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David Baxter

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My Creativity Comes Through Me and From Me, NOT Depression
By Jane Chin, Ph.D.
Thu, Nov 22 2007

In a previous article, I said that I?d write separately on what Suni submitted (?Some of the best writers and artists have undiagnosed or untreated mental issues? I am scared to death to be fully cured because it will take away what I like about myself?) and a question Quint asked via email (?Taking medication can alleviate the depression, but it also changes perception and personality. Are there trade-offs? Is the gain worth the loss??)

There are two aspects of an important question raised by Suni, Quint, and many of you who have lived with both the ?gifts and burdens? of the depression experience. These two aspects are:

1) Does medication interfere with my creativity, and ultimately, my personality, if I believe that medication alleviates a factor (depression) that enables my heightened sensitivity of my life experience?

and

2) Does depression play a role in making me more creative, given that I seem to have a heightened sensitivity of the life experience when I feel depressed?

The reason why I wanted to break this question down into two parts is because we must address the individual components of this complex question if we want to clearly see where we choose to stand on the answer to each individual component.

Before I begin, it is important to disclose that I?m writing from my personal experiences of having had severe depression, having taking antidepressants as well as receiving psychotherapy treatment, having had a relapse from depression, and currently being ?in remission? from depression. Fortunately, I?ve formed a habit of regular journaling throughout my life, which means I have documentation and a historical written record of my own ?creativity? at least through the written word. When I consider how critical writing is as my main creative outlet, retaining the ability to express myself creatively is extremely important to me.

First: Does medication interfere with my creativity, and ultimately, my personality, if I believe that medication alleviates a factor (depression) that enables my heightened sensitivity of my life experience?

Quint shared this article with me, called I miss depression by Tim Bugansky and particularly:

It?s been four years now since I began a course of treatment, swallowing daily a white pill that changes not only my brain chemistry, but also the very ways I perceive the world, the ways the world impacts me. Besides all the questions antidepressants raise about reality and perception, ?mental illness? and normalcy, my personal reality is that I am different now. Antidepressants altered my existence.​
Tim said that ?Depression isolated me within myself, yet through its ever-present melancholy, it also made me feel completely connected to the world.?

When I was taking an antidepressant, I experienced side effects that actually led me to explore a new dimension that I previously ignored: spirituality. At the time, I did not know that the strange dreams I was having while on medication was a side effect of the medication, and put a lot of weight into the ?meaning? of some dreams, perhaps more than I should, although I could also argue that those dreams could very well be my psyche?s way of purging all the garbage that I could not allow myself to purge during my waking hours. This shows that we are the writer of the meanings of what we experience. If I recognized the side effects as they really were, I would not have explored alternatives to make sense of what I was experiencing (vivid bizarre dreams and sleep disturbances). In a way, my ignorance of ?what actually was? led me to explore a new possibility that became enriching. Even afterwards, when I realized ?what actually was?, this did not take away from the growth that I had experienced as a result of my original ignorance.

I wrote creatively when I was on medication therapy, and my writing seemed to oscillate between several qualities: ?spiritual exploration and healing? (for example, this poem I wrote) and ?lots of anger needing to be expressed about what happened to me? (for example, memories of childhood emotional abuse experiences here, here, and here).

Medication can be tricky, because one person can get relief while retaining a sense of self and connection to the world while another person on the same dose can get relief while paying a price of loss of sense of self or disconnection from the world. This is why I?m thankful we have many more medication options to choose from today when compared with twenty years ago, because in many cases, we don?t have to ?settle? or pay an exorbitant price to get relief from depressive symptoms. The trick though, is to recognize that ?apathy? and feeling of disconnectedness from the world is not the same as ?depression relief?.

Now: Does depression play a role in making me more creative, given that I seem to have a heightened sensitivity of the life experience when I feel depressed?

Back in 2001, a friend who started antidepressant therapy asked me the same question Suni and Quint had asked. At that time, I wrote an article in response, called, No longer fighting the waters. Notable excerpts from my article included my early observations of how much depression permeated my writings while I was depressed, and the true nature of what I thought was ?a beautifully sad veil of the world?:

We may write prolifically and appear more creative when we were depressed. These expressions had remained our only outlets to communicate when we had shut ourselves off from the world. When I had revisited my writing during a depressed state, I was amazed at how dark and depressing my writing was. Poignant? Sensitive? Yes, but overshadowed by despair and dread permeating each sentence.​
I concluded the article with the following:

Depression was being on a boat in stormy waters. You were in constant fear of capsizing. Normalcy is being on calm waters. You can sit still and rest, because the boat was no longer rocking. At first, the water may seem was too quiet, everything may seem too quiet. Then, you re-shift your focus from this new quietness, and look to the horizon for all the places you can go and explore.

