It’s Okay to be Odd by Vonnie Davis

depressed woman

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.

depressionLuckily, 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.”

jammingThis 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.

Comments

  1. WOW you hit the nail on the head. I’d love to have someone, anyone, close by to share creative flow. My family and friends are ‘over it’.

    • Non-creatives don’t get it. How can they? Their souls, their minds are wired differently. That doesn’t make them bad, NOR does it make us bad because we ARE creative. Finding like-minded souls is important. Who can better understand us than those who’ve walked, danced and cried in our shoes?

  2. Vonnie, you so speak for most, if not all of us. Sandra is right–you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    • At 65, I’m reaching the age where I don’t care what others think. I’m one of those goofy old broads who speaks her mind–good, bad, or hellaciously strange. LOL Thanks for stopping by, hon.

  3. V, Love this article! How very insightful. Some members of my family are very creative and they don’t always fall into the so called norm. They might dress different or talk about things that are too intense. But one thing I’ve noticed is that these same people are highly intelligent, but also very sensitive. So I really connected with this article. How sad it would be without these people who create music, stories, and art. Thanks for opening up and sharing your thoughts and insight and letting those people know they are not alone.

    • Oh, Renee, would I love a sit-down with your relatives. I adore intelligent, creative people. Who cares how they dress? Or how they wear their hair? Sensitive? I can so relate. I don’t expect everyone to dress, walk, talk or think like me. Yikes! How boring would the world be if that were true? Depression is a disease, a condition that invades and often controls. There are ways to overcome. Medicines, exercise, forcing ourselves to reach out to others with problems and self-acceptance are only a few. What we need to step away from is the self-blame.

  4. Oh Vonnie! You make me weep happy tears! What an incredible compliment you paid me — especially when you have so graciously picked me up out of the doldrums time and again. I would be lost without you, my friend. It is my utmost pleasure and joy to be a part of your witty, hilarious, brilliant creative process however I can. I thank my lucky stars every day that I met you. Watching your star rise has been one of the great thrills of my career. I love ya to bits, Mama V. You are truly the best! xoxo

    • You’re more than welcome, AJ. I’d call you by my pet name for you–Sweet Cheeks–but that’s just between us. Right? LOL Hey, I never said I was nice. Thanks for pushing me and telling me I can do whatever…like write paranormal. OMG!!!

  5. Nice observation, Vonnie. I have never thought about this but I can vouch that it might be true. And to expand on the quote about gating sensory input, this could explain two of my many idiosyncrasies: 1) I’m very attuned to the feel of fabrics (can’t wear wool, hate turtlenecks or any tight material, I push up my sleeves to my elbow, etc.) and 2) I get drawn to particular sounds and can’t tune them out when I’m supposed to be focusing on something else. For example, my family played a game last night where we had a certain amount of time to complete a task. The blasted timer ticking drove me bananas. Never mind completing the task. I couldn’t stop think about the noise!

    • Some sounds drive me bonkers, too, Monica. They frazzle my nerves for some reason. I feel as if my ends are frayed. Most music soothes when I’m writing. Thanks for popping in.

  6. Reblogged this on Chronicles of a 40-something Former Nurse Wannabe and commented:
    Vonnie presents a serious issue with great insight. Please do not “dismiss the blues.” Self-care and awareness are not luxuries, but necessary to for a full life.

    I love the Chicks!! If you do not already follow Chick Swagger…GO…NOW!

  7. V, this is beautiful and important. The whole “sensitives” thing is so true. My husband didn’t understand how I can extrapolate all kinds of scary, daily-life scenarios from one little detail until I explained that my imagination can not only be a gift, but a curse at times. I can’t just turn it off at will. He’s super left brain and when I shared this with him, I could almost see a lightbulb go on in his brain. We are so different in so many ways, but as long as we talk about things it is what really makes us strong and a great team.

    Thanks for putting this out there. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. I hope someday soon all the stigma will go away and that will be when people will really be able to get the help they need.

    Love you, V! xoxo

    • Thanks Misty. I hate that we look askance at anything or anyone different. And how wonderful that you and your husband have such fantastic, in-depth communication. I love that!

