Friday, March 25, 2016

Ideas Like Bullets -- The Depression of Creatives

by Tommy Hancock

A few weeks ago in a previous post, I used a phrase to classify writers, artists, sculptors, performers, pretty much anyone in the arts field that uses their talents to make or form something, be it a book, a performance, or a statue.  creatives.  Not a term I personally coined in this way, but one that I agree with and use often.   I open this way because what I want to talk about is a particular aspect of being a creative that I fully believe each who can wear that title deals with at some point or another, and many of us, myself most definitely included, on a regular basis.

Everyone in the world is special in some way, this I believe.  Some would argue that everyone in the world has a fire of creativity in them, the ability to imagine and bring things to a unique life.  I could argue this point with very salient examples to the contrary, but that’s a whole other mountain to die on.  When one is a creative, there is a passion, a volcano of emotions that percolates, rumbles, and finally erupts into expression, either on a page or a canvas or in a song or across a computer screen.  And what is crafted is not simply a piece of utilitarian necessity or padded luxury. No, it’s a vibrant, active part of both its maker and the experience its maker wishes others to have.  So, yes, all in the world are special, but creatives, for the aforementioned reason are set apart.

Emotions run high, at a near constant fever pitch with most creatives.  Where a pleasant event may make one person smile, it could potentially stir within a creative type a new idea, give birth to an entire world.  Anger irritates everyone, but in a creative, it also inspires an almost decadent form of invention from destruction, feeding the intense, raging skills of a creative, driving him or her to new heights, to the edge of their own private insanity, maybe.  Yes, creatives are emotional usually to an extreme, even those who have some skill at concealing it.

Although this passionate embrace of their emotional selves is largely what fuels creatives, it’s also a double edged sword that cuts so many of us.  Creatives also experience what can only be described as Depression, and although everyone can experience situational depression and there are those, creative or not who deal with clinical depression every day, there is something intense, not more, but differently when a creative is in the throes of depression because of the very essence of their being, because of what they were born to do.

Again, let me clarify this.  I am not belittling depression or saying in some way that creative people are special because they have a different sort of issue to overcome.  I have worked in or near the Mental Health field for over twenty years and have a clear and all too often up close understanding of how depression can ravage anyone and has touched everyone in some way.  I am offering a perspective on a particular group of people that suffer from Depression with their own aspects added to it, one of which I am. 

Some people really find it hard to believe that someone who writes books…or performs on stage… or can make a plain piece of paper suddenly into a fantasy land replete with penciled dragons actually experience depression related to the fantastic talent they have.  Not to the point of people believing creatives can’t be depressed, that would be silly, but more along the lines of “you can tell stories so well. How can writing or the act of it or being involved in it ever be depressing?”

It’s very hard to explain when I try to decide how to do so in my head.  So, it may come out rather oddly here, but we’ll give it a try.  The reasons that a creative can become depressed or get down about their work, about their talent are numerous, but many relate to how a creative ties him or herself directly into the work they produce.  Although there are a few out there who probably have the ability to just blindly turn out paintings or books or songs with little to no personal investment, most of us cannot. Most creatives quite literally put at least a little of themselves into every single work they make.  Be it a distinct memory that fuels it or simply a level of commitment that would boggle many minds, we pour some of who we are into the things that we create for others to hopefully enjoy.  And with that donation of self comes a lot of things.

Self-doubt is probably the most notable aspect of giving yourself to your art.  Does anyone want to see this? Is it good enough? Are they going to laugh at it?  What if it has no impact? What if I don’t make a dime off of this?  These questions are just a few of the slings and arrows we creatives throw at ourselves, many of us over everything we do.  Even those who don’t consciously focus on these querulous questions do at some point worry over how their work will be received or if it’s even worth it to do.  This path leads into a spiral for many creatives, that often unfortunately ends in them never going beyond one, if even finishing that, work.  They lose their way in the forest of their own insecurities and never ever get out, blending in with everyone else and allowing the thing that they wanted to give birth to, to add to the world to simply never ever be.
And yes, as you would imagine, that act of doing nothing, of not creating, adds a heavy, even dangerous edge to an already intense despair.

