There is a persistent myth that highly creative people are mentally ill or emotionally disturbed. It doesn’t take much effort to remember individual examples across many disciplines: John Nash, Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson, Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf, and Woody Allen come to mind. However, despite these high profile examples, most creative people are not mentally ill and most mentally ill people do not create great art.
I believe that there can be great inspiration during the times when we
are in emotional pain. I am a fan of Bob Dylan’s music and my favorite
album is Blood on the Tracks which was written after the breakup with
his wife Sara. While Dylan claims the songs are not autobiographical but
based upon the short stories of Anton Chekhov, I don’t believe he could
have captured the pain of a breaking and broken relationship so
accurately if he hadn’t been feeling that pain at the time.
is a deep seated need in most of us to experience art that shows real
emotion. While it can be invigorating to share the confusion of Lady
Gaga when she loses her phone or the joy that Rebecca Black feels on
Friday, we long to hear from those with deeper issues.
life has been strongly influenced by decisions made during periods of
depression. Most of the time I am an expert at execution. Set a sales
target - I will find a way to hit it. Want a new product - I can write
the specs and organize the team to get it done. Ready to launch the
product with a multi-channel media campaign - no problem. These tasks require far too
much concentration on the how and now to leave time for asking why.
the questions begin to creep in. Why am I doing this? Who is this
helping? Who is this hurting? Is this really what I want to be doing?
What if I have to do this for the rest of my life? Is this what I want
on my tombstone?
that I am past 50 and some of my parts seem to be wearing out, there
are new questions. How much longer will I be here? Will I ever be able
to “x” again? How much longer do I have with the people I love? What’s
used to hate the questions. They were a distraction from the tasks at
hand and greatly resented. I blamed external factors, usually the
company where I was employed. So I changed jobs and sometimes moved to
new cities. Life’s been good to me so far, so most of those decisions
turned out pretty well.
have sometimes laughed to myself that my carefully crafted resume masks
the real reason behind some of the changes. In reality, in those
periods of depression and reflection, I was more aware of systemic
problems and where they would lead in the future. I will never know
whether the depression made me more aware or the awareness made me more
depressed. But it was not coincidence that the decisions turned out
no longer fight the feelings. I can recognize them now and welcome them
like an old friend. I let them wash over me and wonder where they will
lead me. Since I have a very supportive family and a wonderful employer,
it is senseless to look for external triggers. So I try to identify
habits and thought patterns of my own that need adjustment.
They are my feelings. I will take responsibility for them.
don’t know if my experience is universal, but I suspect it is. Everyone
must experience periods when they ponder the existential questions.
Those are the best times to reset your compass bearings and sail off
into new adventures.
What brings you down? How has it impacted your life and your creative decisions?
While you ponder the question, I am going to strum a few chords from Tangled Up in Blue.