  8. Thank you for this excellent summary! I am sharing it with a very creative, sensitive person I happen to be related to.

  9. V, another excellent post. You just described me. I’ve always been aware that I’m “over sensitive” and I’ve suffered depression on and off for most of my life. And you’re right. Normal people, like my husband, don’t have any clue what it’s like. I’m currently CP-less, so I haven’t found a like minded soul who can put up with me for long, so the small writer’s groups I’m in are my sanity. Otherwise, I’d isolate, because being out in the world is often too overwhelming for me.

    I will be looking into this book. Thank you for the message. I’m pretty sure I needed it. :)

    • People of like minds need to reach out to one another, if for no other reason than to learn we are not alone. What a comfort that can be–almost like cool water running over scalding sores. We aren’t odd; we’re creative. I hope I’ve helped.

  10. Great post, Vonnie. I have a son who is extremely creative and so much of this fits. Fits for me too as an author but for him, wow. Thanks!

    • Reading the book was like a hug to my wounded soul. It was almost an affirmation that ‘hey, it’s okay to be odd. I’m creative.’ I started to understand my personality quirks a little more.

  11. I’ll have to check out that book, too, Vonnie. I’m always trying to “fix” myself. I waste so much time telling myself I should be a different way, wishing I wasn’t so overly-emotional and sensitive. I feel a lot of shame over my depression and tend to isolate myself when I don’t feel good. It helps to know there are others out there. Thanks for sharing.

    • Tiffany, darlin’, you’re FINE the way you are–for you are a creative. We’re wired differently. We’re prone to over-react. Jimi Hendrix loved to talk, loved talking about music, but hated it when anyone called him the most talented guitarist. He was quick to change the topic. He’d over-react. He, too, suffered depression. Look at all the creative types with the same behavior patterns–actors, musicians, dancers, writers. These creative souls are sensitive and overly-emotional…and battle depression. Not all, of course, but many. Have you ever read Virginia Wolfe’s “A Room of One’s Own”? She battled depression big time. The same wiring that makes us creative also makes us feel things deeper and wider. So, don’t feel you need to change. Accept it. Embrace it. Learn to understand it. And use it in your writing. Hugs, sweetheart.

  12. Funny how a discussion on depression has a lifting effect this Jan. 1. Thanks for the info, Vonnie. You’ve clarified how these loops prop us up…less about promo than building friendships among like-minded people. As I said before, we stand on each other’s shoulders to reach great heights. 2014 looks brighter when we tackle it with friends who truly understand each other.

    • Sometimes it can be so reassuring to hear another writer, or another woman, battles what I deal with on a daily basis. Depression, mood swings, being over-emotional can all cripple us and our writing if we don’t accept it as part of our creative bent. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, it’s the down side to our up side of being creative. We can’t seem to have one without the other…daggone it. Would I throw it ALL away to feel and act normal? God, NO!!! I am what and who I am.

  13. V, what a fabulous post and such an important topic. I’ve never considered the link between mental illness and creative-types, but it definitely makes sense. Thank you for enlightening me!

    I must say, since I’ve begun writing and joining writer groups, I’ve been amazed at the level of support out there. In my whole life, I’ve never encountered a group of people so open-minded, accepting, and encouraging as writers. I feel like I finally belong somewhere :) And I’m so blessed to know each and every one of you :) *hugs*

    • Rachel, like needs like. Writers support other writers. Musicians love jamming with other musicians, hours pass away and they are finding new ways to play an old tune. Artists study each other’s brush strokes, their use of light source. Dancers push each other to leap higher, to dance wilder, harder, each drop of sweat a tear of joy from their souls. Like needs like. Supporting each other comes easy, for many times we’ve fought the same creative battles. Hugs to you, too.

