continue my writing practice. Yes, it is entirely possible to be inspired by your own work!

In the spirit of sharing apropos material, I’ve included a couple of my old writings that incorporate observed elements of the process of creativity.

Journal Entry

I can’t write every day or just any day. Even sometimes when I feel like it, when I want to … I start to doodle. Ideas start and stop. If my pen ran out of ink, at least I’d have an excuse to put it down and turn my mind off. It’s just, creativity can be shy or stubborn and that scares me when I think of my future, because I want to write every day, all the time. I want brilliance to be signed with my name somewhere around it. Maybe when I figure out exactly what I want it’ll be easier and instead, I’ll be scared that in the midst of creativity and a flow of words, the ink will run out or I will have forgotten my pen.

Written Tuesday, March 30, 1999.

Poem

(untitled)

My hurt has been petrified for so long.
The patterns lay fossilized.
Scattered.
I can hold them in my hands now
without attachment.
It doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten
or that I don’t take responsibility.
It’s the lack of responsibility
that’s kept them strapped to my skin.
I feel good. I feel in control.
I feel like there is direction.
The precursor to my future – the one I’ve
been wanting and searching for.
It feels good to be honest.
To be honest with myself.
It’s like I’ve sprouted wings
and there’s nowhere I can’t go.
Nothing I can’t see.
I’m thankful.
Thankful for my weaknesses.
Thankful for my mistakes.
Thankful for my realizations
and my determination to succeed.
Thankful for my ability to forgive
others and myself.
Thankful for my strengths.
Thankful for my beauty – and my ability
to see beauty in everything and everyone
I see.
Thankful for my hardships.
Thankful for my ambitions.
Thankful for my creativity.

Written Saturday, August 23, 2003.

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