be a profoundly damaging and disrupting condition,
spiritually and psychologically corrosive, preventing us
from living fully and realizing our talents. But a number of
people also say the experience has had real value for them.
Kay Redfield Jamison first planned her own suicide at 17,
and attempted to carry it out at 28.
her bipolar disorder, she has said, "I have felt more
things, more deeply. I have often asked myself whether,
given the choice, I would choose to have manic-depressive
lithium were not available to me, or didn't work for me, the
answer would be a simple no... and it would be an answer
laced with terror.
"But lithium does work for me, and therefore I can afford to
pose the question. Strangely enough, I think I would choose
to have it. It's complicated.
honestly believe that as a result of it I have felt more
things, more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely;
loved more, and have been more loved... laughed more often
for having cried more often; appreciated more the springs,
for all the winters."
her book An
Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness.]
lot of us experience some kind of depression.
The National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 21
million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S.
population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood
disorder, including major depression, dysthymia (chronic,
mild depression), and bipolar disorder.
often co-occur with anxiety disorders and substance abuse.
And 10 to 20 percent of women in the U.S. develop postpartum
depression in the first year after childbirth.
Christensen from the book Crying
Men, by photographer Sam Taylor-Wood.]
Some people use the label very loosely, as in "I'm so
depressed that Danny is gone from American Idol." That may
be distressing, but it is not depression.
the other hand, James
T. Webb, Ph.D. notes in his article Mis-Diagnosis
Dual Diagnosis.. (and
his related book) that
"Many gifted and talented children (and adults) are being
mis-diagnosed by psychologists, psychiatrists,
pediatricians, and other health care professionals.
"The most common mis-diagnoses are: Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder
(OD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Mood
Disorders such as Cyclothymic Disorder, Dysthyinic Disorder,
Depression, and Bi-Polar Disorder.
"These common mis-diagnoses stem from an ignorance among
professionals about specific social and emotional
characteristics of gifted children which are then mistakenly
assumed by these professionals to be signs of pathology."
are many effective ways to treat or manage "real"
depression, including medications, cognitive therapy and
herbal preparations such as St. John's Wort.
research indicates antidepressants may only be helpful for
some forms of profound depression - not for most people who
are being widely prescribed common SSRI medications.
Barber (author of Comfortably
How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation) notes that
"Close to 10 percent of men and women in America are now
taking drugs to combat depression."
his article The
Americans: Antidepressant Prescriptions on the Rise
(Scientific American Mind, February, 2008) he speculates on
some of the reasons for such a high level: "What modern
psychiatry has done, I am convinced, is to conflate and
confuse the two, Depression and depression.
Healy, in Let Them Eat Prozac (NYU Press, 2004), calls it 'a
creation of depression on so extraordinary and unwarranted a
scale as to raise questions about whether pharmaceutical and
other health care companies are more wedded to making
profits from health than contributing to it.'
2007 study at New York University showed that about one in
four people who appears to be depressed and is treated as
such is in fact dealing with the aftermath of a recent
emotional blow, such as the end of a marriage, the loss of a
job or the collapse of a business."
D. Kramer (author of Listening
Prozac) wrote in an article about some potential
benefits: "Much of what we value - our understanding of
beauty, profundity, even romance - has been crafted by
melancholics. Perhaps we were not so wrong in the '60s when
we imagined sadness might contain a germ of resistance to a
culture thriving on competition, consumption and celebrity.
in a time when people demand serenity as if it were the
human condition, one cheer for melancholy hardly seems
"Why I'm in Favor of Sadness" Self magazine, July, 2001]
Kramer, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown
University, more recently published the book Against
He considers depression to be "fragility, brittleness, lack
of resilience, a failure to heal. It is sadness,
hopelessness, chronic exhaustion allied with corrosive
anxiety, a loss of any emotion but guilt, of any desire but
to stop, please stop, and to stay stopped, forever." He
thinks it is "a disease of extraordinary magnitude," and
"the major scourge of humankind" which should be treated as
effectively as possible.
From article Against
Anatomy of Severe Melancholy, By Natalie Angier, The
New York Times.
In her Amazon.com review about Kramer's new book, Jill
Lightner says, "Without ever being dismissive or
particularly angry, his writing makes his point abundantly
clear after the first chapter: The pervasive idea of
depression serving a creative purpose is preposterous, as
well as highly damaging.
the arts, he examines the work of philosophers, painters and
writers in relation to the reputation their personal lives
have earned (critics and consumers alike believe that pain
equals genius and lack of pain equals lack of depth).
Dineson, Bellow, Updike and Kierkegaard to the list headed
by van Gogh, Kramer shows a variety of ways we live with the
assumption that creative genius does not function without
severe emotional strain."
But according to research, many writers and other artists do
have higher levels of depression than other groups of
it be at all helpful to us?
Artist Caroline Bertorelli is quoted in the book The Van
Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path Through Depression:
"I get depressed quite regularly and often. It used to
distress and frustrate me that I have such a tendency. But
as I grow older, I see my depression as a valuable time for
introspection and deep thinking about life."
In our interview, I asked the author, psychologist and
creativity coach Eric Maisel, if he finds that others are
able to experience depression as something with positive
meaning and value.
Dr. Maisel replied, "Many artists try. I believe that it
serves us best to learn how to reduce or eliminate both
depression and anxiety from our lives, as I do not hold them
as useful in any way. I think that pain is overrated."
