Sadness can draw out people’s creative side

An extensive study of British artists and writers revealed that highly creative people often suffer from a mood disorder.

The data confirmed what letters, diaries and biographical accounts of well-known poets, artists and composers reveal — creative people tend to experience extremes of mood, which in turn, fuels the creative process.

Little remains of the creative products of melancholia: that painful sense of beauty often giving rise to art, music and poetry.

Depression is the “common cold of psychiatry,” which seems to suggest it is common and perhaps merely bothersome as the common cold.

Chronic depression is crippling and more debilitating than a common cold; we seek psychotherapy and other forms of treatment to get help.

Depression’s causes are often related to personal or situational difficulties (ignoring for the moment a serotonin hypothesis) and can result in the most disturbing aspect of depression: hopelessness — that persistent feeling that circumstances are just not going to improve.

People with depression are often told that something is very wrong with them. The truth is that they sense something is seriously wrong with their world.

Complicating the situation even more, today, depression is often considered “unacceptable.” Society is characterized by an activity ethic — as long as we keep moving, stay active on the treadmill or in the activity wheel, society accepts us.

In the past, melancholia was accepted as a natural state, an appropriate attitude to adopt when things began to fall apart.

Today, the person with depression is seen as needing some form of therapy, lithium perhaps, or anti-depressants certainly.

Looking closely at the person with depression’s assessment of their world, we note that such evaluations are quite accurate. Given such assessments, we wonder exactly what is happening in the therapy session.

Rather than focusing on the intra-personal world, perhaps the goal of therapy should be to recapture the emotional and spiritual strength to interact with and influence our external worlds, confronting the many needs of others as well as the self.

Every time we get angry about the way someone bullies someone, we get frustrated with the government’s corrupt ways, or enraged about the slaughter of innocents, we take this legitimate anger into our next therapy session, ventilate it all away thereby depriving ourselves of creative rage.

With our therapists, we introspect, rather than engage ourselves, in the fight for justice and such might contribute to our sense of helplessness regarding society’s general decline.

I will admit, it may be difficult to make precise distinctions between the suffering of feeling blue and what may be mental illness. We do tend to have a low tolerance for sadness or its sibling, “existential angst.”

Such urgings as “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or the computer-generated oblique smiles in our e-mails suggest a blissful addiction to the bright side. When you and I do get “blue,” our friends and family will tell us to lighten up or snap out of it.

Rather than “lighten up,” some healers, such as therapist/writer, the late James Hillman, argue that we cannot understand something if we are actively fighting it.

For Hillman, when depression occurs, uncomfortable truths are forced on us. Hillman wrote that “any legitimate social revolution, a way of bettering all for all, must begin with those individuals who can be true to his or her depression.”

Just maybe, we might then be driven to do something about the many injustices facing us, which, admittedly, can be very depressing.

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