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David Baxter

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Creativity and Depression
by Douglas Eby

"I only know that summer sang in me a little while, that in me sings no more."

That excerpt from one of her sonnets expresses how much poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) probably knew of depression.

Marie Osmond has described her experiences suffering from postpartum depression in her book Behind the Smile: "I'm collapsed in a pile of shoes on my closet floor. I have no memory of what it feels like to be happy. I sit with my knees pulled up to my chest. It's not that I want to be still. I am numb."

That kind of numbness, that sense of endless hopelessness and erosion of spiritual vitality are some of the reasons depression can have such a devastating impact on creative inspiration and expression.

There are reports that as many as a quarter of American women have a history of depression. According to an article on the Allhealth.com website, "The risk of depression among teen girls is high, and this risk lasts into early adulthood." A study of young women living in Los Angeles found that almost half had at least one episode of major depression within five years after high school graduation.

Psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison, herself a person with bipolar disorder or manic depression, notes in her book Touched with Fire that the majority of people suffering from mood disorder "do not possess extraordinary imagination, and most accomplished artists do not suffer from recurring mood swings."

She writes, "To assume, then, that such diseases usually promote artistic talent wrongly reinforces simplistic notions of the 'mad genius.' But, it seems that these diseases can sometimes enhance or otherwise contribute to creativity in some people. Biographical studies of earlier generations of artists and writers also show consistently high rates of suicide, depression and manic-depression."

According to the website Famous (Living) People Who Have Experienced Depression, women in the arts who have declared publicly they have had some form of the mood disorder include Sheryl Crow; Ellen DeGeneres; Patty Duke; Connie Francis; Mariette Hartley; Margot Kidder; Kristy McNichol; Kate Millett; Sinead O'Connor; Marie Osmond; Dolly Parton; Bonnie Raitt; Jeannie C. Riley; Roseanne and Lili Taylor.

Development of a mood disorder may start early in life. C. Diane Ealy, Ph.D., in her book The Woman's Book of Creativity writes: "Many studies have shown us that a young girl's ideas are frequently discounted by her peers and teachers. In response, she stifles her creativity. The adult who isn't expressing her creativity is falling short of her potential.

"Repressed creativity can express itself in unhealthy relationships, overwhelming stress, severe neurotic or even psychotic behavior, and addictive behaviors such as alcoholism. But perhaps the most insidious and common manifestation of repressed creativity in women is depression."

Marie Osmond also wrote about another aspect, the impact on her esteem and sense of self: "My mother has always been my role model, and I believe my survival in the entertainment business is in large part due to my desire to be a strong woman like my mother. She is my hero.

"I can vividly recall what it felt like to be alone and in a crumpled heap on the closet floor. I remember thinking that my mother would never have fallen apart like that. I was sure no one would understand what I was going through. I could have managed the pain. It was the shame that was destroying me."

Fortunately, depression can be effectively managed for most people, through medication, cognitive behavioral therapy or other approaches. According to an issue of the Blues Buster newsletter, formerly published by Psychology Today magazine, research studies have shown significant reductions in depression through engaging in aerobic activities such as walking and jogging, and resistance exercise, such as weight training.

In a press release, Rosie O'Donnell has commented about her own experience, "the dark cloud that arrived in my childhood did not leave until I was 37 and started taking medication. My depression slowly faded away. I have been on medication for two years now. I may be on it forever. The pills did not make me a zombie, they did not change the reality of my past, they did not take away my curiosity.

"What the pills did was to allow me to deal with all of those issues when and where I wish. My life is once again manageable. The gray has gone away, I am living in bright Technicolor.''

In her book, Life After Manic Depression, actress Patty Duke also affirms that getting the right diagnosis and treatment allowed recovery of her life and spirit: "The rate of growth in my mind and my heart in the last seven years is beyond measuring."

Douglas Eby writes about psychological and social aspects of creative expression and personal achievement. His site is Talent Development Resources: http://talentdevelop.com.

Reviewed 28 Sep 2005 by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
 

Lost

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Hmmmm....

Being a very creative person, I'd say my lonely and repressed teenage years definitely encouraged and developed my creativity in certain ways. If I hadn't suffered the emotional anguish that I did as a teen, I wouldn't have been driven to dedicate so many hours and hours a day to my creative skill.

So 'depression' or whatever it was / is definitely enhanced my creativity.

