A Dry Well: Depression Is Not a Source of Creativity

If you have ever watched Jimi Hendrix play the blues, or if you’ve ever read the paranoid work of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who seems always to be at the black edge of a nervous breakdown, then it might not come as a surprise to learn many people hang onto uncomfortable, even destructive feelings like depression and anxiety as tools for work and creative thought. Fear, sadness, and self-criticism can also occasionally be useful emotions for personal growth. We go through ups and downs throughout our lives, and in most cases these are important opportunities to learn about ourselves and form meaningful inner monologues.

There are even scores of artists, musicians, writers, and performers who will attest to the basic usefulness of a pressing nervousness or a dark period of life as unique opportunities for creation. For some, this is true–until it goes too far. It is not uncommon, however, especially for creative thinkers, to cling to depression as a tool, long after it has exhausted their motivation, and in spite of the fact that it is clearly holding them back. Even for some of our brightest minds, walking the line between useful sadness and crippling depression can be treacherous and painful.

There comes a time when the lows get in the way of everything else.

The myth of depression-fueled creativity

In a February 2015 interview with Howard Stern, late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien discussed what Howard called “the myth” of being unhappy in order to be creative, and Conan explained how he finally made the choice to get help for his depression.

“I used to think I needed to be incredibly unhappy to be funny,” Conan said. “And people tell you that’s not true. You get to a point where you don’t care if it’s true or not. You really don’t. You just think, ‘You know what? I’d rather be happy.’”

Conan’s depression, like so many others’, became so problematic it was not just hurting his work, but it was hurting him. Moreover, his choice to seek treatment did not negatively affect his creativity.

Depression and anxiety don’t just hurt productivity. Depression can even kill. Comedian Bill Hicks, while lampooning modern pop music, famously said, “I want my rockstars dead!” He was referring specifically to Jimi Hendrix, whose inner demons inspired him to play from his heart, but also led to his tragically young death from drug abuse stemming from depression and the massive anxiety he suffered around people. Depression, anxiety, and their glamorization have claimed too many lives.

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Overcoming depression and anxiety

Personalized treatments are shifting to replace the outdated, one-size-fits-all drug prescriptions which have marred the mental health industry for decades. New studies indicate a growing approval of treatments which seek to minimize the use of pharmaceuticals by teaching patients the right skills to recognize and respond to feelings associated with a relapse in anxiety and depression.

Determining the balance that’s right for you is an individualized process that takes place between you and a trained professional. It is important to have a group of professionals, like those at Bridges to Recovery, to provide immersive treatment and help you strike the proper ratio between therapy and medicinal treatment. Here, we provide a personalized experience with unique treatment plans that include monitoring and altering medication on an individual basis, and tapping into a wide range of available treatment programs.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, offers a practical, problem-solving approach to mental health. It can change our patterns of thinking and the behavior behind our difficulties, altering the way we feel. For creative thinkers, CBT could be very promising, especially in conjunction with individual psychotherapy. Art therapy is also an excellent option for creative thinkers. Bridges to Recovery even offers a meditation therapy program, which promotes emotional growth by connecting mind and body experiences. This leads to greater self-awareness, affording people more opportunities to self-regulate and be mindful of one’s impact in the world, and to realize that their creativity lies not within their disorder, but within themselves.

If you are unsure whether you are battling crippling depression or transient sadness, it is always a good idea to seek out a professional and hear their advice. Depression is, after all, ranked by the World Health Organization as the leading cause of disability globally. A professional can help you determine when depression is so strong that it interferes with normal everyday life, and when it is time to consider seeking outside help. It might be just the thing you need to get over that hump and start creating again.

Worry and sadness can certainly be valuable learning experiences. They’re the emotions that signal to us what our fears, hopes, dreams and limitations could be–but if they have grown into depression, anxiety, or a combination of the two, trained and licensed staff at a residential mental health treatment center like Bridges to Recovery can help you take control before it takes over your life. There is no such thing as being “too far gone” or “helpless,” and it is important to remember you are not at your mind’s mercy. The choice is yours, to disable depression before it disables you.

Bridges to Recovery helps people acquire the skills and opportunities they need to manage and respond to the feelings and thoughts associated with anxiety and depression. If you are a creative thinker whose depression has become overwhelming, or if you feel like negative thoughts are getting in the way of work–or even if you can’t work at all–Bridges to Recovery can help you turn those negative experiences into something positive. Contact us today.