I’ve been having a hard time sitting down to write lately. Not because I lack time, but because I lack empathy for my own process therefore how could I hope to have empathy for anyone else’s. There are a lot of things I could say about depression and creativity and in fact I already have said some here, but I don’t have the strength to go there right now. I am writing to here now to give the smallest of updates and the smallest of motivation to myself to keep going, to keep writing. Because in my experience writing helps put a frame around my experience to be able to look at it from that place in the mind that does not experience pain of living, the essence of being if you will. I promised you two books of poetry exactly a year ago, and truth be told I’m scared to release them. These poems were written in a very dark period of my life, and at the time they gave me a reason to keep on going, to keep on writing, but reading them now is painful. Painful that I hurt so much, and painful that I would wish to share that sort of hurt on the world that is suffering so much already. It’s a hard thing for me to reconcile with myself in my current black disposition. I have made a promise to finish them by the end of this year regardless because people have directly asked me to, people I respect, and people that have paid me money in order that I might keep going, keep writing. If it weren’t for these people that have invested their good faith in me I would probably give up on the project entirely. Which is depressing in itself. There is this idea that the only kind of pure art is art for art’s sake that the artist creates in this vacuum regardless of who will appreciate it, but I also believe that the creative experience is not complete without someone to receive the expression of the soul. It’s like trying to have a conversation while no one is listening. Between these two beliefs I feel a little lost about how to feel about the release of this body of work. It is coming though regardless if only so I can practice having empathy for the parts of myself and my work I do not like.
I feel it in my body. My limbs are heavy. My fingers feel thick & bloated like strange cocktail wieners attached to the end of my wrist stumps. My eyes ache, and my mouth tastes like ash. I have a hard time remembering what was just said to me. I feel like a waste of space. Same thoughts as before. I’m tired of hearing them. I can objectively see that I am doing well, my life is reasonably comfortable, I am reasonably skilled & kind, I am supported & loved, and my challenges are manageable. Yet my mind roars a deafening cry of apathy. It’s harder to silence when I know it is unfounded. Maybe I will always feel like this. Maybe I don’t deserve the things I have if I can’t appreciate them. Maybe the only way to get any peace. I can reason with myself that isn’t the answer. I can say the things to myself I would say to a friend. I can put myself to bed & make myself tea knowing things will keep going on. Maybe things will get worse, maybe I am a waste of space, but certainly no more so then anybody else. I can only make good of what I have here. How selfish is it to allow my mind to fall into such disrepair over nothing. Why does my body ache when I try to sleep? And disassociate when I try to focus? And smile when I feel afraid? I feel so embarrassed warning my friends. I need to tell you this because I know you would want to know if something were to happen, I have no plans, but someone needs to know, and I can see my weight transfer from my mind to yours, but I am no lighter for it, and again I am afraid. What is the point? Why am I here? I am asking a god that I don’t think can hear me for an answer that I am afraid to hear. No wonder it isn’t going well. Why do I make things so hard for myself? Or is it out of my hands generations of trauma leading up to this moment where I try to make an excuse for my own lousy outlook on life. Turning off the news helps. Playing music helps. Sleeping helps. Eating green food helps. Praying to no one in particular helps. Talking with others helps. Petting my cat helps. Drinking tea helps. Writing this down helps.
I don’t know if help will ever really make a difference, but that’s the best I’ve got.
Most of my writing has sprung from the fertile black soil of depression, but my creativity does not bloom in the darkness of the soul. Longer nights & greyer days. I struggle to keep pace in the changing seasons. I long for solitude, silence, and long autumn walks. Instead it is a ghastly busy season filled with errands of the daily grind I would rather leave undone.
Would these bleak hours feel more hospitable if I were master over my own time to whittle away the dwindling days in my cabin amongst the falling leaves? Or am I cursed to count these mortal hours listlessly in the waning of the year as the darkest hour of the soul?
I am tired. Barely energy to get through the day. I crave rest. A peace of mind I have not known in many a moon.
Medicating to stay a float I find that I’m faced with the rot that has accumulated in the corners of my mind. No longer concealed by the reeling of my thoughts. Regulated interactions make me question. It’s a long road to better off than the poor old soul in the casket. Don’t we all crave the sweet release of death? And yet here we are busy with the business of living, but to what end?
My depression does not stoke the fires of my creativity rather it sucks me dry, but it’s such an old friend I would be lost with out it. Am I depressed because I ask too much of life? Or is life too much for me because I am depressed? I wish my brain would get on with the business of living already. Everything around me is dying & it is so awfully dull.
Another list of things that have touched my heart like a spark plug to the thunder bolt.
