Creativity and Depression

I think that creativity and depression feed off of each other. Not in the way that you think. My opinion is that if we do not have an outlet for our creativity it increases our depression. However, in cases where that creativity is a solo act, it can feed our depression. Not because we’re doing something creative, but because we’re further cutting ourselves off from the people around us.

From my personal experience, using creative outlets like a blog or writing a short story, can be very rewarding. It allows you to work through what’s on your mind in a manner that other people can relate to or might be interested in what you’re saying. In many cases it allows you to be someone other than who you are at work. Personally, i do not talk about depression, much at all, with my work colleagues. For one, it makes them uncomfortable when I’m up front about going to therapy and couples therapy. For two, I write about topics, generally, that are completely unrelated to my work and the culture in my office does not really allow for that sort of conversation.

Creative outlets also enable you to take a step away from the constant braying of social media. For a person to be truly creative, you must focus on that task (assuming you want it to be any good), which gives you some space for breath. It gives you time to step back and process things that have been going on around you without constantly shoving more unprocessed information and emotions into your brain. We need down time. We need the ability to sit with ourselves and process who we are and who is around us. Without taking that time for ourselves, we just continue forward as if on auto-pilot. We don’t reflect on what values we have. We don’t reflect on how our actions may have run counter to the values we hold.

Creativity is scary because it forces us to confront the fact that we might produce something no one wants to look at. Something that may be judged. Something we’ll judge (and probably judge too harshly). Something that is uniquely and whole ourselves. Something that, even if imitated, is and always will be ours. On top of that, because we’re alone with ourselves, we have to be alone with ourselves. Which is terrifying.

If you are depressed, try something simple and just doodling for a few minutes. Get a notebook and write something. If you can’t think of something, go to https://old.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/ and grab a prompt that seems interesting. Hell if you want to, just write your idea there for other people to vote on. most of the stories I’ve read on there have positive comments on them.

Just do it for a little while. Then go and do something away from a screen for a little bit. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell feel better when I do.

Start with Something

In The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck the author makes a compelling case for improving your life, starting with something simple. Something small. This is not easy. As the author says, “It’s simple, but not easy.” If you have depression you know this is very true. So true in fact, that starting something, where that something is getting out of bed, can be a huge challenge.

In Lost Connections the author talks about how different treatments positively impact depression. One of the scales he references, Hamilton Depression rating, notes that many patients that use anti-depressions only see a 0.25 increase in their overall mood, while a good night sleep gets you that much or more.

I’ve always had problems getting to sleep. It can take me up to an hour to fall asleep after I’ve gone to bed. This is a combination of anxiety, too much screen time – which can mess up your ability to fall asleep, and just being a super light sleeper. So, I’ve decided to start with something where I have a decent amount of control. Where it’s easy to make a change.

For Christmas my brother got me a start set of the Philips Hue lights. I didn’t know much about them, but i wanted to try using them to see how it impacted our house. So, I put a bulb in the nightstand by the bed. I found out there’s a setting that allows you to wind down the lighting before bed. So I’ve started to use that setting. It gives you about 30 minutes to wind down as the light dims. I’ve made it my routine to go to bed about 15 minutes before it starts that process. I use this time to get ready for bed and do some night time writing or reading. I’m also going to start adding in some nighttime meditation to help me unwind.

This really helps me get away from the screens. It pulls me out of the hellscape that is social media. It allows me to write creatively without typing on a screen or read an interesting story. Writing has really helped get ahead of my anxiety because, whatever I write just kind of comes out.

The meditation is also a great addition, because it’s another way to address the spinning that your mind goes through at night. You are intentional about your mind spinning. You intentionally walk through the past day. You then put that aside and tell your body that it is OK to relax. This short circuits the spinning and anxiety. You control your night.

This is something small. I’ve made sure that it’s been relatively easy to make the change. I started with the light and time away from my computer. Then I added the writing and reading. Last night I added the meditation. These changes have positively impacted my mood. I’ve gotten better sleep and that, has helped with my depression.

Start with something. Start with making it easier for you to sleep well.

Meditation and Owning Your Response to Others

In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck the author argues that we have responsibility for everything that happens to us. He stresses, accurately, that we are not at fault for everything. Which means that bad things happen and these bad things can happen to us in a way that there was nothing we could do to prevent them from happening to us. For example, emotional abuse or physical abuse that you suffered at the hands of your parents are not your fault. The resulting trauma is not your fault. You are not responsible for what that person did to you. You are responsible for how you respond to that abuse now. this is a subtle but important distinction. You are not responsible for the actions of another nor are you not at fault, instead you are responsible for your response as an adult and how you carry that trauma into other relationships.