But I'm not sure that it's not the other way round, with my creative nature contributing to my failed relationships and causing a lot of the anguish in the first place.
Or maybe I'm confusing creativity with sensitivity. Or maybe they're linked...?
 

Lost

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And I haven't yet found myself collapsed among a pile of shoes, so maybe I'm not depressed after all!?!?!
 

David Baxter

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I do think there's a link between creativity and sensitivity and in turn links to depression -- the factors that make one more vulnerable to depression (and many anxiety disorders) include sensitivity to the reactions and feelings of others, usually good perspective-taking abilities when not in the throes of depression, empathy, self-questioning and at times self-doubt or even self-criticism, introspection, reactivity to subtle interpersonal cues, etc., etc.
 

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Darn! I fit the profile. I haven't got a creative bone in my body.
 

Lost

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Yeah, I can give a definite tick to all of those... especially the 'self' parts and introspection.

BG lol... but are you sure you aren't creative at all?
 

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Lost -

I'm more than sure! I'm incredibly resourceful, but when it comes to creativity, I missed that boat by a long shot. Some would argue that you have to be creative to be resourceful...I say you just have to be smart :)

My birth mother is incredibly creative, crafty, talented, artsy-fartsy. I'm more practical, business-minded and task-oriented.
 

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I STILL disagree! Haha.

BUT - I think to a certain extent, creativity can be learned. I used to judge dog shows (agility) and had to design dozens of courses a year for trials. It was so incredibly painful at the beginning, not being able to come up with something. But over time, I watched what other judges did, noted what I liked and didn't like about their courses, stole bits and pieces from theirs to put in to mine, and I came up with beautiful courses. But, it was a learned skill. Some people could just sit down and come up with amazing things off the top of their head. Not me.

If I show any inkling of creativity, it's because I've watched other people, noted the stuff I like, and put together a whole shwack of stuff so it looks like it's my original "masterpiece", but really, it's not. I'm just smart :)
 

comfortzone

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BG,

I bet you did not realize that you are creative. Maybe not in the same ways as some people but you are creative. Creativity is the use of imagination. Have you ever cooked a good meal although you did not have one of the ingredients? Did you discover that if you do something in a slightly different way that it would work better for you? Did you share your words to create an understanding of a particular idea? I could go on...but I think you got the idea. I am a firm believer of marching to a different drum...which btw is being creative. I do not have to be creative as some to be creative in my own right. Creativity is your personal use of imagination (which can be but does not necessarily have to be like anyone else's creativity). Even the way I wrote this message involved my creativity.

P.S. Creativity has been linked to the right hemisphere of the brain. The brain is an amazing organ! Even if you did not have the right hemisphere, the left hemisphere can learn to reproduce what the right side could do. Interesting!
 

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Dr. Dobson,

The way you describe it, then really isn't everyone creative in one way or another? It makes sense, but as for cooking a meal without an ingredient - if it doesn't come in a ready-to-eat microwavable box, it doesn't come into my house hee hee. I really don't cook. I hate it. If I'm hungry, I want to eat now, not in half an hour.

Yes, I suppose then I am creative in some things. I'm not artsy-fartsy creative; but I'm creative in the tools I've developped to get through this journey we call life.

Thanks for the different perspective!
 

comfortzone

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You are welcome BG. Yes, I think everyone is creative in one way or another. Art uses creativity but then again art can be almost anything to be art. Creative with tools is a good one. I like to think that I can creatively take ready-to-eat food and make it better or more to my liking. HEHE! The methods of being creative are endless. It is all in how you look at it. (I could be creative in getting out of bed in the mornings!)
 

Lost

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I'm happy to see that I've stimulated some great off-topic conversation!!! And to continue now on this tangent...

BG, I think that's what 'creativity' really is anyway. It's absorbing all we can from others and the world around us, and then taking bits and pieces from our mental collection and putting them together in our own unique way. Leaving out this here... applying that there but in a certain way... etc...
(even the way we absorb things... I remember reading somewhere that our brain is constantly bombarded with billions of bits of information and the small percentage of what we take in from life is only that. a small percentage. and it's taken in through our own personal and biased senses of sight, hearing, smell, etc... which leads to the argument of how anyone can be objective... but enough tangents for now!)

So. That applies to dog shows, music, literature, art, fashion etc...
I don't think anyone has ever created something from absolutely nothing.
 

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From a related article:

The researchers found no direct link between depression and creativity. However, self-reflection was correlated with both an increased risk for depression and an interest in, and talent for, creative behavior.