Let the quietness come. Let the living come. Let the joy come. Let the changes come. Creativity was never a part of the ?temporary?. Creativity is always a part of you. Depression was always a part of the ?temporary? and is never a part of you. You can now sit back and enjoy the scenery instead of fighting the waters.​
I came to this conclusion after experiencing a relapse earlier that year (2001) and with professional help, recovering from the relapse of a depressive episode. If you go to my personal account, Misdiagnosis and Back: My Journey Through Depression and scroll down to January 2001, you?ll find a piece of writing I had done during this relapse. That was how I saw myself. That was how I perceived the world. Were the words strong? Poignant? Dramatic? Yes. Was the piece cleverly sad and even darkly beautiful? I thought so, at least the part where I used this metaphor,

?I am a poisonous plant, I sicken a healthy being when they come in close contact with me.?​
I had forgotten about this metaphor, but earlier this year, I wrote one of the most popular articles here called I'm Here to Remind You that You Are Not Your Illness where I used a plant metaphor.

My personal experience tells me that the experience of depression heightened my sensation and perception of a particular shade of the color of the world. Particularly, I became highly sensitive to the suffering and pain in the human experience, because my own human experience was shaded by the feeling of suffering and pain. The ?burden? of depression while I experienced it was the veil it cast upon my eyes, such that I saw mainly sadness and despair in all aspects of my human experience.

Sometimes this sadness was so intense that I was propelled to exorcise my demons, at least temporarily, by writing it down and getting it off my chest (or more accurately, head). Intensely-shaded perceptions make for intensely-shaded feelings, which make for intensely-shaded self-expression. Thus I have a slew of strong pieces of writing, all of which share the characteristic themes of pain and suffering of the human experience. The ?gift? of depression once I recovered from it was my ability to appreciate and be grateful for no longer being in depression?s stormy waters, and to remember enough of it to empathize with those who still fight against depression?s storm without falling prey to its poisonous grip.

There are two big differences between the writings that I?ve considered most important and that have been written ?with? and ?without? depression.

First, the tears that accompany a piece I?ve written ?with? versus ?without? depression are different.

The tears that came when I wrote, Sick of Suffering were tears of pain and despair. The kind that says, ?Please end this pain because I don?t want to end my life.?

On the other hand, the tears that came when I wrote one of my favorite pieces, Divine Comedy, were tears of healing and inspiration. The kind that says, ?I see suffering in the context that it is. I see Me as more than my suffering. I can even be grateful for this suffering because it steeled my will to live - and live well.? Another piece I wrote that falls into the same category of ?inspired writing not depressed writing? is That I Am, which I used to compete in a speech contest earlier this year.

Second, I?ve noticed that pieces I?ve written ?with? depression has a ?timeliness? to it, while pieces I?ve written ?without? depression is ?timeless? for me.

Today, when I read ?Sick of Suffering?, tears that used to come no longer come to me. There is, of course, a possibility that ?Sick of Suffering? touches someone who may be experiencing what I had experienced, and as a result, seeks help. In this case, sharing this writing becomes important to help those who suffer from depression know that they are not alone, and that someone else has experienced what they are experiencing, and that they CAN get through this.

On the other hand, I get choked up every time I read ?Divine Comedy?. What I?ve written in moments of depression-free inspiration is enduring and even strengthens me against the stressors that lead to a downward depression spiral.

In conclusion, I?ve put depression and creativity in the following context for myself: My creativity comes through me and from me; NOT through depression or from depression.
 

HA

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What a wonderful article! I am always in awe of someone who is such a talented writer......like this author.

"This shows that we are the writer of the meanings of what we experience."
 

stargazer

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Wow, I am almost NEVER creative when I'm depressed. I need to read the article carefully, though -- I only skimmed it, and this was just an initial thought, about me personally. My daughter says she's most creative when she's depressed. So I wonder how much of it is habit behavior.
 

David Baxter

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When I was playing music a lot more and writing songs, it was my impression that I was at my best creatively when I was sad or depressed. I've never been hypomanic so I don't know what that feels like but it was my impression that creativity was enhanced by strong emotional reactions of some sort, perhaps any strong emotion...
 

lallieth

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When I was taking an antidepressant, I experienced side effects that actually led me to explore a new dimension that I previously ignored: spirituality. At the time, I did not know that the strange dreams I was having while on medication was a side effect of the medication,
I wrote creatively when I was on medication therapy, and my writing seemed to oscillate between several qualities: ?spiritual exploration and healing? (for example, this poem I wrote) and ?lots of anger needing to be expressed about what happened to me? (for example, memories of childhood emotional abuse experiences here, here, and here).