This is something that’s taken me a long time to understand. I knew I wasn’t responding well to situations all the time. I’d get a lot angrier than I should over something small. I didn’t understand I was responding the way I would have to my mother when I should have been looking at the situation differently as it was my wife that I was talking with. I should not have been as angry, because my wife didn’t do anything to warrant that reaction. Furthermore, I thought it was my wife’s fault and responsibility to not upset me.

I needed to own how I responded to her. I needed to take that as my responsibility to understand why I was responding the way that I was. Especially if we were having a series of blow ups, it was even more important to understand what I was feeling and why. This was not something I had the skills to handle.

Through the course of my therapy and reading, I’ve found that meditation has really helped me with my responsibilities. Whenever I’m very stressed, I’ve used a few minutes to step aside and do a breathing exercise. According to The General Theory of Love, this is a way for your body and mind to reconnect. It is a way for your rational mind to give your emotional mind a hug. This is similar giving a dog a hug during a thunderstorm. The dog doesn’t understand why there is thunder. Just that there’s loud noises and bright lights. Things that can hurt the dog. We know that we’re safe in our house. That the thunder is noise and the lightening bright, but not something that will come and get us. So we comfort the dog through hugging and petting.

We need to do the same to our own mind. The emotional part of our brain isn’t much different from a dog’s and our rational part is the same part we use to comfort the dog. Meditation and focusing on breath allow us to calm ourselves. Over time meditation is a powerful tool for beginning introspection.

I use Headspace, but there are other apps like it, such as Calm and YouTube channels, etc… There’s no one perfect tool for helping you with meditation. Each one does have guided meditations to help you understand your behavior in relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. The technique asks you to imagine yourself happy, then other people. This approach makes you think about why you get angry. Why you respond the way that you do and think about how you have hurt other people. It’s a step in understanding yourself better. It’s a way to both hug yourself and take a look at who you are and what type of person you want to be.

Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson – A guide for finding the right values to give a fuck about the right things

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good LifeThe Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I actually first heard of this book while I was reading an article about Millennial Burnout. The author of that article knocked this book, which now I realize that author clearly hadn’t read this book! I think this book is completely misnamed, because this book isn’t about ‘Not Giving a Fuck’ it’s really about ‘Giving a fuck about the right things.’ I think this is an important distinction and one that, if you judge the book by its cover, you’ll definitely miss.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on depression. I’ve read 1 book written by a layman that covers a great deal of different research on depression, Lost Connections. I’ve read another book that deals with Trauma and how that can cause depression, The Body Keeps the Score. Finally, I’ve read a book on the science of love and how unhealthy relationships while growing up and as adults can cause depression, General Theory of Love. I believe that I can add this as a fourth book to this list. In Lost Connections the author argues that a major cause of depression in our lives is a misalignment with our core values and the values of society. I believe that this book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, is an entire book about that.

The author’s premise is that we are valuing, and thus giving a fuck about, the wrong things. That could be chasing material items, women (the author himself is a self confessed womanizer), a bigger paycheck, a new job that will solve all their problems, and other things. We are chasing these things, because this is what we’ve been taught to value through our friends and families.

However, these things do not make you happy. Solving the right types of problems can make you happy. Those problems that you solve are what you value. Seeking them out can help make you happy. The pain and struggle of solving those problems lead to happiness.

This rings true to me. I’m struggling with work and finding balance and happiness with my life. I’ve had great success in my work and have made significantly more money since entering the job market. However, I am not less depressed. If anything my depression deepened. As a result, I feel like I’m flailing.

This book helped me put into context a lot of different ideas that I had read in the other three books. In a way it synthesized those ideas into something that was more actionable. In some ways, the action is to do something, anything. But start by putting one step forward. Try something small and take responsibility of that.

Responsibility is a key theme in this book. You take responsibility to how you respond to anything that happens to you. This isn’t to say it’s your fault this thing happened. For example, if you get sick, that is not your fault. How you deal with being sick is your responsibility. If someone treats you like shit at work, that’s not your fault, but how you respond to them is your responsibility. If you set boundaries and make it clear that behavior is unacceptable and act professional, you can start to change that relationship. If you retaliate and escalate things, you are responsible for that. Even if the person, really pissed you off.

I think this book is also important given the conversation around Toxic Masculinity. Toxic Masculinity is all about entitlement. This book argues that entitlement is one of the major reasons why people are unhappy. It leads to shitty values that make you a shitty person. If you are pissed off that people don’t like toxic masculinity, it’s because you’re concerned some of your behavior may be construed as toxic. You’re responsible for that response. You’re responsible for inspecting your values and your behavior to understand if you are a toxic person. If you find yourself wanting, then it is your responsibility to change and improve yourself. You can. This book helps provide a roadmap for it.

