12 Tips for Managing Depression Whether You’re Creative Or Not

2 Dec

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BOOM.

It’s officially the holiday season and the first Monday after Thanksgiving.

How did it go?

You might have had a fabulous time.  I so hope you did, sweetheart.

But knowing what we know about the emotional toll of the holidays, how family can reopen even the toughest wound, and how winter can affect our moods and mental health . . . maybe you didn’t have a fabulous time.

That’s OK.

Maybe you’re a little like me – stuck in the mushy middle between hope and dread.

Maybe you’re asking yourself: how can I get through another winter?  Or another family get-together. Or another event of forced holiday fun.

I don’t know the answer to that but I know this: you are strong.  And it’s your weaknesses that make it so.

Blue Snow

A few years ago, I suffered through the 3 brutal winters of 2008-2010.  I lived on the side of a forlorn but scenic little mountain in wild Appalachia.  I had one neighbor across the street whose house was hidden up in the trees.  Other than that I was alone in a forest, in a house I could barely afford to heat, a newly single-mom who had moved across country, leaving a 10 year marriage and everything that wouldn’t fit into her car behind.

Back to back blizzards stomped the east coast, immobilizing my community for days or even weeks. Huge blocks of ice stayed on the ground for 2 months at a time.  Two years in a row, I spent Christmas alone, after sending my daughter off to her dad’s only to get snowed in.

I remember shoveling my quarter-mile driveway to a decrepit road that was not state maintained and looking at snow so cold it turned blue on my shovel.

A killing blue.

I remember looking up and truly seeing that wild country for what it was: a place that killed people.  I thought of all the generations that had lived or traveled right through that spot before me . . . and how many of them didn’t make it out.  I didn’t know if I would make it out.  Maybe I wouldn’t die from exposure . . . but I might die from depression or grief.

I soon learned to visit the doctor every October to start a round of anti-depressants.  We passed it off as seasonal depression.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: The Why of Depression

Last week, we got our first snow here in the southeast US and it was particularly sweet and beautiful.  The internet was chock full of “gratitude” posts and if I thought about it – and I mean really thought about it – there wouldn’t be enough time in the day for me to list all the things I am grateful for.  That said, I still get depressed.  In fact, I’ve struggled with depression since I was about 9 years old.  And this is the time of year - winter and holidays – when so many of us struggle silently with seasonal affective disorder and depression.

Even though my life is awesome right now.

Sure, it could be better.  I could be making more money ( a lot more).  And I could be 10 pounds thinner.  And my daughter could give me more hugs.  Or, a hug.  Just one hug would be great.  But basically, that’s about it.

I still have depression.  And because I’ve had it for so long, and often despite any circumstantial causes, I consider it a disease.

Oh I know you might think we choose to feel depression.  I would even agree with that somewhat.  I know I can affect my thoughts and feelings.  In fact, I know I can usually fully manage my depression with the right set of behaviors.  This set of behaviors is like “self-therapy.”  I know if I lapse, the depression will come back.  Because it never goes away.  Never.  No matter how I feel.  It can go into a state I call “remission” but it never goes away.

That’s why my depression is a disease.

Lots of people in America have it – the disease and the situation.  Because depression is a situation, too. Sometimes, when people should be experiencing grief, they experience depression instead.  It’s easier than really facing loss.

This infographic shows that in 2012, 1 in 10 Americans were affected by depression: a statistic that has remained fairly stable over the past few years.  And in general, women are twice as likely to experience depression than men.

And this Huffington Post article claims that suicide now takes more lives in America than any other injury.  Suicide is not always motivated by depression – but it commonly is.  It overtook car accidents in 2009.

There are so many approaches to cause one can take when trying to answer the “why” of depression.

There’s the positive advice approach which might argue that depression is what happens when who you are and who you could potentially be becomes too disparate.  Then, there are the seasonal, geographic, and genetic approaches, which are mind-boggling.

Then, of course, there’s the temperament approach that links creativity to depression.

Could I be Depressed Because I’m Creative?

There’s a well-known link between depression, mentally illness and creativity – as if temperament could determine mental health.  But scientists are divided on this account and so are anecdotal sources.

This 40 year study found that there was no link between psychopathology and creatives.  However, it did find that people with some diagnoses like schizophrenia were over-represented in creative fields. Huh?

This means that a creative person is no more likely to be diagnosed with a psychopathology than someone in the general population.  It simply means that those who have a psychopathology are more likely to go into creative fields.