This is how I feel...there comes a turning point each time I take this medication,where my mind seems to open up and I see the world alot clearer.It does alter me,but in a positive creative way.

Last week was the turning point,it's as if a lightbulb goes off inside my head,my thoughts and perceptions become finely tuned and I find that I am learning something new and wonderful each and every day.

I think perhaps that medication allows our brains/thought process to slow down and so we become more aware of alot of things
 

stargazer

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When I was playing music a lot more and writing songs, it was my impression that I was at my best creatively when I was sad or depressed. I've never been hypomanic so I don't know what that feels like but it was my impression that creativity was enhanced by strong emotional reactions of some sort, perhaps any strong emotion...

My feeling is that, with music in particular, its purpose is usually to move people. If a musician or a songwriter is trying to capture and convey a certain feeling in order to move the listener or audience, then it naturally helps for the musician to be familiar with that feeling or emotion, and able to express it musically in a way that reaches the audience. If, as a musician, I am emotionally neutral about my music, that is what unfortunately gets conveyed.

This is how I feel...there comes a turning point each time I take this medication,where my mind seems to open up and I see the world alot clearer.It does alter me,but in a positive creative way.

Last week was the turning point,it's as if a lightbulb goes off inside my head,my thoughts and perceptions become finely tuned and I find that I am learning something new and wonderful each and every day.

I think perhaps that medication allows our brains/thought process to slow down and so we become more aware of alot of things

Is that an anti-depressant you're taking, lallieth? I ask because I've never had that experience with a medication, and I've never taken an anti-depressant. I've only taken mood stabilizers. (I also took clonazepam for some years, but I think they intended it as a mood stabilizer.)

The one I take now doesn't seem to affect my creativity one way or another.
 
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lallieth

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Hi Star

Yes I take an anti-depressant..I took the same one I am on now,8 years ago and remember that "lightbulb" go off in my head back then,as it did last week.For me the medication slows down my thought process so that I can make more sense of things.
 

rosedragon

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creativity was enhanced by strong emotional reactions
Agree.

I see suffering in the context that it is. I see Me as more than my suffering. I can even be grateful for this suffering because it steeled my will to live - and live well
By experiencing pain, we learn a lot MORE than listening to wise words.
"A painless lesson is one without any meaning." -- Full Metal Alchemist
 

lallieth

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Ironically,since I reduced my meds I feel dull as far as creativity goes..or perhaps I just have written all I can for this point and time
 

NewZeal

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I am a musician and I have dealt with depression. I would have to say that I am at my most creative when I am in love. I don't think you can express creativity coherently while in the grips of any psychological disorder. Maybe afterwards, but during, no.
 

stargazer

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I don't think you can express creativity coherently while in the grips of any psychological disorder. Maybe afterwards, but during, no.

I think the use of the word "you" in this context implies a generalization. There are varying levels and kinds of psychological disorder. The composer Schumann produced some of his most prolific and finest work during a manic episode. So, I beg to differ.
 

Daniel

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I would have to say that I am at my most creative when I am in love. I don't think you can express creativity coherently while in the grips of any psychological disorder.

Sometimes, the two aren't so different, e.g. the initial stages of romantic love have been compared to OCD.
 

NewZeal

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I think the use of the word "you" in this context implies a generalization. There are varying levels and kinds of psychological disorder. The composer Schumann produced some of his most prolific and finest work during a manic episode. So, I beg to differ.

Ah, Schumann, very creative. I should have used 'I' and not 'you'. Sorry.

As for love being a psychological disorder. When was the last time you presented yourself to a psychologist for treatment when you 'fell in love', Daniel? Confusion, guilt, jealousy and rage are all psychological disorders. Goes to show that the spectrum between what we experience in our everyday lives and what ends up in front of a psychologist is continuous and the line is only really crossed when we reach the point where we can't cope with our disorders by ourselves and so seek help.
 

lallieth

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I am a musician and I have dealt with depression. I would have to say that I am at my most creative when I am in love. I don't think you can express creativity coherently while in the grips of any psychological disorder. Maybe afterwards, but during, no.
I would have to disagree.I have written some of my best poems during points of extreme anxiety and upheaval.

As well,many well known authors and painters did their best work gripped by depression and other mental disorders.
 

NewZeal

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I would have to disagree.I have written some of my best poems during points of extreme anxiety and upheaval.

That's interesting.

As well,many well known authors and painters did their best work gripped by depression and other mental disorders.