This book isn’t perfect, of course. The author definitely leans into the title during the beginning of the book, which can get old. There are other places where the author does this as well, because it seems to fit. However, if you are able to get past that bit of childish fun to get into the meat of the book, it’s well worth it.

I would strongly suggest that if you find this book interesting to read the other books about depression I suggested above. These together can help you work through your depression, if you are also depressed.

View all my reviews

Dealing With Depression at Work

I tweeted this earlier today

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Dealing with depression at work is a real struggle for most people. If you look at the link the first item is to talk with your boss. I do think it’s important to discuss your depression with your boss, however, I think beforehand, you really need a plan. Depending on your depression this may be an impossibility to come up with on your own. If you’re depressed the way I was depressed, you struggle to discuss it with loved ones or your friends. These friends may suspect you have depression or serious changes in moods. They may not understand it, but they’ve stuck by you. So, in my opinion, these are the people to start with.

Talk with what support network you have. If you don’t have a strong one, then build one in a community where you feel safe. Where I live, I really don’t have much in the way of a support network, my wife and a couple friends. Before going to therapy, most of my support network was from my gaming community. Recently, we’ve been much more open about our depression and how we’re working to deal with it individually. With them I’ve discussed how I plan to deal with depression at work. Gotten feedback and tried to implement it.

Changing is really hard with depression. It never seems worth it. So, the second step I would take, after starting to talk about depression you trust, is to start doing breathing exercises. It’s a small thing, but listening to a 3 minute headspace meditation is super helpful. It pulls you out of your current situation, which may have involved a trigger of some kind, and allows you to control something. Controlling your breathing gets you back in touch with your body, gets you away from your phone (which allows you to avoid rather than work through your feelings), and away from the immediate stressor (as the article recommends). Your smoking friends have known the power of this for a while. When things get stressful, many of them will take a smoke break. With the cigarette they control their breathing and pull themselves out of the situation. Now, smoking isn’t the answer, but definitely breathing and meditating can help and are much healthier.

The other problem with discussing depression with your boss, is that unless they have depression or have gotten help for depression, most of them are not equipped with the tools to help you. You’ll need to go to them with a plan and reasons why you need these things. On top of that, if your manager and job are a source of your depression, it’s unlikely you’ll get the relief you need from the manager and/or job itself.

Ultimately, a combination of a strong support network, self-care, and therapy are the best long term treatments for depression. If you are unable to afford therapy, I suggest reading about the topic (I’ve written a few book reviews about the topic Body Keeps the Score and Lost Connections) and practicing some of the recommendations until you’re able to get yourself into a position to afford therapy. Keep in mind, one of those solutions may require getting a new job. So, maybe talking to a career coach and updating your resume can be some of the therapy you need.

Finally, you aren’t alone. Build your support network one person at a time. If you feel like you might have depression talk about it when you’re feeling up with just one person. Then when you’re feeling down, it’ll be easier to talk with them about it. Starting the conversation when you aren’t at your lowest is best way to have a conversation. It’s not easy. It’s important though.

What Books Have Meant to Me

I have been a voracious reader most of my life. However, it didn’t come easy to me at first. In First Grade, where we really started to learn to read, I struggled a great deal. I always feared reading out loud because I would jumble words. They would swim in my vision and make it really difficult to read. I still switch words and I feel like when I’m reading out loud, I’m staring at the whole page rather than a specific line. It’s very difficult. However, I liked the stories that I was plunged into and it definitely made things feel worth it. In 3rd grade I really started to read ahead, but started to get major headaches while reading, so I had to get glasses just for reading. It eventually turned into requiring glasses all the time.

In 5th grade I really jumped into the world of Fantasy. When i’d get in trouble with the parents, we’d get sent to corners and one of the corners was next to my parent’s “nice” book shelf. In there was a really old version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was super interested by the book spines, as there was this crazy eye in the center of a ring. I decided to read this book when I got an assignment for doing a diorama about a specific book. Most of my classmates selected much shorter books, but I was super proud of selecting that book.

A few years later, my friends and I had a falling out. I ended up falling back into that series again. I read everything i could get my hands on. I was so depressed, but didn’t really understand what depression was. I was alone, but couldn’t really articulate to my parents and nor could my parents help me with my depression and loneliness because they didn’t have the emotional tools to help me with my depression. My dad specifically, because he was struggling with his own depression so he just wasn’t there.

