from drowning to wading

Originally posted on August 12, 2009 at 2:51 PM

Depression is a funny thing, for an artist. I mean artist in the broad sense: from musicians to painters to writers and beyond. Anyone who uses their creativity to make a living (or tries to make a living, anyway!). As a person trying to live a healthy, decent life, it’s a bad thing. Serious depression… the severe kind that lasts years. Yet, as an artist, it can be the ultimate life-force. I genuinely believe that some of the most beautiful art ever created was born of the artists’ darkest hours. I am no different. My best poems and passages usually come from a place of anger, despair, sorrow, and loss. And fear.

Someone once told me that the opposite of love isn’t hate: it’s fear. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. In fact, I think a lot of the “negative” emotions are driven by fear when you look at them closely enough. Embarrassment is usually because you’re afraid that someone saw you and will judge you. Guilt is because you’re afraid you’ve hurt someone in some way, or maybe that you’ll get caught. Hate can be a fear of not being as good as someone (jealousy) or a fear that they will take your place, job, wife, etc. (insecurity). Rage can be a fear of loss, or failure. Sorrow can be a fear of being alone.

Nothing’s black and white, I know, and sometimes an emotion isn’t backed by another, but in my experiences with my own emotions, they usually are. I don’t believe that it’s necessary to expel negative emotions. I embrace them. Guilt for feeling an emotion is secondary, and unnecessary. There’s nothing wrong with feeling the way you feel. Period.

Emotions can become a problem when they start negatively interfering with your life, i.e., debilitating depression. Realizing when you need help is difficult in that position, to say the least. When you add in the factor of the depressed person being an artist… well, it gets even harder. There is fear driving all of those emotions: if I take medicine to make me better, will it take away my art with my pain? Will I have anything left to write/paint/sing about? If I’m happy, will I even care that I don’t do as powerful of work anymore?

These are thoughts that plagued me when I realized that I needed help in my second year of college. I had been depressed for 4-5 years, and had produced wonderful work. It was destroying my life. I was never really happy by the end of that time. I swore to myself that I would not get on anti-depressants. I would not let medicine take my art away with my pain.

I found a class at UT through the mental health program that taught the mindfulness meditation practices of Jon Kabat-Zinn. It stressed acknowledging and accepting your thoughts and emotions, no matter what they may be. It worked. 100% saved my life. I am not exaggerating.

The funny thing about it all is that since then, I’ve written my best work ever. What I didn’t realize in the thick of my problem was that not being depressed doesn’t mean not having negative emotions anymore. I still have a pool to draw creativity from. It’s just a smaller, more manageable pool that doesn’t consume my life. And besides, I write great happy poems now too.

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