Well I know that Van Gogh cut off his ear in a fit of disorder. He was a brilliant artist all his life and only became famous after he was dead. That's enough to drive anyone up the wall.:hissyfit:
 

Halo

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With all due respect, I happen to agree with both Stargazer and Lallieth on this one. I too have found that my creative side (poetry mostly) is much more profound, solid and insightful when I am in the midst of major depression, anxiety or experiencing other emotional difficulties.
 

stargazer

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Ah, Schumann, very creative. I should have used 'I' and not 'you'. Sorry.

No worries. I try to make a habit of using "I statements" partly because I feel that so many of these kinds of things are specific to the individual, and they vary from one person to the next.

Compare differences in the composing practices of Bach and Telemann, for example; to those of Handel or Beethoven. And then again, people often debate over which music is the finest -- where I work, the students are often pitting Bach, Mozart and Beethoven against each other, leading to interesting discussions, but of course there is no right or wrong answer. Music, despite having aspects similar to that of Mathematics, is not an exact science like Math. And nowadays, it doesn't even seem as though Math is all that exact. Goedel proved that it is impossible to prove the consistency of a mathematical system. And as far as we know, the entire Universe is headed toward entropy. So it's all relative -- or something like that.

In my case, I probably composed a larger amount of music in a six-week period during a manic episode than I had for six years prior, and certainly in the four years after. I myself have wondered how it was possible for my mind, which was otherwise pretty disoriented, to be composing music during that period of time, and I do not have the answer. Yet everyone around me saw it happen -- and they also saw all the unpleasant things that went along with it -- loss of job, loss of money, loss of place of residence. It may sound romantic or hyperbolic, but the point is that it's what actually happened -- in my case. Just ask my daughter, stepdaughter, brother, sister, or any of my friends.

But I'm only speaking for myself. Charles Ives apparently composed according to a regular schedule, and earned a living as an insurance salesman, saying: "My music helps my business, and my business helps my music." I personally don't/can't/won't work this way. My composing habits are based roughly on compulsion, obsession, and passion. The quality and output of my work varies with mood and circumstance. Outside of eating, sleeping, and breathing; composing is probably the most important thing that I do, I've been doing it this way since I was seven, I am now 54, and I am unlikely to change my habits. Another person does things differently, of course.

As for love being a psychological disorder. When was the last time you presented yourself to a psychologist for treatment when you 'fell in love', Daniel?

A close colleague of mine recently went to a psychiatrist for that very reason. A University professor, he had developed an obsession with one of his graduate students, and although because he is a married man, it disturbed him, he found he could not make it go away. The psychiatrist diagnosed him Bipolar II, gave him lamictal, and three weeks into this treatment, the obsession went away. He had described himself as being completely head over heels in love with the young woman. And now he's glad that it's over, and wonders if the "falling in love" was actually a manifestation of his manic condition.

Confusion, guilt, jealousy and rage are all psychological disorders.

Howso?

Ah, Schumann, very creative.

Isn't that a bit of an understatement?
 

NewZeal

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Confusion, guilt, jealousy and rage are all psychological disorders.

You could probably add many aspects of 'falling in love' to that list as well. The professor you described was no doubt dealing with more than just his feelings of attractiveness: there were also problems in him being married and having a professional requirement not to date students not to mention someone potentially half his age.

As far as I'm concerned we all suffer psychological disorder, just like some days the weather is windy. Any emotion that causes confusion causes disorder. When that confusion becomes prevalent and we are unable to function effectively as human beings, then we might need help from someone else, or take a holiday or some kind of recreational or medicinal drug.

Looking at the list of emotions I quoted, would you want to experience any of them for a prolonged period of time? Would you want to experience them at all? (Tough, we normally don't have much choice).

I fell in love with someone recently and thankfully, only temporarily, because after a few days I found it quite tiresome and was happy when the feeling went away. I would have to say that it was an intense feeling that I do not like which the other person elicited in me. I would prefer to fall in love down a three centimeter inclination than a ten meter hole!

BTW what kind of music do you compose?
 

lallieth

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If falling in love were to be considered a disorder,and I don't believe it is,then I would have to say it is one disorder that I willingly and happily give myself over too.Because to be in love with someone is the greatest experience mankind could ever hope to achieve.
 

Halo

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As far as I'm concerned we all suffer psychological disorder, just like some days the weather is windy. Any emotion that causes confusion causes disorder. When that confusion becomes prevalent and we are unable to function effectively as human beings, then we might need help from someone else, or take a holiday or some kind of recreational or medicinal drug.

NewZeal....I found what you said above quite interesting however I was wondering if you could clarify what you meant by "recreational drug". Are you saying that when one is overcome with confusion they may need to turn to drugs (and not Rx) to help them deal with the confusion? I am a little unclear on what you mean exactly.
 

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