But he added, "That isn’t to say that the following might
not happen: you work honorably and well on a creative
project, you finish it, you are depleted and no new project
wants to come forward, and after a certain amount of time
the blues strike, since you aren’t making sufficient meaning
and don’t feel quite up to making new meaning.
"This sort of depression can creep up on any working artist.
The depression is not useful in and of itself but it is a
clear signal that the time has come to see if new meaning
can be made. It is the time to get back on the horse and
back into the studio."
Continued in interview: Investing
in our art.
This signal value of depression is also mentioned by
therapist and workshop leader Mary Rocamora in her article:
with Recognized and Unrecognized Gifted Adults:
"Clients who are passionately engaged with their talent but
are constantly separated from the creative experience by
relentless self-criticism, self-doubt, and feelings of
inferiority often suffer from another type of block. It is
often accompanied by depression and the periodic shutting
down of their spontaneous creative impulses."
Karla McLaren, author of Emotional
: Discovering the Deepest Language of the Soul, warns
about dealing with depression in ways that may be
unproductive for our creative and personal growth
"Most of us suffer through our dark emotions or grab at the
pleasant ones like prizes at a county fair but we
aren't able to maintain our focus or our equilibrium around
the emotions," she said. "Being creative means experiencing
the emotions with consciousness and skill.
"For instance, an uninspired way to handle depression is to
try to shake it off with distractions or drugs. Both can
help relieve depression for a while, but they don't bring
consciousness to the depression itself; both actually tend
to cement depression into a repetitive state.
"Now, if we can bring skills and consciousness to
depression, we can find out why our energy is gone, where it
might be, and what our inner selves are trying to say to us.
I call depression 'ingenious stagnation,' because there's
always a very good reason for energy and flow to vacate the
psyche in a depression.
"Sometimes, depression is a reaction to an unhealing
relationship... a physiological response to something in our
environment... a reaction to unrelieved trauma. It's
different for each of us. When we use our creativity to
fully experience our depression instead of running away from
it, it becomes a valuable tool in our growth and
by Sounds True www.soundstrue.com]
a melancholist. I think there's beauty in being the life
of the party, but I just don't understand it."
Actor Rachel Griffiths
Book: Depression As an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth,
Cheri Huber summarizes depression as "emptiness, exhaustion,
and meaninglessness" but sees it as an opportunity for
everything else in life," Huber writes, "depression is an
ally, a gift. It has something to teach us. Depression
brings me back to myself in a way much of life does not. It
gets my attention. It says, 'Stop! Pay attention!'
Depression allows us to see the cause of our suffering, to
see who we are, to embrace ourself in compassion, and to let
go and end the suffering."
Instead of "numbing ourselves to depression with food,
drugs, alcohol, sex, talking," Huber recommends that we get
to know our emotions; rest, eat well, and exercise
regularly; and take up an awareness practice that enables us
to let go of false beliefs and assumptions about how we and
the world should be.
Depression may be a symptom of underlying disease. The
Your Depression Misdiagnosed? by herbal supplement
company Native Remedies notes "More Americans are being
diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressant
medication now than ever before... Some experts believe that
it may be a misdiagnosis. Generally speaking, depression is
considered an ailment in itself, but if we consider mental
and physical health in a holistic manner we might discover
that depression is many times a symptom of disease rather
than an isolated condition."
In an interview about his book The Van Gogh Blues, Eric
Maisel advises paying attention to it as a medical issue,
then as an issue of meaning:
"When you’re depressed, especially if you are severely
depressed, if the depression won’t go away, or if it comes
back regularly, you owe it to yourself to get a medical
work-up, because the cause might be biological and
antidepressants might prove valuable. You also owe it to
yourself to do some psychological work (hopefully with a
sensible, talented, and effective therapist), as there may
be psychological issues at play.
"But you ALSO owe it to yourself to explore whether the
depression might be existential in nature and to see if your
'treatment plan' should revolve around some key existential
actions like reaffirming that your efforts matter and
reinvesting meaning in your art and your life."
Visit With Eric Maisel, by Artella Land.
E. Taylor, PhD writes in her book Positive
: Creative Self-Deception and the Healthy Mind that
"Normal human thought and perception is marked not by
accuracy but by positive self-enhancing illusions about the
self, the world, and the future. Moreover... these illusions
are not merely characteristic of human thought; they appear
actually to be adaptive."
"The mildly depressed appear to have more accurate views of
themselves, the world, and the future than normal people.
[They] clearly lack the illusions that in normal people
promote mental health and buffer them against setbacks."
Tom Wootton has personally experienced the different sides
of this condition.
"When I went into depression the first time all I saw was
darkness and pain. As my perception has grown I am beginning
to 'see' things I never knew were there. In 'seeing' them
more clearly, I notice that they don't affect me so
negatively any more either.
"They now affect me so much more, but in a positive way, at
least according to the way I have learned to 'see.'
have also begun to gain tremendous insight into many things,
including my spiritual life. It is in the spiritual sense
that I have really begun to see that depression can be a
"In my many readings of the lives of saints, pain and
despair is often mentioned as a catalyst that helped them to
become better persons and act in a manner that is called
'saintly.' I have always struggled with the concept and am
now beginning to understand."
From article The
of Seeing Depression, by Tom Wootton.
[Image: Saint Teresa]
Tom Wootton is author of the books The Bipolar Advantage,
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