image courtesy crosa, Creative Commons
by Kristin Nador/@KristinNador
Do your emotions stop you dead in your writing tracks?
Do you find the intense emotions you experience daily make for messy relationships, messy productivity, messy life?
This post is the first in an 8-part series over the next two months on creatives and mental health. I don’t write this as one with all the answers but one who is on the journey. I experienced a severe chemical depression in 2004 that resulted in medical treatment. I also have an ongoing diagnosis of panic disorder, so I have been in the trenches. I want to get a discourse going. Bring this subject out of the shadows and into the light of day.
Realizing the connection between your emotions, mental health and your creative temperment may help your productivity and your daily life. So we’re going to go there.
Stories of famous creatives who struggled with issues like depression, bipolar, panic disorder, etc. abound: Michelangelo, Hemingway, Styron, Piaf, Plath, Van Gogh, Beethoven, Woolf, Kerouac, Dickinson, Asimov, and Streisand, just to name a few.
Part of this may be explained by DNA. Scientists have discovered in the brain scans of creatives and mental patients a similar brain activity. In both groups there is a flood of uncensored information because of a lack of a certain kind of receptor in the thalamus. So we really do see things differently than other people.
Creativity is known to be associated with increased risk of depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. People who have mental illness in their family have a greater chance of having high creativity. You might have to give your ‘crazy’ Aunt Edna some credit in your next book dedication. There has also been a long-standing cultural mythology of the eccentric creative as a bit mentally unhinged that artistic personalities have to overcome.
Researcher Mihaly Csikczentmihalyi says:
“If I had to express in one word what makes their (creatives) personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an “individual,” each of them is a “multitude. Like the color white that includes all colors, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves. Creativity allows for paradox, light, shadow, inconsistency, even chaos –and creative people experience both extremes with equal intensity.”
No wonder in that extreme intensity come intense emotions.
Creatives are pre-wired to experience circumstances more intensely. We process these intense feelings through our art, our creativity, our innovation. Our highs are higher, our lows are lower. The elevator from high to low feelings can drop dramatically or explode out of the ceiling like an emotional Wonka-vator. Our anger outward becomes rage, our anger inward becomes spiraling depression.
Some of the mental health issues we’ll talk about in this blog series are: depression, anxiety and panic disorders, addictive behaviors, OCD, ADHD, hypersensitivity, boundary issues, internalization, PTSD, and artistic paranoid jealousy. Disorder has a very negative connotation, but it is dis-order, out of place, not out of mind.
I believe that mental health challenges are not any different than physical health challenges. Understanding, compassion, and access to treatment should be the same as any health issue. I also believe at times emotional struggles may boil down to Resistance.
Resistance can come from outside forces, but most often is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Julia Cameron addresses this in The Artist’s Way:
“Creativity requires faith. Faith requires that we relinquish control. This is frightening, and we resist it. Our resistance to our creativity is a form of self- destruction. We throw up roadblocks on our own path. Why do we do this? In order to maintain an illusion of control. Depression, like anger and anxiety, is resistance, and it creates dis-ease. This manifests itself as sluggishness, confusion, “I don’t know…” The truth is , we do know and we know that we know.”
Steven Pressfield in Do The Work refers to Resistance this way:
“Resistance cannot be seen, heard, touched or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. Resistance is a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work. Resistance is insidious. Resistance will tell you anyting to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you.”
Whether it’s Resistance or a medical situation, creatives may have more tendency to emotional turbulence and mental health issues, but it doesn’t mean we have to accept the unpleasant consequences. We can admit we need assistance, and take care of ourselves.
When we live out the best life we can, our creativity is less hindered and we can create our best art. It’s okay to have emotions, but don’t let emotions have you and steal your best life.
Question: Do you think mental health struggles are strictly biochemical or does Resistance play a part?
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