When I was twelve, my family took a trip to Florida. We arrived at our hotel at night, and my sister and I begged to go swimming. The pool was closed, but the ocean was right there waiting for us…. There was just enough moonlight that our mom let us, although she probably felt that was a mistake the next morning, when there was enough light to read the signs on the beach. They were a warning not to get in the water on account of how it was filled with migrating stingrays.
I thought about that night when Steve Irwin died after being stung by a stingray. There was a man known for wrestling alligators and playing with poisonous snakes, and he had died doing something I had done. It was a freaky feeling.
The feeling was back but worse when I heard of the death of Robin Williams. Because depression isn’t something I did once when I was a kid; depression is something I have fought a near-constant battle with since I was eight.
I’m not alone. Somewhere over six percent of the US adult population is said to be suffering from Major Clinical Depression in any given year, making depression one of my country’s most common illnesses. Among the creative sector of society, the percentage is much higher.
It is hardly a new observation that creative types are more prone to depression than others. Aristotle wrote, “Those who have been eminent in philosophy, politics, poetry, and the arts have all had tendencies toward melancholia.” It’s certainly hyperbolic to claim that all creatives are depressed, but it is equally true that our community has more than its fair share of the illness.
Despite humanity being aware for such a long time of the link between depression and creativity, we are still unsure of the reasons behind the correlation.
I have long held a fear that my depression and creativity are so interlocked that should my depression ever be fully cured, my creativity would be banished with it. Yet, on a daily basis, I have to struggle with the depression for the creativity to be able to express itself. This little post here has taken me weeks to write, in large part due to the crippling pressure of my emotional distress.
So what’s a poor creative to do? How do we keep our inner demons from holding us back, possibly even killing us?
I think the heart of the solution lies in our art. My writing gives me a focus, and my stories help me see beyond my apathy. Although some days the depression makes it hard to see the value of my work. Charles Darwin, who suffered from depression most of his life, once said, “The ‘race is for the strong. I shall probably do little more but be content to admire the strides others made in Science. ” Even a genius has trouble recognizing his selfworth when faced with this demon, and for those of us in subjective fields, where a work’s value lies solely in the end eyes of its beholder, it can be even easier to dismiss oneself.
Some days are harder than others. Some days are too hard for me to write, while others are bad enough that I can’t even read. But even on those days, my stories are in my head, giving me something to struggle toward. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to fight depression without the benefit of having tales to wrap myself in. Even on days when I’m certain everything I’ve ever created it dreadful, I still comfort myself with my make-believe worlds.
My stories aren’t enough; I need medication, therapy, and my family too. But they are a vital part of my treatment, and that’s something I have to remind myself of on days when getting out of bed seems a heroic feat or when all I want to do is watch TV.
To learn more about depression, you can start with John Green’s Crash Course episode on mood disorders.