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  • Writer's pictureOwen Johnson

On Depression And Creativity

My experience with feeling addicted to sadness and trying to use depression to fuel creativity; and my advice on how to approach healing

Owen Johnson Self Portrait

With the winter season rapidly approaching, I begin to panic a little. I've struggled with depression and more intensely Seasonal Effective Disorder (which my friends and I have begun referring to Seasonal Vibe Deficiency (SVD) as a more effective title) for nearly all of my adolescent and adult life so far. And even though depression has become such an integral part of how I view myself, as a component of my identity, I have been a creative for much longer than I have been affected by this illness.

Depression takes an insane toll on our bodies and minds and saps us of the energy we crave while at the same time obscuring from us the truth of what may be happening. While I am currently on a path towards healing, at my worst, I pushed away people who looked out for me, excluded myself, slept away the days, and scrolled away the nights on my phone. My grades, my relationships, my family, and my creativity all suffered. Additionally, something peculiar began happening which I was not very well aware of until I began to come out of the winter months into spring of 2018.

I mentioned becoming addicted to sadness in the subtitle. This is not something that everyone will understand, nor is it something that everyone with depression experiences. For the who do experience it, it can be confusing and frustrating and damaging. What was happening was as the winter progressed through some of the coldest and darkest days of the year, December through February, when the snow dragged on and you never seem to be able to get warm, I was beginning to find a sense of comfort in depression. Like watching a TV show over and over; you know what will happen, nothing will throw you, predictable and normal. It began to take root in everything I did. One of those things was creative work.

At this point, any time that I found some kind of energy to make something, be it writing a script, or a song, or drawing, the images and sounds and words were dark, sad, reflecting what I felt, which is normal, and good in many ways, as an externalization of how I felt. The problem was that it started to become a dependency.

Even coming out of the winter into the spring, I felt dragged down by seasonal depression, anchored in my work, in my music and writing. I believed that I had made some of my best art during those darkest months and could bring myself to leave that comfort and reliance behind. That was a hard year. My work suffered and I felt like it was worth giving up.

Not everyone is as lucky as I am. I have an incredible support system comprised of a caring and loving family, smart and invested friends, and access to mental health recourses. I began going to therapy every week to begin combating these emotions. Thankfully I could see the irrational paths my emotions were taking me so going to therapy helped me to organize those thoughts and begin to work with them to improve my health. Look for mental health recourses within your community. Many universities and colleges have therapy opportunities, as well as some public high schools.

The truth is that even though it might feel like your best work can only be done when you're actively feeling depressed, this is not the case. Being able to write about those emotions and experiences doesn't go away if you get healthier, it just gives you a different perspective. It takes practice to write and create well, even without those emotions weighing down on you actively.

As the winter approaches rapidly, I'm bracing myself for another wave. I'm already falling behind in assignments a little, and I feel it becoming harder to get out of bed in the morning. That said, my outlook on the Autumn season has vastly changed from feelings of resentment to awe, as it feels like I'm seeing the changing colors of the trees as beautiful for the first time. This year will be different.

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