I talk about creativity a lot because – at my core – I will always be a creative, no matter what form that takes. It might be designer one day, art director the other, photographer on weekends, blogger in the evenings or visual artist in the early minutes of the day when the entire world is still asleep, but regardless of what – I will always battle the same demons and face the traps of the creative mind.
I was talking a few days ago with Brad from The Banner Years [ see this: http://thebanneryears.co/mental-health/ ] and thinking how great their project is. How absolutely necessary for creatives! I always thought I’m quite alone in this or that maybe I’m too sensitive and weird so that’s why I’m faced with inspiration challenges, anxiety and getting very down on myself at times. That talk inspired me and gave me courage to open up and write about this, here.
Truth is… creativity cannot be truly forced. Sure, I can sit myself down and be committed to work for the next 8-9 hours but it doesn’t always mean it will be inspired work. Maaaaaybe I’ll get “inspired” by some cool images on Pinterest, or maybe I’ll get motivated by quotes to break through and push the project to completion, but in the end it’s not always easy or great. The creative block is still there, staring you in the face like an infinite brick wall. And usually that’s when the depression creeps up, out from the shadows and puts its claws over my shoulder.
For as long as I can remember I felt this grip accompany me through life and almost feels like an old friend. But is it normal? Why is that the myth of the “tortured artist” exists in the first place? Should we embrace it and wear it like a badge of honor?
For others might be different, but I know that when I feel down, I don’t exactly want to feel that way. I want to feel excited, useful, fulfilled, easy and joyful. So then: how does my creative block usually look like? Well it usually starts with a hefty dose of boredom, sprinkled with powerlessness in the front of the “great giant – creativity”, tiredness, doubt, little to no fulfillment and a whole lot of lack of freedom. Is the anatomy of your creative block / creative depression looking somewhat similar?
I never realized it until recently, but my anxieties and depressions have a big underlining of lack of freedom. Whether is self-imposed or derived from external sources, not feeling good enough/able/permitted/supported to freely express myself creatively – has caused me to be depressed. Whether is financial freedom, work & career freedom, personal freedom – a lack of freedom in our lives can definitely cause us serious depression and creative blocks.
Repression leads to depression.
And sure, nobody does what they want all the time. And that’s ok! Structure and stability are necessary for a healthy progress, a healthy life. But I think what kills us, as creatives, is when routine and constraints become too much. When life is the opposite of “effortless chic”. When there is not enough influx of “new” in our lives, when everything has been done and thought of before.
That’s why creatives take sabbaticals, or travel the world, or become freelancers. I know I did all of the above… In my life I moved over 14 times in 13 years. I switched continents. I got a few full time jobs. I started my own business. I started multiple blogs. Every year I add a new skill in my arsenal. I need this constant activity to keep me fresh, to keep me going. But what is always – no matter what – a constant in my life is the relentless passion I have for creating beautiful things, beautiful experiences… For CREATING.
So I guess a cure for that would be to infuse our lives with more flexibility, fluidity, excitement and self expression. Life was supposed to be enjoyed while we are in it, not at a later time, not when we retire, because there is no guarantee of any.
I think what kills us, as creatives, is when routine and constraints become too much.
Expressing who you truly are is also tremendously freeing. For the longest time I felt constrained by either the fear of what might go wrong or what others might think or just the plain unknown. Yet, I always followed my dreams. But I suppressed myself and my passions a lot because I didn’t get a lot of credit for it in the past, when I was just starting out, and also because the outside world can be very good at judging and belittling people’s dreams. Especially when they are on the creative side! “What, you want to be an artist? You’ll die of starvation!” “Art or fashion are not REAL jobs!” “Graphic Design doesn’t pay the bills!” “Being an artist / designer / musician / writer / actress / [ … insert creative career…] is not a serious career!” – you probably heard this at least once in your life.
The more we suppress, the more unfulfilled we become, and the more unfulfilled, the more depressed we become.
Which leads me to another depression culprit: fulfillment (or lack thereof), especially when laced with boredom. Whenever I feel like the work I do has no greater meaning and doesn’t touch anyone’s life, I’m starting to question my career choice (a lot!!) and if I truly am cut up for today’s economy/job market. Because let me tell you: for the past few years the state of affairs in the world has made it very easily for designers to feel like they are doing a “disposable” and meaningless job. From endless client revisions, to unrealistic expectations, from clients that think they design better than you to the ones that want to pay less than $20 for a logo (true story!!) or perhaps to pay nothing at all, heartbreak after heartbreak just adds up to a great disdain and depression towards the field. How many times have I heard “you mean you don’t just push a couple buttons and it gets done?”. No, no, not really…
It’s sad to see that something that you put some much love into, has become so cheap and treated like such a superfluity. Of course, that’s not something that we can control necessarily, so how can we escape that trap?
I, personally, try to add meaning in my life every time I feel like that. Of course, I’m not always brave, and I fail. So some times I sit on the couch and escape for a few hours in vivid fantasies about how wonderful life would be if I would just… drop everything and run away. Or live alone on a mountain top and become a very enlightened yogi master. Or join a charitable organization.
But when I do feel brave and strong and like I can do something to add more meaning to life, it usually takes the form of a new project or taking some work that I wouldn’t usually take. That means applying to hundreds of freelance jobs, talking to positive people, reading articles or books and going back to activities that always make me feel better – like spending a little bit of time outside, taking photos, watching nature documentaries, cooking and absorbing anything related to fashion and / or beauty. I somehow end up going back to the fashion topic, because no matter how much I try to suppress or deny it, I love it and it will always mean a lot to me. Just like art.
Meaning is a great antidote for depression.
I know I hit a quite heavy topic in this post and I don’t want to make it a never-ending novel… So to wrap it up, I want to invite you to share in the comments if you have ever battled doubts or blues or obstacles when trying to be more creative, regardless of your occupation (because creativity can be applied to any field and any person). Is depression a curse of the creative person? I would love to know what you are going through, and maybe have a heart-to-heart.