When I Googled “creativity and depression” the arguments were all over the place. Apparently, the depression-creativity link is a myth and it blocks creativity.  It also aids creativity.  Creatives are more depressed while nope! creatives are happier than the general population.

As my yoga teacher would say, “meditate on that shit.”

Meditate on This Shit: Unconventional Tips for Depression

Truth be told we’ll never really know why depression strikes or how long it will last or why someone like me will have it all their lives and someone else will only have it for a few months or years . . . or maybe never.

All we can do is get through it, whether it aids our creativity or hinders it.  I would like to believe it aids it so I’m going with that.

Without further ado here are my tips for dealing with depression:

  1. Eat healthy (but don’t go overboard).  We know drugs affect mood and sugar really affects it.  Which is why depressed people often crave sugar so much.  Cut down on the sugar, including honey and other natural sugars.  Eat vegetables and some fruits (careful, fruit has lots of sugar) regularly.  Treat yourself once or twice a week.  If you feel like it, go on a healthy, green cleanse of some sort.  Kris Carr’s work absolutely changed my life in making the link between disease treatment, health, and depression.  I also really enjoy Lissa Rankin’s important work on the importance of the stress response and how to manage it.
  2. Watch your sleep routine.  Getting up and going to sleep at the same time each day is really key.  This is what I’m worst at!  But I’m trying to get up at 7 each day and be in bed by 11 each night.  Research also backs these times up.
  3. Move.  Move your body through dance or exercise regularly.  My thing is yoga and dance.  And I credit belly-dance, not anti-depressants, for giving me the strength to move off that lonely mountain two years ago and try for a better life.  People say any type of movement will work but I feel dance un-sticks emotional energy in a way nothing else does.
  4. Get a tattoo or other strong reminder of where you’ve been and where you’re going.  I got a tattoo on the insides of both of my forearms.  It’s meant to remind me of my 3+ years alone on that mountain, how I wanted to die.  It’s meant to remind me of those lessons.  Does it prevent me from becoming depressed? No (because I have a disease, remember)?  But it does call that time to mind and remind me that if I found the strength to get through that, I can do anything.
  5. Educate Yourself.  Our brains are fascinating, complex organs that scientists aren’t even close to understanding.  But they do know a little bit that you can use now.  I recommend Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom.  There are also groups out there doing tremendous work around depression.  For example, there are some amazing tools and resources at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance that I’ve recommended to several friends who have come to me wanting advice about depression (and I’ve used them, too).
  6. For God’s sake, consider stopping therapy unless it’s a match made in heaven.  Listen, if you TRULY feel and believe it’s benefiting you, then continue.  I’ve been through years of “talk” therapy and all it really ever did for me was give me a space to vent.  I needed someone to talk to who wouldn’t judge me.  But was that in and of itself healing?  Not for me.  I don’t remember any solutions coming from it. What I needed was a friend to tell me the hard truth.  Not an enabler.  And for the most part, every single therapist I’ve ever met makes money by enabling.  There are some truly talented therapists out there . . . my best friend is one of them.  But make sure yours is gifted and is actually giving you what you need.  I found more support and resources for myself than any of them ever gave me.
  7. Have lots of (safe and consensual) sex and orgasms.  Okay, remember how women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression?  Well, I’m just saying in general, men are also having more orgasms.  Coincidence?  If you need to teach yourself to have orgasms, then do it.  If you’re alone or in an unsupportive sexual relationship, there are some great resources for vibrators.  For most of us, sex makes us feel alive. Orgasms bathe our brain in happy chemicals.
  8. Talk about it.  Listen, marketers have done research that shows that the three most clickable words on the internet are “You’re Not Alone.”  There’s a reason for that.  In our tribal heart of hearts, all we want to know is that we’re safe, held, and understood.  So, share your story and ask questions in a safe way, whether with a friend, a good therapist, or a support group.  Remember, 1 in 10 people feel JUST. LIKE. YOU.  I know you might feel ashamed about how you feel — I often feel that way too and my first reaction is to hide it.  Trust me, love, it’s so much better when you don’t have to hide it.  Will there be people who judge you?  Yes.  But they’ll be there anyway so you might as well be yourself.
  9. Admit you have a fragile nervous system.  Build a life that supports it – not assaults it.  I have a fragile nervous system.  I just can’t cope with many of the stimuli and situations that many other people seem to be able to.  In fact, this was one of the first personal things I shared with my man when we started dating.  Not on the first date or anything . . . but it was important that he understood this fundamental thing about me.  I thought it would save me a lot of explaining later and give him an easy out.  I mean  not everyone wants to deal with that and I get it.  It means my energy levels and moods are unpredictable, I’m sometimes emotionally unstable, I’m highly creative, and yes, I struggle with depression.  It’s who I am and it’s OK.  It really is.  Especially when I take responsibility for it.
  10. Meditate . . . I mean medicate.  Why not try both?
  11. Deal with grief in a tangible way and keep doing that.  I have a situation going on right now that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  My relationship with my daughter is not what I hoped it would be.  And I grieve for that. Oceans of grief.  It takes me into all my old wounds, depression, bad choices, whatever.  I’ve decided to deal with it or it will deal with me.  For example one of the things I do is bake.  Just like I used to do with her when she was little.  And then I give the food away.  It’s like this grief knocks on the door, I open it and say hello.  Then, I bake, then I give it away and wait for the next time it comes knocking.
  12. Make your dreams come true.  Sweetheart, no one but no one can take the effort away from you – not even depression.  Stay busy with making your dreams come true.  If creativity or self-reflection does in fact predispose you to depression you might as well use it to your advantage.