- Maurice Sendak final interview and where the title of this list comes from
- Werner Herzog on Creativity, Self-Reliance, and How to Make a Living Doing What You Love via Brain Pickings
- Stephen Colbert telling the story of how he met his wife via the wonderful Paige Lansky
- The Machine by Joey Comeau
- Glitter by respectfulchild
Turns out I am thinking about lots of things with lots of links to share.
- The Beginners Guide to Unschooling via Zen Habits – this is the best online description of unschooling I have been able to find it also has a great further reading list at the end for those looking to learn more.
- Mood Disorders & Creativity – Johns Hopkins Lecture Series with Dr. Jamieson
- How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, More Creative
- The Art of Observation and Why Genius Lies in the Selection of What is Worth Observing via Brain Pickings
- I’m a huge fan of the album Flash & Yearn by tooth ache. You can learn more about her on She Does here
I’ve begun to own more & more that I have an anxiety problem. I have not been diagnosed so I won’t say disorder, but occasionally I am over run by a crippling fear, adrenaline, cold sweat, heart and thought racing kind of feeling. Sometimes it’s accute and begins and ends rapidly, sometimes it’s a prolonged uneasiness that sits with me for days and disturbs my focus and robs my sleep. After either is usually followed by a blue period of listless apathy and regret. It can be triggered by many things and sometimes for no apparent reason at all.
So how do I create work in spite of this feeling of impending doom?
A big one is give the brain a problem to solve. Often the characteristic of anxiety is ungrounded fear that is incurred from events or experiences out of my control. If there is a tangible task set before the anxious mind all that nervous energy can be channeled into solving it as quickly as possible to relieve the symptoms of stress.
The other one is to disassociate my creative self from my anxious self. I have to be careful with disassociation as it has been tied into my major depressive spells where I can feel lost inside myself for days or months at a time. However, in this case by being able to see my anxious thoughts as not part of myself, as something that is happening inside of me like indigestion that isn’t truly who I am, I can set those thoughts aside more easily. Sometimes I do that by writing every anxious thought down, or scheduling a specific time slot when I’m allowed to think about it, or through visualization exercises.
Being able to accept that these thoughts are happening to me, but do not define me has been a huge step forward. I think there is a lot of fear of mental health stigma still, or now the double edged sword of fear of misusing mental health language in an ableist fashion. I’ve not been diagnosed mostly because I can’t afford to go see someone who would be qualified to diagnose me, but being able to name these emotional upheavals has helped me be able to work on soothing them. Same as naming them has allowed me to talk about them and ask for help.
Creatively, if I am feeling anxious about a project it is usually the easiest anxiety to quell because I can lay out clear steps to get me where I’m going that my anxious brain can latch on to. Each step might fail, but it provides a way to tangibly measure the outcomes of my anxiety to disprove it again and again. Social anxiety lacks these clear markers of success. Anxiety about the future is too large to productively map. Anxiety triggered by feelings of unsafety is not so easily quelled as the stakes are much higher. Creative anxiety can actually be quite motivating as those bursts of nervous energy can help me achieve super human feats in relatively short periods of time.
Because of the positive correlation between my anxiety & creativity I often wish to get through particularly anxious times with more creativity. The problem is my energy & resources are limited. It can set me up for unrealistic expectations which lead to a bigger drop when anxiety subsides and I have not channeled it through this creative lens. Intensified anxiety does not always mean intensified creativity, and at a point is just disruptive. I’ve had anxiety attacks so intense I thought I was physically ill. At those times there is no amount of creative out put that will help me cope.
Usually though my anxiety needs the same things my creativity needs:
- A space where I feel safe to fail and be vulnerable.
- People who love & support me.
- Time to work itself through to completion.
- Mindfulness to experience this moment fully before jumping on to the next.
- Compassionate truth seeking to cut through illusions without degrading the spirit entwined in them.
- And radical vulnerability to be present and generous in this state of flux.
I am managing some code orange burn out after a more than hectic month which means I’m being extra mindful of what I spend my energy on. Unlike in the fall, the managing is actually going really well! I am finding time & energy to do the things that matter to me, and not killing my body in the process, but it means I don’t have much to share with you in the way of writing this week, so I hope you will accept this reading list instead of new material. If you are in Saskatoon you can come visit me at Short Cuts this weekend and I would be more than happy to fill you in on what’s next, otherwise stay tuned for new projects in May. Find somewhere to put your feet up and let your mind wander through these links.
- LSD’s Impact on the Brain Revealed in Groundbreaking Images via The Guardian
- Kierkegaard on Anxiety and Creativity via Brain Pickings
- Social Delicacies by Chunder Buffet via Bandcamp
- Episode 29 Aaron Scholz interviews Janet Scholz via Weirdo Magnets
- Sylvia Plath’s Drawings via Bust