Creating Meaning From Pain
For many, writing or engaging in artistic pursuits while preoccupied is a daunting experience, however, for those in psychic pain these activities can feel impossible, depending of course on the intensity and the source. Nevertheless, is there a strong probability that depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders along with creativity can exist as working partners? I venture to say, yes.
Emotional pain has lent itself to some of the most brilliant works of art. In every form of the human spirit, psychological pain, despite its overpowering presence, has been known to fling open a door of imagination that goes beyond the predictable scope of the everyday. From the ultra innovative to the deep thinker, those who have suffered depression or anxiety would most likely admit that much of their work has been a byproduct of their particular mood disorder. And while not all artists or creative types suffer [from mood and anxiety disorders], with their contributions to society just as outstanding as their counterparts, it has been proven scientifically that there is a direct correlation between intelligence and depression, sadness and creativity, and between gloominess and brilliance. This would further suggest then, that a vast majority of society’s groundbreakers have had their collective artistic toe in the depression jar.
In his book, Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, Eric G. Wilson “maintains that there is a critical need for sadness to exist and be recognized rather than run from or stampeded out.” He himself faced this battle, as he was prone to depression.
The composer Robert Schumann endured manic depression, which drove him to attempt suicide. Even so, it was precisely during these manic intervals, that he also created some of his most genius musical compositions- as well as his most ordinary. His output was affected, but not necessarily the quality of his work. Dr. Robert Weisberg, who studied the medical records and letters of Schumann in detail, pointed out how, “Mania jacks up the energy level, but it doesn’t give the person access to ideas that he or she wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
And why might this be? Well, depression by its very existence seems to smash into the “comfort of conformity in society”, yet those who suffer still manage to flourish in unchartered terrain, challenging the status quo, reexamining set relationships, and granting a fresh set of eyes on a vision of the world that reenergizes the human spirit again. However, the link between mood disorders is again, not necessarily in heightened creativity, but in having the personality characteristics and ‘thinking style’ that is willing to engage in self-reflection, to think beyond the obvious, to contemplate living in detail, and even to obsess.
Mood disorders are often the hidden nemesis of countless high-functioning, creative people, many who have gone on to achieve phenomenal levels of success and happiness despite their inner struggles. Those brave souls who have accepted their illness as a viable part of who they are, and then willingly and proactively share their experiences, help countless others suffering to feel less stigmatized and better able to process the healing journey necessary for survival. Hearing about other people’s stories, trials, challenges, as well as coping techniques is not only beneficial, but it also encourages many to learn about new and workable coping skills, while offering the necessary realization, validation, and reassurance that those who suffer are not alone in their battle.
“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know that just to be alive is a grand thing.” Agatha Christie
However, disclosure by celebrities often surprises the general public, who think the famous are somehow insulated from the ravages of this disease by their wealth, status and success. On the outside, the famous appear unblemished, better than just fine, and on top of their world, yet this isn’t necessarily so. Many well-respected individuals from every single walk of life have had to live with the physic pain of depression, anxiety, and other forms of debilitating mental disorders.
“I know the bottom, she said. I know it is with my great taproot; It is what you fear. I do not fear it; I have been there. –Sylvia Plath
When kept hidden, depression and anxiety can be a lethal pill to swallow, as witnessed in the recent loss of the actor, comedian Robin Williams. “Many “well-known writers such as Earnest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Virginia Woolf, Herman Hesse, William Faulkner, and numerous others attempted suicide or were hospitalized in a psychiatric facility or asylum. Many famous poets, including Emily Dickerson, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound, Robert Lowell, and Ann Sexton, suffered from mood or anxiety disorders. Artists such as Paul Gauguin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Vincent Van Gogh, and Jackson Pollack were hospitalized at some point. Composers and musicians can also be added to the long list of creative people whose lives have been affected by mental disorders.” [But You LOOK Just Fine]
“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced” – Vincent Van Gogh
Make no mistake; while those who suffer from these debilitating disorders would rather not be burdened by the pain, stress, and devastation, their individual struggles are still a testament to the strength and dignity of the human spirit. Some firmly believe that having a mood disorder has made them become more empathetic to the plight of others, sharing in the quantifiable belief that while at times this life can feel beyond difficult, the voyage itself is also filled with a compilation of meaningful pleasures as opposed to merely a collection of superficial accolades. Through the inspired spirit, the artists amongst us intuitively recognize how important a task it is to create meaning from pain, while the medium of expression chosen becomes an invaluable tool to not only survive -but thrive.