Depression and Creativity

“I have thought Too long and darkly, till my brain became, In its own eddy boiling and o’erwrought, A whirling gulf of phantasy and flame…” — Lord Byron


Depression can be creative.  Whatever else can be said of the horrors of depression, in at least some circumstances, it can amount to the external manifestations of incredible underlying psychological tension.  Just as increasing, powerful tension between opposing forces underground can cause earthquakes and volcanoes, so can depression cause eruptions of creativity.  Like a volcano, these spewings of creativity can sometimes create beautiful mountains.

Novelist and philosopher Arthur Koestler analyzed creativity as a process of conflict and its resolution.  Similarly, the philosopher Hegel proposed that much progress in thought and science results from conflict between opposing forces, and its resolution.  Intense, painful inner conflicts can cause depression and anxiety.  But the very same conflicts can produce explosions of creativity.

Sometimes such eruptions may take place in the context of a manic or hypo-manic episode in Bipolar types of mood disorders, as described richly and researched thoroughly by Kay Redfield Jamison.  However, it is not the case that clinical mania or hypo-mania must be present in order for depression to yield creativity.  Just as I discussed in my last post about depression and spirituality, the clinical details are largely irrelevant to our topic at hand.  Depression usually yields nothing but suffering.  The same is true of mania.  However, often depression, especially in its phases of resolution, does contribute to a creative spurt, as the individual resolves, at least for the time being, the underlying emotional conflicts.  Often the resolution of conflict can, or must, be accomplished symbolically through art, music, or other forms of creative expression.

You may think you are an exception, and that your depression cannot possibly yield creative progress.  And admittedly. you may be right.  But you also may be sorely misled by your mind, whose job it is to curse and damn anything that is painful, and in so doing, perhaps underestimate the creative potential of painful experiences.

Could your depression come to a head and erupt like a volcano?

Could that eruption be symbolic, not taking the form of violence against self or other, but rather the violent spasms of creation?

Could you produce a poem, a  painting, a piece of music, a political movement, a business venture, or another manifestation of your values, as your depression implodes, explodes, melts down, or otherwise resolves, as all things eventually do and must?

I cannot say.  But perhaps you can.

— post by Joe

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June 4, 2012 · 2:17 am

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