August 13, 2014

Depression, Creativity & Connection.

depression sad girl lying on bed

I was first diagnosed with depression when I was 20.

I’d stopped going to the classes my parents were paying for at the Art Institute of Seattle.

I laid on my grey futon and watched Love Connection with Chuck Woolery.

I overate Mexican food from the restaurant across the street.

I smoked cigarettes on the balcony and scribbled dark words in my journal.

I cried a lot and smoked too much pot and wondered why my friends stopped calling.

I stared at the floor of my small apartment, cluttered with papers and CDs and books, but I couldn’t figure out how to get up and clean.

A red-headed therapist named Annette told me she thought I was depressed. With her encouragement, I moved back home to Alaska with my parents. I started an antidepressant. Slowly, the fog began to lift.

But in the years to come I saw an upsetting trend among my friends. The ones who drank to blackout, who sometimes stuck needles in their arms, disappeared for days—who felt alone though they were surrounded by friends—they were also the creative ones.

They kept notebooks full of vibrant drawings. They heard music bloom inside of them, waiting to get out. They made everyone laugh.

Some of them died. Some of them got better. Some of them drifted away, remaining a mystery.

When someone like Robin Williams dies—someone as bright as a sunflower, bursting with talent—it hurts so deeply. Because he was my people.

These are my people: The addicts. The depressed. The anxious. The alcoholics. The ones who heard the words, “You are too sensitive,” over and over again as children. The ones who scrawled poems in a small notebook, who heard music come alive in their heads when none was playing, who found stories waiting for them at every corner, just waiting to be written down.

The ones who so often have no idea how beautiful they are, how much they are loved, how much the world needs them.

Some of us slip through a narrow window of grace and we get better. We find the right therapist or 12-step group or medication or spiritual practice or all of these things, and we learn to thrive.

If we are resilient enough or if we open our palms to that grace, we learn to ride the waves of our own sensitivity and the waves of being human. We piece together a life, strung of moments. Mundane moments and magenta moments and miracle moments.

Some of us slip back again. And some of us, some of us die far sooner than feels fair.

Most of us—if I were bold, I would say all of us—crave connection.

And connected we are.

We are made of the same slices of shattered stars, ready to drip light on the world. And if there are gods and goddesses, we share the same golden blood that swam through their hearts.

But depression eclipses our connections.

Addiction eclipses our connections.

When I’m depressed, my eyes are broken. Light and life and love blur, retreating to the edges of my vision. No matter how many people are there waiting, reaching out their hands and hearts, depression buffers us. It takes away our progress, our accomplishments, our strengths.

And when we lose someone like Robin Williams, someone so bright, so haunted, so adored—someone to whom we connect—it feels so unfair.

It feels like losing a friend. A kindred. Because we are connected. Our suffering connects us. Our imperfection connects us. Our creativity connects us. Our humanness connects us. We are more the same than different.

One of the reasons 12-step groups and other support groups work is because we get to feel those connections. We can sit in a circle with people who work at the drug store and people who stay home with their children, people who make movies and people who are trying to make rent.

And in hearing their stories, we hear echoes of our own.

My depression mostly stays at bay now. It nips at my heels from time to time, reminding me it’s there, dormant but part of me, curled into my DNA, not all that different from my long, nimble monkey toes or the urge to write.

I take medication for it, because there’s simply too much to lose if I don’t. I go to therapy and yoga and I run. I write. When I feel scared or ashamed or alone, I talk about it.

I stay connected.

Please, if you are struggling, stay connected. You are my people. We belong to each other.

We are all connected.




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Editor: Emma Ruffin

Photo: Andrea Rose/Flickr; Holly Lay at Flickr 

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