I’m coming at you with a serious topic today, chickas: Depression. If you’ve never had it, please read on. If you have, well, please read on. Depression afflicts both sexes. Women, being the smarter creatures in the emotional department, know the value of sharing feelings. Men don’t talk about theirs. Heck, some rarely talk about anything deeper than the football playoff schedule and why there isn’t any beer in the frig. And that’s okay; it’s what makes them who they are.
Women, on the other hand, know how to express their feelings. Or do we? For some of us, sharing we live with depression is hard. We fear we’ll be labeled as overly emotional, or whiny or two steps from the loony bin. Why? Because depression still carries a strong dose of social stigma. Those who’ve never battled it—and Lord knows it IS a battle—tend to frown at us and tell us to “get over it…to move on…to think happier thoughts.” Oh, if only we could. As if being depressed was a choice we made as an adolescent. Volleyball squad…debate team…depression.
I’m not here to offer a cure. I’m a writer, not a miracle worker. But if I can instill a degree of understanding, a smidgen of acceptance then writing this post was worth the time. For part of our Chick Swagger is understanding what affects us and those who enter, pass through or reside in our lives.
I’ve long believed those with a creative bent–writers, artists, musicians, dancers and architects, to mention a few–are more prone to depression and other mood swings than non-artistic souls. Have you ever read The Creative Brain by neuroscientist Nancy C. Andreasen?
If you’re a creative sort, this book will make you feel blissfully normal in your strangeness. It was pretty much one big sigh of happy relief and recognition for me. Here are some of my favorite highlights:
1) “We cannot afford to waste human gifts. We need to learn how to nurture the creative nature.”
Every parent needs to know this: acknowledge your child’s creativity. How odd in France, when a child says he or she wants to be an artist or a chef, the parent encourages that avenue of creativity. Here in the States, we tend to poo-poo it. “How will you earn a living doing that?” Every person who has a talent that they long to play with and develop, but thinks it’s silly or a waste of time or it’s too late, needs to understand how important this gift is and understand its worth in their very cells. I believe one’s health, both physical and emotional, depends on it.
2) Creative people have characteristics that make them more vulnerable
According to Andreasen, our openness to new experiences, tolerance for ambiguity, and the way we approach life enables us to perceive things in a fresh and novel way. Less creative types “quickly respond to situations based on what they have been told by people in authority”, while creatives live in a more fluid and nebulous (read: incredibly stressful) world.
“Such traits can lead to feelings of depression or social alienation,” writes Andreasen. They surely can.
Luckily, though, creatives experience higher rates of mood disorders than the general population, the extremes of highs and lows tend to be brief, balanced by long periods of normal affect, or euthymia. During these respite periods, creatives frequently reflect upon and draw from memories and experiences of their darker times to create their best art.
3) “A highly original person may seem odd or strange to others.” (Odd person waving here!)
According to Andreasen, the creative person “may have to confront criticism or rejection for being too questioning, or too unconventional.” How many of us have been blessed with the child who continually asks “why”? Feed that child’s soul with information and cultural experiences.
If being creative means being odd, I would far rather be odd than be normal (proof being the fact that I do things like interviewing strangers at birthday parties if they make the gross error of telling me something really cool). If you’re a little weird too, apparently we’re not alone! Such a relief.
4) Creative brains have difficulty “gating” sensory input.
As mentioned above, creatives are at higher risk for mental illness and according to Andreasen it at least partially stems from “a problem with filtering or gating the many stimuli that flow into the brain.” For this reason some writers, myself included, organize their lives in order to be isolated from human contact for long blocks of time.
5) “Creative people are more likely to be productive and more original if surrounded by other creative people.”
This is why writers join writers groups or have critique partners. Like seeks like. Musicians love to jam with other musicians. I have a couple critique partners and one, AJ Nuest, has doubled my creative output and inspired me to take great leaps that those overly cautious “normal” people had been advising me against. Creative people need as many AJ’s as possible in their lives. Be really picky about who you let into your life, and especially into your creative work. Latch onto the people who make you feel like anything is possible (especially if they have done it already).
If you’re a creative, embrace your gifts and celebrate your weirdness. Hard as it can be to be me, I wouldn’t trade my creativity—or my oddities—for the world. Do I battle depression? Yes. Not as badly since I’ve started writing fulltime, thank goodness. Feeding my creative soul has helped, yet I’m still prone to overreact, to sink low, to doubt myself. I know those tendencies. I own them. And as I learned in Oriental Philosophy, I taste the negative feelings, touch them and embrace them—for they are a part of me, a part of my swagger.