[Continued from Part 1]
As Dr. Webb explains “Existential depression is a depression that arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence… (or ‘ultimate concerns’) – death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness.”
His related book: Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope.
Webb has written extensively about how characteristics of giftedness that are a part of so many people – including well-known artists such as Robin Williams – are often misdiagnosed.
The tone of a number of responses to the suicide of Robin Williams seem based in the insidious “Crazy Artist” mythology: that artistic creativity depends on mental disorder.
A number of people have expressed the idea that his brilliance and creative comic energy were fueled by his “demons” including addiction and bipolar depression.
One example was columnist Meghan Daum, who wrote: “As an actor and a comic, his emotional pendulum swung in a wide arc between manic ebullience and almost Zen-like sincerity.
“And the ease with which he occupied both realms…must surely be a kind of bipolar magic.”
How does our self concept, our identity, affect creative expression?
How do we find creative passions and how does pursuing them demand changes in our life?
One example of an artist who has addressed these questions is Natalie Fobes.
A bio on her site summarizes some of her personal journey and work:
“Not many photographers have faced winds of 90 knots and seas of 40 feet while on a fishing boat in the middle of the Bering Sea.
“Few can describe the bitter cold of a Siberian winter while camped out with Chukchi reindeer herders. Or say that their first client was National Geographic Magazine.
One of the themes of creativity research, and many psychologists and creativity coaches, is how crucial beliefs and attitudes are in developing our creative abilities.
Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson talks in the audio clip below about the prevalent idea of ‘genius’ for whether someone can be creative – or even aspire to be.
She also writes about focus and creating, and that “to be a successful creative, you need to not only be a good generator, but also a good evaluator. The problem is that in practice, it’s remarkably hard to be both.
“It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.” Steve Jobs
According to some writers and research, some of the “big names” of creativity and innovation share personal qualities with various sorts of “misfits.”
In her Forbes magazine article, writer Erica Swallow refers to the book “The Innovator’s DNA” which lists several “disruptive innovators” including a number of creative and business leaders such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman (eBay) and Sharon Aby (Beyond Ideas).
“That’s when your art becomes more and more successful in the world. It begins with treating yourself with love, respect, kindness, and compassion.”
Those quotes by coach and author Cheryl Richardson relate to her extensive writing and teaching on self-care for creative and highly sensitive people.
She is presenting “Self-Care for the Creative Soul” with Alanis Morissette – a retreat March 2-6, 2014, at Miraval Resort in Tucson, Arizona.
“Creativity is a divine madness… a gift from the gods.” Plato
“People who are getting into this archetype of the tortured poet end up really torturing themselves to death.” Sting
This mythology of madness as a fuel for creativity, or an inherent part of creative minds, continues to affect how we think of artists – and ourselves as creative people.
For example, psychiatrist and creativity author Albert Rothenberg MD commented that “Deviant behavior, whether in the form of eccentricity or worse, is not only associated with persons of genius or high-level creativity, but it is frequently expected of them.”
That is one of the dangers of this mythology: that we may consider ourselves “not crazy enough” to be creative, or that our mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression should be endured, in order to “protect” our creative power.
Preparation is often a crucial part of creative work, and many, if not most, creative people are highly sensitive – which can enhance this preparation.
With something like twenty percent of us being highly sensitive, that means there are many performers with the trait – musicians, actors, public speakers.
In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD writes that public speaking or performing is “a natural for HSPs… First, we often feel we have something important to say that others have missed. When others are grateful for our contribution, we feel rewarded, and the next time is easier.
“Second, we prepare. In some situations… we can seem ‘compulsive’ to people not as determined as ourselves to prevent all unnecessary surprises. But anyone would be a fool not to ‘overprepare’ for the extra arousal due to an audience. Having prepared best, we succeed most.”
In an article of hers, Irish writer and creativity teacher Orna Ross notes a creative person may be “all too aware of their problems, but often unaware of their abilities.” She continues:
“This, allied with the fact that they live in a society that prefers linear, rational thinking and behaviour, makes them try to fit into situations that don’t suit them — and then blame themselves when that doesn’t work out.
“Hence: ‘I’m too sensitive’; ‘I’m too much of a perfectionist’; ‘I think too much’.
“Over time, self-blame and lack of understanding leads many bright, creative people into marginalized lives as adults — underemployed, dissatisfied and often in tremendous psychological pain.”
“The worship of convention will never lead to astonishment.” Tama J. Kieves
Author and personal development coach Tama Kieves faced a number of challenges after graduating with honors from Harvard Law School, and felt compelled to leave her career as “an overworked attorney” to follow her “soul’s haunting desire to become a writer.”
In her book “Inspired and Unstoppable” she writes, “As a creative individual, visionary leader, independent thinker, soul-healer, or entrepreneur, it’s your birthright to utilize other talents, insights, resources, and innate strategies.
“You are not made to fit into the world…but to remake the world, heal the world, and illuminate new choices and sensibilities.”