Can Depression Help Us Be More Creative? Part 3
“The creative process shrivels in the absence of continual dialogue with the soul. And creativity is what makes life worth living.”
[This post is a continuation from Part 2.]
Author Tom Wootton has written about his experiences with depression, and says, “I have begun to gain tremendous insight into many things, including my spiritual life. It is in the spiritual sense that I have really begun to see that depression can be a great thing.”
From his article The Art of Seeing Depression.
He is author of several books including The Bipolar Advantage.
A creative cognitive style
In a New York Times article, Jonah Lehrer writes that neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen “argues that depression is intertwined with a “cognitive style” that makes people more likely to produce successful works of art. In the creative process, Andreasen says, ‘one of the most important qualities is persistence.’ Based on the Iowa sample, Andreasen found that ‘successful writers are like prizefighters who keep on getting hit but won’t go down. They’ll stick with it until it’s right.’
“While Andreasen acknowledges the burden of mental illness — she quotes Robert Lowell on depression not being a ‘gift of the Muse’ and describes his reliance on lithium to escape the pain — she argues that many forms of creativity benefit from the relentless focus it makes possible. ‘Unfortunately, this type of thinking is often inseparable from the suffering,’ she says. ‘If you’re at the cutting edge, then you’re going to bleed.’”
From his article: Depression’s Upside.
But Judith Schlesinger, PhD, warns, “A careful look at the so-called ‘landmark’ studies in the field — the work by psychiatrists Nancy Andreasen and Arnold Ludwig, and psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison — reveals gaping holes in their design, methodologies, and conclusions.”
From my post Madness and creativity: do we need to be crazy?
Dr. Schlesinger is author of the book The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius.
She and other psychologists and writers also point out there are uncertainties in identifying people (especially historical figures) with depression, and in defining creative thinking or output.
Still, there are many of us in the mental health community, to use Matthew Quick’s phrase, who are creative and experience mood challenges like depression and anxiety.
One of the responses to my webinar presentation (for the International Bipolar Foundation) “Creative People: Personality and Mental Health” was this:
“I have Bipolar I and am an award-winning writer. Bipolar has helped me carve out a career as an author, and I think it is part of my creativity. I use my mood changes to keep me writing, one way or another.”
Depression, Women and Creativity, by me, Douglas Eby
What it is like to be a bipolar by Kay Redfield Jamison
The Benefits of Restlessness and Jagged Edges by Kay Redfield Jamison
“I believe that curiosity, wonder and passion are defining qualities of imaginative minds and great teachers; that restlessness and discontent are vital things; and that intense experience and suffering instruct us in ways that less intense emotions can never do.
Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning, By Eric Maisel
Creativity coach and author Eric Maisel thinks “People have been trained to call their sadness ‘depression’ by the many forces acting upon them, from the mental health industry to mass culture to advertising.”
From my post Rethinking Depression and Creativity.
Perhaps we can release more of our creative abilities when we reduce our tendencies to label and judge our feelings such as depression as “wrong” or something we inevitably need to fend off.
Eby, D. (2013). Can Depression Help Us Be More Creative? Part 3. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/creative-mind/2013/02/can-depression-help-us-be-more-creative-part-3/