Another issue that can darken a creative’s perspective is one that I deal with regularly, that of completing, finishing work, and keeping up with all that that entails.  I am a self driven workhorse, someone who is so involved and eaten up with what he wants to create that I put myself into everything I can get my hands on.  And I get behind, even when I’m a hundred percent.  But, life gets in the way.  And projects slide and stack up and fall on me.  And then there’s the sudden inspiration to do one thing, working on it awhile, then seeing the next new shiny and moving to it, leaving the other cooling its heels as dust collects on it. Yeah, guilty of that too.  And whether it is being overwhelmed and behind or simply not being able to focus long enough to finish something, you end up with a lot of incomplete works and someone who is doubting their ability to follow through, who sometimes ends up resenting the choices they made to get as far into this as they did.  This feeling is not helpful in any way or fashion for anyone.

One other factor that often contributes to the depression of creatives is the passion versus payoff dilemma.  Yes, we’d all love to make our livings doing the creating we do best, but the reality of it is most of us never will be a full time whatever type of creative we are.  Many of us will have people buy our things and will likely be able to go have a few good meals off the proceeds or pay a light bill, but that’ll be it.  Some won’t ever get that much. And yes, some will hit it big and blow up to be the next King, Patterson, Cussler, Spielberg, etc.  But that population is small, extremely small, and yet it’s the goal most of us set our eyes on at some point.  The goal that ends up being a reason we hate ourselves because it’s one that we don’t reach when we think we should.  And obviously, you can’t eat passion, so if you’re relying on your art to feed you, then there has to be a payoff for you.  The struggle with this concept of creating for some reason beyond cash or simply to make a living and the battle to find a balance between the two has cost many a creative a sleepless night and worse, unfortunately.

All of that explanation was done to get to the point of what to do about it.  Obviously, there’s the standard process of talking to someone or getting professional help if you’re simply too depressed to deal with it on your own.  Again, background in the field for 20 something years. There are good therapists and resources available that don’t involve locking you in a rubber room or necessarily putting pills down your gullet.  But if you’re at the point where your depression is such that you are walling yourself away, then it’s really time to reach out, to get help.  And there are people out there waiting to help you, I promise.

If you’re not to that point, but are constantly dealing with the up and down swings of being a creative, then I have to tell you something.  There isn’t a magic pill. I don’t have a solution scrawled on ancient parchment or a crystal that I can plug into a keyhole that will fix all the things which waylay us.  The biggest reason I don’t have that is it doesn’t exist and what may work for you may not work for the creative beside you.   So, no, no instantaneous fix.  

Instead, I have advice, or if you want to really know, I have what I use as my mantra lately.  It’s a logic of sorts that many creatives apply to the process already, just in regular production of whatever they come up with.  And yet it has special significance when one is drowning in their own pool of hopelessness and disillusionment. 

Just Do. Go forth and Do.  Doesn’t matter if you’re a writer with a deadline tomorrow or a sculptor who hasn’t put chisel to stone in weeks or a dancer who agonizes over that one move you just can’t get exactly right. If you’re a creative, don’t rest, hide, argue, or resist.  Just Do.  Because what you have to offer may be just the thing, might be the magic elixir of some sort just one other person may be looking for.  And what if you’re the only wizard who can work that brand of prestidigitation?  Just Do.

Is just doing going to make you feel less crappy? No, probably not every time.  Is it going to cause all the depression to dry up. Nope, actually, sometimes it might make it worse for a while.  But when there is not blanket answer, and all there is is either Do or Don’t… Do is always the best choice.

Struggles. We all have them. And these trials are unique to each of us simply because they are ours. And sometimes we seek to overcome them, we set a plan, we make a date to begin getting over them. And we do for a while, but then again we stumble and the stumble leads back to the struggle. There comes a point, though, I believe, when all that is left to do is either overcome or simply not. A point when you have to make the struggle a nothing, take away its name, its identity, its power. And simply do, whether or not you succeed in the way you think you should. Doing is living, not struggling. Even when it's hard and you seem to fail, it's still better than drowning in what becomes an unending fight, a surrender to a struggle that we ourselves allow to live.

I'm fed up with struggling. Tired of it in so many ways. Time to start doing.