I’m busy writing books.

What are you doing?

So Much Love,

Cynthia 

 

12 Responses to “12 Tips for Managing Depression Whether You’re Creative Or Not”

  1. Cynthia Lindeman December 4, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Yeah, I think each person has to navigate their own unique relationship to it. I would say that I’ve given up trying to “heal” it. It’s a part of me, like my eye color. Can’t heal your eye color. But I don’t accept the cultural narrative that my life has to suck because of it. Thanks for visiting:)

  2. Cynthia Lindeman December 4, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    Ongoing grins are the best! Thanks for reading and I’m so glad you found it encouraging.

  3. tarotbyarwen December 4, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    As someone who has struggled with depression and finally winning the battle (ongoing. Grin), I really appreciate the time and effort you put into writing this. It’s good.

  4. Nela December 4, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    I read some research that found a link between depression and intelligence, and obviously intelligent people are more likely to display creative behavior…

    I’m depressed on and off, and it seems like I always have a problem to be depressed about. When I don’t have any problems I’m ok, but when I have it really knocks me down.
    I’d consider it “normal” and not a disease if it didn’t start very early in my childhood and I’m still dealing with the crap I’ve been through back then. I think that it may be that every onset of depression now is just refreshing the old wounds.
    If I heal that shit, maybe the depression will go away for good?
    Just a thought..

    I’ve never been on medication because it never got THAT bad, and I’m kinda reluctant to pills anyway. I’m trying herbal remedies instead.

    A great set of tips, some of them I’ve found useful as well :)

  5. Cynthia Lindeman December 3, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    Danielle, I love that you’re connected in with such reassuring support. I’m working on that and I strongly feel that all of us should cultivate spiritual resources daily.

  6. Danielle Dove December 3, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    Thank you Cynthia, beautiful post, keep up your spirit. I know winter is hard, I had a tough month of November when it dawned on me that I was in a small town with a baby and had to find ways to play and entertain him (and me). It all works out in the end. Recently my heavenly guides told me, “you do know it’s all going to be fine in the end so why are you so dramatic?” (in a very kind and gentle voice) I loved their question and it reminded me that yes in an instant I can know and feel it is all fine, it is all beautiful. Hugs and chocolates! Danielle.

  7. Cynthia Lindeman December 3, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Kathleen, thanks for saying that about our stories. I go back and forth about how much to share . . . I’m actually quite a private person. But I also believe we need one another’s stories, especially around the things we don’t talk about normally.

  8. Cynthia Lindeman December 3, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    Ana, right on. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Kathleen Franks (@redheadgrammie) December 2, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    Thank you, Cynthia. I especially liked #9 and #11. Thank you for sharing all these tips – all valuable and worthwhile. What really helps is when we reach out like you have and share our experiences. These stories bind us together and strengthen our spirits. It’s our tribal way of living in our virtual worlds. How I wish I could sit around your kitchen table or on your porch tonight and share more stories! In the absence of that reality, I am grateful for your words.

    Kathleen Franks

  10. Ana Elisa Miranda (@anaelisasm) December 2, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    Fantastic tips to deal with depression as a disease and also with that sadness and anxiety that always comes “even though my life is awesome right now”. I hear you.

  11. Cynthia Lindeman December 2, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    Arran, thanks!

  12. arranbhansal December 2, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Great post
    Arran

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