You’re Not Alone: Creativity and Depression


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Nassir Ghaemi
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Have you ever had a day when you just didn’t want to get out of bed? Sure, lots of folks have those kind of days, but I’m not talking about the kind where the bed is just so comfy you don’t want to get up.

There’s another kind of “don’t wanna get out of bed”. The kind where getting up means facing the world and wondering if it’s actually worth it. You’ve got a churning in your stomach and the mere thought of venturing out of bed paralyzes you.

This is depression. If you’ve ever had it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you’ve never had it, I hope you never do.

How do I know how depression feels? Because it happened to me. And to Billy Joel, Harrison Ford, Brooke Shields and JK Rowling. In fact, many very creative people suffer from depression or are bi-polar. In the video at the right, Steven Colbert interviews Nassir Ghaemi who wrote a book called “A First Rate Madness” where he talks about the links between great leaders and mental illness.

Studies have shown a strong connection between depression and creativity. Many artists are prone to it. We often isolate ourselves when we work and while that isolation brings on great visions, it doesn’t do anything to balance out all the emotion and angst we pour into our works.

While the creative aspect is great (when you do manage to get the flow going), the depths of the depressive rip-tide can keep you from doing anything at all. It’s always a balance. You have to learn to recognize the signs you’re going under and do something about it before you reach the point where playing tag with an 18 Wheeler starts to sound like a good idea.

What can you do to help yourself and strike that balance?

  • Talk to people. Interaction is key, and I don’t mean with your online friends. Get a real person. Talk face to face or on the phone. You need the human element whether you want it or not.
  • Volunteer. Getting out once a week to do some volunteer work boosts both the body and the spirit. There’s nothing like helping someone else to lift your mood.
  • Exercise. Do something physical. Get outside, get into the sun and fresh air, even if it’s just a walk around the block.
  • Keep Your Stress Levels Low. Chewing on your problems, whether they’re real or imagined, doesn’t do you any good. Let it go and don’t unnecessarily stress yourself.
  • Give Yourself Small, Manageable Goals. Beating yourself up for failing to reach a particular goal isn’t helpful at all. It’s a vicious cycle. You set a goal, maybe something too big and too short a time period to achieve it, you don’t do it, and then you keep telling yourself you’ve failed. It happens over and over. Stop it. Really think about your goals before you make them and MAKE THEM SMALL! It’s better to have a lot of little achievements than not reaching that one HUGE one.
  • Listen. Listen to what people are telling you. I know you won’t want to. No one in the throes of depression ever wants to listen to anyone. They just don’t understand. They’re not telling you what you don’t already know. They should all just bugger off and leave you alone….Right? Nuh-uh. That’s the depression talking and that’s the voice you DON’T want to listen to. When your actions start to impact those around you and they’re noticing enough to step up and tell you so, you’d better listen and get some help from a professional. Enough is enough. Get it done.
  • Stop Taking Things Personally. Many creatives are people pleasers. We want approval from those around us, we want reassurance we’re good at what we do. We also don’t enjoy making waves. When someone rejects our work, we feel they’re rejecting us. And for the sake of not causing trouble we’ll tamp down our feelings and our personal truths. Crush them down long enough and eventually all that pressure will have to go somewhere, often manifesting in the way of illness, either physical or mental. This may sound harsh, but face it, none of us are that important that the whole world revolves around us. It may feel that way, but it’s not the truth. Here is an interesting article about the connection between taking things personally and depression.

Being creative isn’t worth the cost of depression. Don’t think you have to have it to be a better writer or artist. The creativity was always there. You were happy first, weren’t you? The talent was always there. Keep on creating, keep being brilliant, just mind your balance and remember you’re not the only one.


Did you find this article helpful? Share it! And if you’d like more help with finding your Truth or not taking things personally, check out our Journey to the Center of Your Heart coaching group. Also sign up for our weekly ezine, Around the Studio for more tips and inspiration.


  1. As someone who struggles (and is now lightly medicated for) depression/anxiety, I salute you for this post. These are great things to keep in mind.

  2. Deb Dorchak says:

    Thank you Scott, and thanks for sharing about yourself too. Depression is one of those dirty little secrets a lot of people suffer from and we all think we can hide it from the world. Truth is, others see it, and we see it too, we just don’t want to admit it.

    This post was definitely dedicated to all of you, my friends, who I know have it and push through it every day.

    Stay creative, use that darkness for good and let it go in the story. That’s the best therapy of all.

  3. Great article Deb! I find that it’s the sharing my art with others part that brings on depression. If it’s just for me it soothes me. Once I add other people into the mix it’s stressful. Sometimes I write my problems on scraps of paper and burn them or cut them with scissors and toss them out. I usually only do that for issues that I’m not in a place to change at the moment.

    • Deb Dorchak says:

      Well damn, that just sucks! You’re photography is so good I’d hate to think you’re sharing yourself into nothingness! Really, I think the more you do it, the more you’ll get comfortable with it. It’s not easy stepping out there for the first time. But you know if you weren’t good, I would tell you so. Wendi and I don’t like seeing our friends walk around with toilet paper stuck to their heels. 😉

  4. Thank you Deb!

    I’ll be chewing on this for awhile. Creativity and me…rare periods of sleeplessness with wild ideas flowing in…an inability to live a “normal” life for a spell….depression? I’m not sure.

    And I don’t know that I need to label it, either.

    Support team…awesome. The learning curve that e-mailing in the middle of it may not be the best idea.

    Small goals…accomplishing larger tasks one step at a time…just right!


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