  14. Josie Matthews says:

    V…what a ‘hit the mark’ moment. Im the blacksheep in my family, the ‘crazy aunt’, the ‘wild sister’, the ‘troubled child’, the ‘I-really-don’t-get-you wife’. Hence…I’ve been an outcast all my life withing my own inner circle. I am a diagnosed manic-depressive. There…I said it…been talking to people about it for 30 years now. I am completely controlled by meds and an awesome shrink who tells it like it is. I also suffer from cerebral OCD which is not so much the line-the-soup-cans-up OCD, but the ‘I have way too many thoughts to process at one time’ OCD. Hence the creativity typhoon I live in everyday. I am a paid artist, I play the guitar, I decorate houses, I make jewelry, I am a landscape designer and I write. I’d try out for American Idol if I wasn’t so old and could carry a tune! (I did sing the National Anthem in public once! not pretty…)
    But my real point here is there are SO many women and men out there just like me…us… The more I talk with people about my journey, the more connections I make and the better I feel. Less alone. So anyone out there suffering from feeling alone during difficult times, just remember, there are many of us out there willing to lend an ear!
    The most eye opening part for me that you mentioned here today was: A creative person is more vulnerable…’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.’ Our ability to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ things others are incapable of also leaves us open to a myriad of deep emotional upheavals. But these emotions make us good writers, artists, musicians and creators of happiness for those who are missing that ‘creativity’ gene…I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    Thanks to my wonderful swagger-sisters and crit partners for loving me and ‘getting’ me ‘just the way I am’. Always wondered why I like being with you all so much…V has just spelled it out for me…

    • Odd person in the family? Oh yeah…my brother is a minister and my sister, who has never worked outside of the home, dispenses advice in a Mayberry-esque voice. I love them both, but they don’t get me. I know I disappoint them, especially by writing books that contain–gasp–sex. Had I chosen to write mysteries with murders, the sin of killing would have been overlooked. But writing about sex? OMG, everyone’s panties is in a twist! How could I besmirtch the family’s name like this? As if Davis is their last name. But…that’s my cross to bear, isn’t it. LOL Yes, hon, we often appear odd to family members when often it is they who are thirty shades of turquoise. My mind runs amuck, too. I keep 3 or 4 storylines going at the same time while characters in my head are pestering for their day in the sun. Non creative step back when I tell them that. Other writers nod and smile. We get each other. Truly.

  15. What a great way to start the year, Vonnie – thank you! I never make any resolutions because I never keep them – too many other things going on I’m trying to keep track of – but this is one I’ll make for sure. 2014 is the year I embrace and celebrate the ‘odd’ side of my personality! Yay!! Thanks for your gift of telling it how it is in such a well-structured and entertaining way. What would we do without you? Is it any wonder we love you so much? :)

    Cheers to all my ‘odd’ friends I see commenting on this post. I’m so honoured to share such quirks with you all, xx

    • I never do New Years resolutions either. My mind’s too busy going hither and yon to remember I’d made them. Yes, my dear LaVerne, do embrace your sweet ‘odd’ side, that part of your creativity others might not get. Non-creatives love our books,adore music, enjoy watching actors and yet don’t get the quirky side of each of those creative’s personalities. They can’t help it any more than we can help who we are. Embrace who you are. Hugs, my darling. XOXO

  16. You are so right, Vonnie. I have dear, dear friends who are not writers and a lot of them do not understand my writing life, but do like to see me bubbling over because I have created yet another story. I have had many friends who are writers. Some I adopt as children of my heart and we learn from each other and then there is J. Morgan…. I know you’ve read his blog posts and that you can understand why I consider him as a gift from God. :)

    • Yes, J. Morgan is a joy. I can see the reason for your affection. I have those online writerly friends I’ve bonded with, as well. They have enriched my life in many ways. I adore them. And they have no clue as to their value to me, especially if one of them goes by the name Paisley. Hug, my sweet.

  17. Thanks for letting us know that we are not alone. I never connected depression with creativity. Great article.

    • Barb, if we look around at creative types–past and present–we see signs of a strong connection between the two. Artists, whether one works with paints, words, music, fabric, whatever, feel things deeper than less creative types than say a car mechanic or accountant. Not to say a car mechanic or accountant are unfeeling. There are limits to the depths and widths to the way they react to things. Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and many actors all suffered from depression.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 14,571 other followers

%d bloggers like this: