Depression and Happy Art
Seriously? Depression and Happy Art? Yep. It is a thing I am well acquainted with. In the U.S. people have been reacting with great sadness and bewilderment over the suicides of two very popular pop culture icons. The passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain raised a lot of discussion on social media.
The majority of comments I saw expressed sadness and confusion:
- How could this person who appears to have it all reach the very depths of human desperation? How is that even possible?
- Couldn’t the love, money, success and ambition that surrounded each individual have saved them?
Some expressed frustration and anger:
- Will nothing save the human spirit when it gets to this point?
- Were these people somehow selfish? What about those they leave behind? Didn’t they care about their loved ones and their aftermath?
These are all great questions. I saw them lead to open discussions about what depression is, how it impacts those who suffer from it and what any of us can do to help. The bottom line seemed to be that in order to alleviate the causes and effects of depression we, as a society, need to de-stigmatize how we think of it and those who endure its burdens.
I made a personal post on this topic on my Facebook page on the topic. It said:
“You can’t wise guy your way out of it.
You can’t eat your way out of it.
You can’t tough your way out of it.
You can’t pretend your way out of it.
You can’t drink your way out of it.
It’s a harsh vortex for so many.
You never conquer it, you only quiet it.
It is ever vigilant and will rise up whenever it can find a new foothold.
The only way to ensure depression doesn’t win is to open up about it and share your burden.
Doesn’t have to be with the whole wide world, though for some that helps.
Just has to be with some trusted few who can give hopeful, nonjudgmental space to you as you go down and wrestle with it once again.
It’s not weakness to share this burden. It is not a flaw.
Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, returned soldiers, bullied teens, regular joes, moms who can’t take it, some of your friends, me sometimes and maybe even you, too.
This struggle is real and you are not alone.”
I got a lot of great feedback from friends and followers. Here are some of their comments:
A sad story from a very accomplished friend
“I was lost in depression for decades starting in my preteens. Almost flunked out of college my freshman year but was lucky to get counseling on campus. That I got counseling alarmed my professors (guess it wasn’t confidential) and I was almost denied my teaching certificate because of it. I reminded them that there were probably plenty of students who needed the counseling and didn’t get it and the psychologist spoke for me. For all my life until about 10 years ago my family members thought I was the “lazy one” because I slept so much and had trouble rousing myself to much activity. My mother was surprised to learn about my depression and suicidal thoughts when she was 95 despite the fact that my father had 2 nervous breakdowns and her father killed him self when she was 9.”
A comment from a professional life coach
Thanks for this Marti. I will listen to you. I confess I do not understand suicide on any level and realize I need to. I can’t help thinking it’s selfish, especially when children are left behind. I guess it’s the most extreme form of mental illness, to want to kill yourself. Keep talking.
Reply from another:
It’s anything but selfish. Many get in the pit of thinking their very existence harms their children.
Suicide is nearly always the result of staggering, debilitating depression, sometimes well-hidden. Even if it appears that an event has precipitated it (ie. divorce, money issues), depression has nearly always been lurking. I have a good friend on FB that has had the courage and insight to share her own bipolar illness online… reading her words should take away anyone’s idea of suicide being a selfish act.
This is the dark “little” secret we don’t talk about. It happens not because of lack of will power or laziness. It is devastating and destructive in its insidiousness. We need to talk about this more. Our sharing helps everyone to realize how common it is, and for those who suffer, that they are not alone. #depressionkills
More thoughtful discussion
Thank you for posting your thoughts about this terrible lose (sic) that happens daily and so appreciate this threads of brave people! Depression like other mental health conditions is genetic, biological, brain chemistry and influenced by ones environment! Shame is a killer and that is what we do to people who suffer from mental health problems! Breaks my heart that there is not more compassion for individuals who inherited a condition they had no choice in! Suffering is real so reach out you hands to friends and strangers who struggle with mood and perception! Love is the answer ❤
Me: So is non-judgement and compassion!
I was once one of those poo-pooers, but a few stalwart friends put me straight, and I’m a more supportive person now thanks to them.
We can be high functioning sometimes even over achievers in between bouts. We can forget we may succumb. We can go for years in between episodes. We find many ways to cope with and get past this affliction. The people closest to us often know as much as we are willing to share or can’t hide about our struggles. That we have to hide is what makes it so difficult. Society doesn’t do well with what it considers ‘weakness’. But you’re right, Carol, depression is every bit as unplanned and unwanted as any other dis-ease.
Oh. Anyone who tsk.tsks these posts about depression have evidently not experienced depression. We need to bring this out of the shadows. We need to make sure that people with depression and bipolar disease get the help they need! There is nothing to be ashamed of….I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. I can’t do much of anything I used to be able to do. That is SO depressing! I get so down. You have just got to be able to talk, get out of it, get help, get support! It’s hard! Keep pushing!
OK, So Depression and Happy Art?
For a variety of reasons throughout my life I have reached the darkness that is the hallmark of depression. I wrote about one episode in great detail in my blog post about some of the symptoms of Hashimoto’s. You can read that here. And I have had other intimate experiences with the ‘black dog“, a phrase used by Victorian era nannies to describe their charges’ bad moods. Winston Churchill used the phrase to describe his own ‘dark moods’. Now it’s a colorful term used for depression. Hey, and by the way, I love actual black dogs. Pretty much every single one — if not all — I have ever met is delightfully bouncy!
What Makes Creative People Prone to Depression?
But yes, I have a working knowledge of depression. In fact many artists and creatives do. Are we more prone because we’re usually more sensitive to the world around us and open to be influenced? In fact, that may very well be the case. Check this out from an article entitled “The Link Between Depression and Creativity“:
Rumination, if you’ve been paying attention, is one of the major keys of thinking like a creative genius. To be creative is to make sense of and connect the small details of everything we experience, the good and the bad.
Creatives naturally tend to think more, and think about their very thoughts too.
When we ruminate, however, our brains are naturally drawn to things that are vital to our health. Pain and suffering are such immense experiences, even if they’re short-lived, that those who ruminate tend to loop through those painful experiences more often than those who don’t (are you starting to see the evolutionary link yet?).
For example: someone who doesn’t take the time to think about their thoughts regularly may have a stressful day at work or school, but when they come home from it all it’s easier to forget than not.
On the other hand, there are certain types of thinkers who naturally are drawn to play the stressful events over and over again, thinking about what happened, what they could have (or should have) done differently, how the details of what occurred will affect the rest of their lives, and so on. Creative thinkers tend to fall into the latter group, re-playing events over and over again to better understand them. Read the full article here.
Don’t like to read? Watch this quickie vid instead:
The Snowfall Description
The following description is from an anonymous post that went viral shortly after people started processing Depression on social media.
When you have depression it’s like it snows every day.
Some days it’s only a couple of inches. It’s a pain in the a**, but you still make it to work, the grocery store. Sure, maybe you skip the gym or your friend’s birthday party, but it IS still snowing and who knows how bad it might get tonight. Probably better to just head home.
Your friend notices, but probably just thinks you are flaky now, or kind of an a**hole.
Some days it snows a foot. You spend an hour shoveling out your driveway and are late to work. Your back and hands hurt from shovelng. You leave early because it’s really coming down out there. Your boss notices.
Some days it snows four feet. You shovel all morning but your street never gets plowed.
You are not making it to work, or anywhere else for that matter. You are so sore and tired you just get back in the bed. By the time you wake up, all your shovellng has filled back in with snow. Looks like your phone rang; people are wondering where you are.
You don’t feel like calling them back, too tired from all the shovelng. Plus they don’t get this much snow at their house so they don’t understand why you’re still stuck at home. They just think you’re lazy or weak, although they rarely come out and say it.
Some weeks it’s a full-blown blizzard. When you open your door, it’s to a wall of snow. The power flickers, then goes out. It’s too cold to sit in the living room anymore, so you get back into bed with all your clothes on. The stove and microwave won’t work so you eat a cold Pop Tart and call that dinner. You haven’t taken a shower in three days, but how could you at this point? You’re too cold to do anything except sleep.
Sometimes people get snowed in for the winter. The cold seeps in. No communication in or out. The food runs out. What can you even do, tunnel out of a forty foot snow bank with your hands? How far away is help? Can you even get there in a blizzard? If you do, can they even help you at this point? Maybe it’s death to stay here, but it’s death to go out there too.
The thing is, when it snows all the time, you get worn all the way down. You get tired of being cold. You get tired of hurting all the time from shoveling, but if you don’t shovel on the light days, it builds up to something unmanageable on the heavy days. You resent the hell out of the snow, but it doesn’t care, it’s just a blind chemistry, an act of nature. It carries on regardless, unconcerned and unaware if it buries you or the whole world.
Also, the snow builds up in other areas, places you can’t shovel, sometimes places you can’t even see. Maybe it’s on the roof. Maybe it’s on the mountain behind the house. Sometimes, there’s an avalanche that blows the house right off its foundation and takes you with it. A veritable Act of God, nothing can be done. The neighbours say it’s a shame and they can’t understand it; he was doing so well with his shovelling.
Not Lazy – Not Selfish
People in the throes of depression are not lazy and they are not selfish. What they are is hopeless. They can’t see a way past their current state. They can’t envision anything or anyone being able to be at all helpful. Besides, with the stigmatization of those who suffer from depression you risk opening yourself up to further criticism if you share these hopeless feelings. After all, what did Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have to feel so hopeless about! Wouldn’t just about anyone want their lives? Not having known them personally I can only guess, but I think each was pretty darned happy about their awesome life.
What they couldn’t control were the depressions that would overtake them and render those awesome lives and all the people in them, as representations of things they were now unworthy of. Thats’ how the internal voice goes. It is truly awful. It sounds like us and tells us the most outrageous lies about ourselves and for whatever reason (chemical imbalances in the brain?) we listen to and believe! The main theme usually is: “The world would be better without you. It would be a batter place if you had never been born.” Etc., etc. NOTE: Not everyone suffers depression this deeply or to this degree or in this style, but some of us do or have. Depression can be a highly personalized struggle.
Remember George’s despair in “It’s A Wonderful Life”? Here look:
So yeah, it’s a movie and we don’t get the privilege George gets in seeing how the world might have turned out without us. What we do in a depressive state is say “The world would be better without us!”. Clarence shows George a world much worse had he not been born. We figure he’d show us just the opposite. Because that’s the mean impact of depression. It’s relentless pessimism about us.
How Do I Cope?
Once the depression sets in it is so very difficult to get out of it. Can take days, weeks, even months to be fully rid of it. People who learn of my periodic battles with it will be truly surprised as ‘how could anyone who makes such happy art ever be troubled by depression!”. I jokingly tell them – though it’s pretty much true — “If I was so happy all the time I wouldn’t need all this happy art to cheer me up!”.
The key is to learn your own triggers and do what you can to avoid them. Not only do I drive one of those ‘sensitive, creative’ brains, I also test towards personality traits that reinforce these characteristics. I’m an INFP on the Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator test and a “four” on the Enneagram Survey. For those who know the Enneagrams well, I’ma self-preserving four, the least dramatic, maybe most optimistic of the three variations. Learn more in this link.
My personal triggers
Major transitions (death of a loved one, a major move, a major loss of some kind, career re-focus, etc). This is most definitely not unique to me as most people will go down pretty deep when they need to deal with this kind of stuff. Some of us go a little deeper is all. (When I wrote this post I was in the midst of a perfect storm of recent difficult events: the death of my mother, our international move, a career change and a health issue)
Unkind criticism – I get a lot of this, or it feels like I do (actually I probably don’t get that much!) I’m just super prone to absorbing the mean stuff. Man, it hits me over the head like a thick tar and just oozes down my person and gets onto everything around me for days and days. Like actual tar this junk sticks to everything and it really hard to clean off. I’ll take on the mean and make it my own. I think “What if this person is right and I have been fooling myself?” I do what I can to talk myself out of it and I have gotten some better, but I’ve got two right now I’m dealing with internally that are over two weeks old! Ugh.
Reminder: I’m 60 years old – shouldn’t I be done with this stuff by now? Reponse: I guess not, lol.
Persistent Frustrations – with myself or circumstances I’m struggling with that I can’t seem to get beyond.
Being Misunderstood – I work hard to understand myself with Truth and try to project a very real, very authentic person to the world at large. When people mistake some of the things I do as being indicative of negative things I know I am not, it drives me bananas trying to set the record straight. If I’m unsuccessful, could lead to a depression. Look, I don’t like being this way – it feels like a curse – but it’s a part of my struggle. However these difficult traits also allow me to be Very Good at being truly empathetic and compassionate for others. It is the key to that behavior. So do I want to eliminate it completely? I don’t think so, but I do want to control it so it is less about the hurt and more about the benefit.
Side Note: see how forthcoming I am with stuff a lot of people would rather leave in the shadows? It’s part of my master plan of creating accountable space for myself and others so my struggles are more transparent. Why do I reveal so much?
- Why not? Who cares? The ones I am most concerned about, my hubby, family and close friends all know my weaknesses anyway. The rest of y’all can’t hurt me and may very well support me and others in your own lives who struggle with this stuff. Maybe it’s even you! Win-win, I say.
- I’m not trying to pass a job or other career interview test where these personal challenges can and would be held against me. This is a BIG statement. It’s at the root of why people who suffer from depression stay as silent as they can with it.
- It may be that by being open about my own struggles and spending time explaining them to myself and everyone reading this now that we all can learn more about this sometimes debilitating dis-ease.
How Am I Now?
I’m great! I’ve been active in some personal self-discovery discussion groups. I’ve been working hard to “own my stuff’ and create positive new ways to deal with — and hopefully eliminate — the old patterns.
Art Helps. It’s always helped.
Other things that help:
- Being in nature.
- Eliminating news from my info-diet.
- Being more open to being more open about the hard stuff. That’s’ helpful, too.
- Oh, and I don’t hang with downer people. Braggarts, naysayers, negative thinkers, people who practice willful ignorance – they’re all gone from my inner and first tier circle. Oh yeah, I have some a bit further out, but that’s inevitable if you’re at all social or present on online media which I most definitely am.
So What Do We Do?
I’ll repeat what I said above because it was a lot of paragraphs ago, lol..
The bottom line seemed to be that in order to alleviate the causes and effects of depression we, as a society, need to de-stigmatize how we think of it and those who endure its burdens.
On the topic of depression. Originals available. Click here for details on either piece.
The Black Dog
12″ x 12″ acrylic on reverse shadow box wooden base
The Power of Epona
11.75″ x 11.75″ acrylic on masonite framed with dark stained wood – Details or to purchase here.
- Online quickie test to determine if you experiencing depression: As one who’s gone through it I can see where the candid answers to these questions could be determinate.
- Ways to stop a building depression in its tracks Read here
- A friend pointed me to the book It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are about how trauma is passed on through generations through our DNA. It sounds unbelievable but there is growing neuroscience research to support it. It explained to me my deep dives into depression around a feeling of being abandoned which logically made no sense to me. A peek at my ancestral tree, especially my mother and her father who truly were abandoned, revealed where those overwhelming emotions may have come from.
- A decent article on so called “smiling depression”. “Smiling Depression Can Make Suicide Hard to Predict: Here’s What You Can Do”
A recent book that’s highly rated on the topic: The Noonday Demon
A blog post by a Facebook friend who is an amazing force of nature in the art world. Her lead in: “Depression is real. It does not discriminate. I’ve struggled with it most of my life. I’ve been very open about it, in the hopes that my experience can help others. We’re all human. Here’s a story about my experience done for a blog a few years ago” Read her post here.
A very good discussion on what depression is here.