Sometime a week or two ago I was doing something totally unrelated - noodling around in the puter hard drive - and found a paper I'd written for a grad school class, an extra credit thing I'd done that had to based on a popular magazine article of our choosing. I didn't re-read it last week, just dumped a copy on the desktop. This morning I read it. Hilarious in how it fits with what I've been looking at around writing and Supposed Waking Up. (And oh good lord forgive the eggheady languaging!)
Creativity and Depression
A current common belief through observation, anecdote and in recent history, scientific study, is that creative people are more prone to depression than the general population. Proof of this is given in the disproportionate number of artists who have been described as depressed, and in the statistical difference that artists are shown to be ten times more likely to be depressed than non-artists.
The article Blue Periods in the October edition of Psychology Today cited a recent study that asserts that it isn’t an artist’s creativity that leads to depression but rather their inclination for rumination that contributes to it. The study looked more closely at how depression correlates with both creativity and self-reflection and found that it is self-contemplation that leads to creativity and depression rather than creativity itself implying causation of depression.
It was shown that twin studies revealed that depression was more highly concordant in monozygotic twins than dizygotic twins, indicating that depression is at least partly genetic. It was also shown that the mania phase of bipolar disorder is comprised of euphoria divorced from reality, delusions of grandeur, and radically high energy.
The description of the bipolar mania phase, when reworded, can be used to describe the basic characteristics of the creative process itself: entering an internal visual/empathic/aural space where the art is the reality, and generating the physical and emotional energy, as well as the high self-esteem needed to sustain the connection between internal and external worlds. Some artists claim to be able to summon and execute their creative process smoothly, while others seem to experience their creativity as a series of intense highs and lows. Others state that they find all parts of the creative process agonizing, but are compelled to create anyway.
One explanation for the apparent correlation between depression and creativity is that artists often mine images and ideas from the depths of their subconscious, often operating at a level where what comes forth appears out of their conscious control. They come to believe they can only take advantage of inspiration when it appears, through “grace” or through the use of a muse, be it creature or chemical. Depression may be simply a side effect of the drug “tools” that most artists have typically used to court their muses. It is common for artists, fearing creative blocks and seeking to fuel their inspirational energy, to do so with coffee, tobacco, alcohol, absinthe, opium, excessive sugar, and other brain chemistry altering drugs, all of which have been proven to correlate with incidence of depression.
Art is, by its very nature, something that requires a certain level of self-involvement and absorption. Much like axons strengthen when connections to other neurons are made and sustained, and how dendrites flourish in a stimulation enriched environment, rumination leads to strong cognitive links to the stored data of a person’s past. Often what an artist mines for their work are powerful personal incidents, many negative, traumatic, or simply dramatic, or personal paradigm shifting. This rumination, which essentially is the strengthening of links to past negativity or deep change may very well be what leads to higher incidences of depression in the creatives of our species. It also may be that the pattern of rumination runs in families, which in our culture with its myriad taboos against the expression of negative or powerful emotion, leads to suppression of emotion, which in and of itself can lead to depression, rather than heredity asserting the depression itself.
I found the article Blue Periods to be provocative, and even with its brevity, a strong, compelling assertion that this subject needs further study.