As a result, I end up spending a great deal of time with Middle Earth. Since this was around when Metallica Load came out, I deeply associated that album with the Lord of the Rings. To the point where I was really disappointed with the video of “Hero of the Day” because I kept associating the narrator of that song with Frodo. It’s not the worst video, but it definitely didn’t fit with what I was expecting given how many times I heard that album while reading those books.

Over the years I’ve escaped into books to deal with the depression rooted in my parents fighting. Dealing with my girlfriend in HS. The divorce of my parents. Books were always my escape from these difficult times. Lately, I’ve been depressed to the point where it was a struggle to read.

I plan to start a small series on here for when the fancy strikes to write about a book that meant something to me and why it meant something to me. Something in more detail than what I wrote, here, about Lord of the Rings. This idea came from the Movies with Mikey episode about what Animation Taught Us. For me though, since I was limited in what I could watch on TV, including Movies, I think that Books are more appropriate. I’m not sure exactly how this will play out, so we’ll see.

On Relationships and Death

A few weeks ago a friend of mine committed suicide. I say friend, but we definitely had a falling out and I hadn’t talked to him since he’d moved from Portland. He was my roommate here for a while and we had some disagreements on how his dog behaved that ultimately drove a wedge between the two of us. However, I really think that was just the cherry on top. Both of us were depressed while he was living here and I was in such a bad spot that I wasn’t able to be that empathetic about it. I simply was overwhelmed with my own depression. Which is why I’m getting help. I know that I’m in a position where I can and am able to get that help.

This past weekend, a rapper, Mac Miller, I’ve never heard of overdosed. Apparently, he’d been dealing with demons for quite some time. Many people are attributing it to Ariana Grande breaking up with him. They are putting this death on her. To me this is a complete in justice. Similar to the reasons what my former roommate moved out, there’s a point in your relationships that you must do what is right for you. It’s not always easy. You feel like, to some extent, responsible for their actions afterwards. Like you could have done more or something different to help with that person.

The other reason that I’m really upset by this ridiculous backlash against Ms. Grande, is that I almost was in the exact same situation. While in Highschool and in College, I had a girlfriend that was extremely depressed and suicidal. I dated her for three years. Those years were very difficult for me for a variety of reasons. My parents were going through a divorce where they were asking me for advice on what to do. I had to figure out where I was going to school, knowing I was effectively on my own to pay for it. I was dealing with her depression, and I was adjusting to the school of my choice with her paranoid and constant demands on my time.

While we were dating, I helped her decide she needed to get therapy. She went to a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist where the former prescribed anti-depressants. Nothing helped her. She decided to move down to Pitt to be closer to me. I was against it, but I was too passive because of her increasingly erratic behavior along with her continual lack of trust in me. So she transferred and it became too much for me to handle my friends, school, and no breaks from her. I eventually reached out to her parents and her best friend and let them know I was breaking up with her. After I broke up with her, she hounded me, until I talked with her Therapist. At which point I made it clear that we were truly over. It was hard. At the time it was absolutely the hardest thing I’d ever done. I was terrified she was going to kill herself.

I found out years later, by random happenstance when I delivered a pizza to her mom, that she had in fact attempted suicide. I then talked to her afterwards, since her mom asked me too. Apparently her mom found her in the bathroom having took a bottle of pills. She survived and subsequently got better. Talking with her was super difficult, because I never really was able to deal with the emotional toll of our relationship. I didn’t realize that I had worried and dreaded finding out she had committed suicide.

I had needed to get out of that relationship because it was destroying me. There was nothing else for me to do. I was a mess I didn’t really figure out how to deal with what I’d gone through until getting therapy myself. I had to end that relationship and the fact that I knew she might kill herself simply increased the time I was in an unhealthy relationship.

We cannot punish people for electing to leave a relationship because their partner is abusing them with threats or past suicidal threats. Ms. Grande was very brave in ending that relationship and likely knew the risks of breaking it off with Mac Miller. I knew the risks when I ended the relationship with my HS GF. Ending the relationship is what ultimately saved her life. She would not have gotten healthier while still being with me. I would have been miserable, depressed, and constantly on edge waiting for her to try to kill herself – which may have ultimately happened despite my efforts.

Ms. Grande does not deserve to be castigated for ending this relationship. I do not envy her, I can only imagine what I would have gone through if my GF had been successful. I know with my roommate I beat myself up that I didn’t help him enough. This decision was ultimately out of our hands despite our best efforts. Sometimes when you love someone you need to cut them out of your life in hopes that they hit rock bottom and get the help they need. Sadly, it doesn’t always happen.