Creativity and Depression

Source: Creativity and depression… do they bother you? — SewCanShe | Free Daily Sewing Tutorials

SewCanShe is a great blog and tutorial site that I follow and would totally recommend for any sewists! But this post was a bit more personal and one that I really appreciated. I suffer from Clinical Depression and creativity (of lack of) is something that I spend quite a lot of time thinking about.

The post above and its comments mention sewing projects as a source of creativity and a bit of everyday hopefulness for people suffering through depressive times. I can definitely relate to this. Sometimes, just picking up a simple bit of hand-sewing and completing just *something* for the day can mean the difference between writing-off the day and salvaging something positive and hopeful. I think as well that the attention demanded of making something can be so helpful in re-focussing thoughts away from sorrowful or anxiety-inducing spirals.

Ballet, as well, has been and continues to be an absolute life-line for me. Again, for me, it is the quality of attention that must be paid in class that brings relief for me. If I can find the heart to just get there, to turn up and turn out, I know that for the next hour and half I won’t be at war with myself.

However going through depression and related issues can often mean that creativity grinds to a halt. I often feel overwhelmed by the thought of beginning any kind of project and a profound lack of creative energy and imagination. It is a real problem for me as my occupation as a graduate student means that writing is central to what I do – and I often feel absolutely unable to write.

I think there’s a bit  of a culturally-imagined image of the depressed or “mad” person somehow harbouring a special kind of creative energy or the ability to  create wonderful things out of darkness. No doubt many celebrated creative people have had mental health issues. But I find this assumption quite damaging. For me, depression is a very barren place and I really do feel the pressure of not being able to function or create.

I would love to hear people about their own creative lives. Have you found any ways to access your own creative energy through the dark times?

Dancing in the Dark. (photo: Erwin Olaf)

Dancing in the Dark.
(photo: Erwin Olaf)

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Ballet state of mind

I’m starting a new type of therapy, which is scary and exciting and hopeful.

I’m just at the stage of having initial assessment appointments. Which can be hugely stressful – I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve gone through this stage with all different types of talking therapies. And, although it was hard, and exhausting, I feel like it it went pretty well this time.

One thing which I’m turning over in my mind is how my therapist was interested in my ballet classes. Therapists want to know that you have interests and that you are getting exercise, and ballet has been a really positive thing for me in this regard – not just in my general everyday life, but as a thing I can bring to therapy and say Look – I am doing this positive thing.

But this therapist said to me – I am interested in your doing ballet. Because it seems to be a very exacting discipline, and a very self-critical one.

Now, I have thought a lot about the psychological aspects of dancing, and I hope to think a bit more about them on this blog, but this was something that had never occurred to me. Sure ballet is a discipline, it just is, but I had never thought about the critical aspect of it. I don’t necessarily see this as a negative quality – but even looking in the mirror and self-correcting needs a critical eye doesn’t it? If we were not able to be critical of ourselves as we dance we would not be capable of much improvement, I feel. In a sense I mean critical here in a way similar to literary criticism, noticing and analysing and improving. But there is a sense in which criticism is scary, hard to accept, maybe hurtful and destructive at times. Most of us must have noticed the difference between teachers giving constructive criticism and the kind that feels destructive, for instance.

I wonder how this resonates in my life. I am an intensely self-critical person, to the point of being destructive. Maybe this is a reason for being drawn to ballet? But, more importantly, maybe ballet can help me model more positive ways of being self-critical?

Some words of encouragement.

Some simple, practical and warmly comforting words from A Quiet Week in the House:

When you feel your worst, create. Grab a marker and some stickers. Rip open envelopes and decorate them. Stamp butterflies on an old map. Bake. Sew. Organize. Do something, anything. You will be released. Even an overwhelming, disappointing day can be a success.

When I feel my worst it can seem almost unthinkable to dance. But hauling myself to class has really been a lifesaver for me in many ways. Dance is creation. I’m doing some sewing today and that’s creation too. These small acts are miraculous.