Creativity and Depression

Have I ever mentioned here (on Untangling Tales) that I wrestle with depression?  Usually seasonal, and usually manageable, but there are times and varieties that just eat my mind and (as a result) basically freak me out.

Well, this post is a chewing on that variety.

Last summer I went back to Weight Watchers for a while, to see if their new system was a good match for me. The first group I visited was a  convenient time for me, but I was “twilight zone” weirded-out by the emphasis of the majority on consuming.

That is, they never talked about recipes they were discovering and trying out with their own twist (what I was used to from my old group) so much as they talked about the right websites and recipe designers.

Now, this is a subtle distinction, so it took me a while to decide what felt so off.  These were women who were not (as a group) creative people.  They didn’t experiment on their own (at least from their talk). They were good at sussing out the “perfect” recipes and following them exactly for perfect results.

Objectively I see nothing wrong with this, but it is (to use an Alaskan analogy) like warm darkI know it exists, and is even normal to some people, but it is so far from my life-history I can’t be all that relaxed in that environment.

Shifting groups actually helped me stick it out longer in WW.  My later group was (as a whole, at least in what they shared) much more creative.

~ ~ ~

I have found a fairly tight correlation between creativity and managing depression. That could be why a non-creative group felt dangerous.  Depression feels like zombie-mode to me, so being surrounded by folks who didn’t need it… Well yeah, was just creepy.

Because the majority of my depression is darkness-related, I feel worst from November to January.  Emphasis on the back-half of January, probably because I’ve been hanging on so long.

For the last two years I have chosen to participate in NaNoWriMo as a sort of creative therapy.  It happens in November, so it’s a good strong push right at the beginning where I need it.

There is the back-of-my-mind terror that if I can’t keep up, or if I crash, that I’ll tank even deeper than otherwise, but since I’ve been able to maintain it both times the combination of enforced creativity plus proof-of-competence has been very stabilizing both years.

And that sense—of active creativity staving-off a more debilitating depression—explains why attacks on (or even questioning the need of) Creating feels like a threat.

I’m reminded of those old commercials for… what was it, Head and Shoulders?   A dandruff shampoo.  A friend would notice what shampoo the good-looking lead used and protest, “But you don’t have dandruff!”

And the lead would flash that white, straight-toothed grin and say, “You’re right.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m in a less-gleeful version of that commercial.  I do 16 things (I’ll make a list someday for the real amount) to maintain a level state, at bad times preferring to be exhausted rather than consumed by depression, then (as the result of that effort) be stable enough to present a level front to most of the world. So I get people who don’t understand that, yeah, *I* can get depressed.

I don’t think this is about being un-genuine.  Usually I feel it is a service to others to keep my issues to myself.  Sort of like collecting my baby from the church nursery when he started screaming.  It’s my life, my responsibility.  I don’t think I’ve ever rejected help I could use, (even for the boy), but knowing my resources are usually at capacity managing my own world, I’m not in a hurry to put more on anyone else.

The point is, I find creativity—both recharging, discovering and expressing it—a key player in my personal stability.

This week I had the delight of presenting on the topic of Myers-Briggs personality theory, and how it connects to parenting.

The next day, yesterday, I was exhausted.

I watched at least three body-a-week type shows yesterday.

You know what I mean, right?  The show only happens because a new somebody dies each week: Castle, Bones, Body of Proof.

These are my quick story-fix when my life doesn’t have room for a novel. They serve a dual purpose; not only do I get a complete (usually well-written) story in only 45 minutes, but they are of the physiologically soothing type.

What? You don’t find murder soothing?  Well, I don’t either.  Really. I’m not that sick.  The reason these stories have value to me is because they seem to be the last hold-out in our society today for absolutes.

Somebody was murdered. That’s bad. It’s good to find the truth. And they do.

  • My kids were invited to play in town this morning, giving me three hours to line-out my mind and projects.
  • I dreamed last night.  A good, thought-provoking story-dream.
  • I woke up with how to fix POV issues on two different novels

With these gifts, the ideas and the time to process them, I felt life coming back into me.

I’m still as physically tired as I’ve been (short nights for about a week) but my mental state is back from zombie-land.  I’m not as scared I’m going to lose my grip.  I am so excited about where my stories can go now, and I’m reminded of a definition of HOPE I picked up somewhere:

Hope is the assurance that now is not permanent.

That might sound a bit negative for some tastes, but most of the time when I’m in need of hope it is because the *now* is not welcome after all, hope that we can see is not hope.


3 thoughts on “Creativity and Depression

  1. I feel more down during the winter too. It’s amazing the role that sunlight plays. I’m going to try more creative writing exercises in the next couple of weeks hopefully. Perhaps that will help.

  2. I consume to recharge as well. I am learning slowly to just allow myself a day to chill after I have a presentation or a big event that will wear me out. If I don’t plan for that recuperation time, it ends up being a nothing-accomplished day anyway. Then I feel worse.

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