by Diana M. Raab, MFA, RN
Remember sadness is always temporary. This, too, shall pass. – Chuck T. Falcon
It has been said that creative persons, such as authors, artists, actors, musicians, performers and poets are more often plagued with the demon of depression. One of the reasons is that creative types tend to feel powerful emotions which could aid in their creative endeavors. If we examine the lives of accomplished artists, such as Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Darwin, Virginia Wolf, William Styron, Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath, we will observe that they all battled with depression at some point in their lives. If you’ve ever been depressed then you understand the sense of helplessness and numbness which accompanies this illness. Sometimes a sense of helplessness drives creative individuals to the drawing or writing pad, but other times, it can be immobilizing.
Approximately seven percent of the general population is affected by depression or bipolar disorder, and studies have shown that this number tends to be higher amongst creative types. Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of mania and major depression. Typically, someone who is manic depressive tends to swing from excessive highs (mania) to profound hopelessness (depression). In between these episodes, they typically they have periods of normal mood. Some people can also have mixed symptoms of both mania and depression at the same time, while others may have more moderate symptoms of mania.
In his book, Van Gogh Blues, Eric Maisel proclaims that virtually one hundred percent of creative people suffer from episodes of depression. He verifies this by saying that every creative person came out of the womb ready to interrogate life and determine for herself what life would mean, could mean, and should mean. He believes that depression in creative individuals is thought of as a crisis caused by chronic, persistent uneasiness, irritation, anger, and sadness about the facts of existence and life’s apparent lack of meaning. In fact, those who try to understand the reason for their own existence will most likely be more prone to depression. This theory refutes the belief that depression has genetic roots, and this would be a good subject for another article.
Kay Redfield Jamison, a foremost expert on bipolar disorder and someone who has also suffered from the disease since childhood, believes that most artistic geniuses are manic depressive. Jamison is also author of Touched With Fire and professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her book makes a powerful link between depression and creativity.
When a writer is depressed, he or she may turn to writing to ease the pain. The writing process can help the creative person make sense of their lives and helps to validate what they are feeling. Writing brings us face-to-face with reality. The act of moving the pen across the page or the fingers on the keyboard can be meditative and calming. Expressing your feelings helps to give meaning to your life, something which is helpful for us all to do!
About DIANA M. RAAB
Diana Raab is an award-winning writer and teacher specializing in personal writing and memoir. She is a guest blogger on numerous websites. She teaches at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and at various conferences around the country.
Her most recent memoir/self-help book is called, Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey and has already received stellar reviews and she’s set up for many interviews.
Her memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal (Beaufort Books, 2007)) won the 2008 National Indie Excellence Award for Memoir and the 2009 Mom’s Choice Award for Adult Nonfiction.
She’s editor of the anthology, Writers and Their Notebooks (University of South Carolina Press, January 2010).
She has three poetry collections: My Muse Undresses Me (2007), Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems for You (2008), winner of The Reader Views Award and Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice and The Guilt Gene (2009).
She’s the recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Book award for best health and wellness book for her book, Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: Overcoming Infertility and High Risk Pregnancy. It has been translated into French and Spanish. In 2009 the book was updated and released in its 20th anniversary edition, under the title, Your High Risk Pregnancy: A Practical and Supportive Guide in collaboration with Dr. Errol Norwitz of Yale School of Medicine.