Future findings could even inform treatment for depression, possibly indicating clinicians could use imagination, role-playing and other such techniques to reduce people's self-reflective tendencies, Joormann says.

"Knowing that people with depression are more prone to self-rumination and creativity may be a good resource to use in therapy," she says.

Self-reflection may lead independently to creativity, depression (American Psychological Association, June 2005)
 

healthbound

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Very interesting thread.

I have wondered if coming out of my depression would hamper my ability to paint in a unique way. So far, it has not.

Interestingly, I didn't really get into painting until a little over a year ago when I really snowballed into my depression. I am completely self taught and fully intend on continuing to paint. In fact, I recently decided NOT to go back to my job and instead I am contracting myself out part time so that I can continue to paint.

I used to think of myself as a very logical, resourceful, analytical and independent person with a good business sense. Doesn't sound like much creativity there, huh. But, now that I think about it, I wonder if it was because of my creativity that I was able to "see" different and effective ways of creating products or appealing to a new markets etc. I am also (and always have been) very entrepreneurial. Ya gotta be creative to build products, services and companies.

I always thought the "business me" and "painter me" were like black and white, night and day, thinking and feeling, hard and soft or yin and yang - but maybe they're not so paradoxical after all.
 

Lost

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people can be very paradoxical.
I am definitely very logical, very analytical (far too analytical at times) business minded, and I always did well in maths. But I am also very creative, and would describe myself as an artist. A logical and mathmatical artist but artist nonetheless.
People who are blessed on both sides of the spectrum are more rare, but of course we suffer the consequences too...

<I wonder if it was because of my creativity that I was able to "see" different and effective ways of creating products or appealing to a new markets etc. I am also (and always have been) very entrepreneurial. Ya gotta be creative to build products, services and companies.>

Definitely a sign of creativity! And ya also gotta be confident in yourself, patient and persistant as well as creative in order to innovate products, services etc
 

healthbound

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True that.

It's somewhat ironic that I have decided to "leave" the world of business (as I know it) to strive for becoming a full time artist. I recently realized that I am still very much IN the world of business - it's just that I'm creating and promoting me and my thoughts, perceptions, interpretations etc.

Do you paint?
 

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Even though the odds are low, I'm worried about someone working out who I am, so I'll only answer your question, vaguely: I'm an artist... in several dimensions...

:eek:)

We're really breaking the barriers here between business and art.

Or maybe we're not.

You're really just engaging in the 2 together.
They still remain two separate entities.
 

healthbound

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Hey Lost,
Even though the odds are low, I'm worried about someone working out who I am, so I'll only answer your question, vaguely: I'm an artist... in several dimensions...)

How appropriate. Haha...before I read your comment, I re-read mine just above and was shocked that I had "given away" so much info about me -- because, I too am pretty careful about concealing my identity. Maybe I'm starting to not be as concerned about someone identifying me now though. I've certainly been sharing a lot in the past while!

Anyway...
We're really breaking the barriers here between business and art.

Or maybe we're not.

You're really just engaging in the 2 together.
They still remain two separate entities.

The more I learn about what it takes to become a working artist, the more I think they are not so separate. When I learn about art dealers etc, I'm reminded of the world of stock promoters and VC's and even drug dealers. But, none of those are the artist. And I see why there is a need for dealers...their motivation and reward seems to be a world away from that of an artist.

I suppose I'm thinking of the bigger picture - the market as a whole instead of that act of creating art. Still, I find that I struggle to paint authentically. I have many thoughts about whether blah blah will like it, or will it meet standards of those who "really" know art etc etc.

Then there's the part of me that wants to "say" some thing really intelligent with my art. Or really "speak" to a certain demographic. And then other times, I just want to paint shapes with certain colors simply because I find them appealing.

Then I get depressed thinking about all of this. Kidding. Just trying to incorporate the original topic of creativity and depression :)

I do tend to do a lot of over-thinking/analyzing though :)
 

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<Then I get depressed thinking about all of this. Kidding. Just trying to incorporate the original topic of creativity and depression >

It's ok, I've gone seriously off-topic several times on this board and I haven't been hunted down yet...!

If you were referring earlier to artists' money-sense - not all artists aren't interested in money... you don't have to be living in sub-human conditions to be rendered a true artist.
And I personally know several artists in your field as well as other forms of art, who try to please people too. Sometimes people-pleasing hinders their work, sometimes it enhances.
 

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