Wednesday, 13 December 2017

how to conquer the fear of creating when you have depression

Depression makes it difficult to function day to day, let alone create. Realising that I hadn't written anything creative for months and in an anxiety inducing rut about the whole thing, I recently googled "how to be creative when you have depression." Then I stared blankly at the screen as the search results revealed a list of think-pieces about how artists are more prone to depression, but no advice on how to actually make art when you are feeling depressed.

Taken by Ethan in Berlin last December

Depression is one of the most romanticised illnesses. Whilst it is true that a lot of creatives suffer from it, when you are coming out the other side of a bad depressive episode where even getting out of bed/surviving is a struggle, it can be hard to work out how are you supposed to create anything at all, let alone anything good? Depression sucks everything out of you. Whilst it can be comforting when you feel low to imagine yourself as part of a cohort of tortured artists, it is not comforting to wake up and question how long you can go on calling yourself an artist if you are too depressed to create any art.

Create just for yourself 

Virginia Woolf said, "It is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments." That's exactly what is so important about creating just for yourself. It makes you less self conscious when it comes to sharing something publicly, which can reduce anxiety about creating altogether.

If you create something that no one other than you will ever see, then it takes away a lot of the pressure. Don't think as your creativity as "work." Instead, rethink it as a mode of expressing freedom. What you do doesn't have to be good, you just have to do it. 

I have always kept a journal for the days when I feel everything too much and I am so overwhelmed I have to write it down. Sometimes these entries are confused ramblings. At other times, they include lines and phrases that I use in my poetry. The most important thing is that when I am writing in my journal, it is for no one else to see.

Create as therapy 

Writing down how you feel is a good way to gain some control and understanding of your thoughts. However, if ruminating in this way makes you feel worse, try something completely different. The other bonus of creating in private is that you can practice forms of creativity that you do not naturally excel at. 

Visual arts like drawing, collage and colouring require few tools and little experience. The mindful adult colouring trend means that shops are awash with colouring books. Colouring can be therapeutic and creative, but, unlike writing how you feel, it can also make it easier to switch off your thoughts. 

Collaging is how I justify my magazine hoarding. I have a folder of all my favourite images so I can dip into that whenever I feel like adding some visuals to my journal. 

Try to engage creatively everyday 

Adopting a routine is an important part of recovery. Set aside some time every day to create. If you are busy, or feeling particularly low, even 15-minutes can make a huge difference. The longer you go without creating, the more intimidating it becomes, so if you practice for a short time every day you will not feel so out of touch with your creative self.

If the thought of creating makes you feel sick, (may seem melodramatic, but we've all been there) try using the 5-minute rule. Start working on something and if 5-minutes in you still don't feel better, try a different creative task, or do something completely different and return to it later. 

Think of this time as self-care time rather than a chore. Don't let the creative work that you have to do encroach on this time. Save it for something you are creating for the sake of it. 

Absorb art created by others 

If you immerse yourself in the creativity of others to feel less out of touch with that side of yourself. However, this step comes with a warning: don’t compare your work to others, especially if you haven’t made anything for a while. Lately when I’ve been spending time with my creative friends I have experienced huge bouts of imposter syndrome. Spending time with people who inspire you is important, as long as you try to be inspired rather than intimidated.

This always makes me think of the Ira Glass quote about taste and creativity. He says that "All of us who do creative work get into it because we have good taste." When you haven't created anything for a while, your taste is still good. However, you start to feel the pressure to fill the gap between your good taste and the work you create. 

The best way to tackle both these feelings is to find comfort in the fact that you are still interested in creativity, even if it is only through the work of others. It might take time, but your inspiration will come back to you. And think of all the ideas you will have- consciously or unconsciously- stored up in this time.

Try something new 

Okay, so this is definitely a recovery cliché, but I guess they say it because it helps. You by no means have to entirely recreate yourself on the way to recovering from depression, but any new habits that make you feel good are a bonus. 

We can get so obsessed with our thing. When you haven't done said thing for a while, it can get you down so much that it ends up being the last thing you want to do. Taking your mind off it in a creative way can help clear your head and inspire you simultaneously. 

If you usually write, try drawing. If you've never invested much time in photography before, try taking it up. In the era of multi-hyphenate creatives, you can never learn too many creative practices.

By Ethan

Fake it

This tip also appears in the post about my writing process. When I have really bad writer's block, I dress in black, make a cup of coffee and go outside for a cigarette because that seems like the sort of thing a writer would do. Then feel like I have to write because otherwise I'm just acting like a pretentious cliche for no reason. 

Making a playlist to inspire you can also help with this step. I have two playlists to write to. The first one is full of my favourite poems and lyrics. I listen to this before writing for inspiration and to set the tone I want to achieve in my writing. I sometimes have the second one playing in the background as I write. None of the songs have lyrics so I write what comes into my head without distractions.

Whilst my annoyance about the romanticisation of depression is what fuelled this post, it can be comforting to know how many creatives have gone through it too. This article does a good job at explaining why writers are more prone to depression, but it can be applied to pretty much any creative pursuit that could potentially isolate you. It is refreshing to read a piece on the subject that avoids all romantic cliches. It acknowledges that lifestyle is a significant factor in depression and it is not just a result of being an oh-so intelligent, introspective Artiste. Depression sucks, but if reading this has made it suck a tiny bit less for someone then yay. I know that I feel better having written it.

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