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Do you experience existential depression?
A psychologist's perspective on emotions in creative people
“I'm never finished with my paintings; the further I get, the more I seek the impossible and the more powerless I feel.” - Claude Monet
Closeup of a Water Lilly painting in the exhibit, “Monet The Late Years” at the Kimbell Museum, Ft. Worth, photo by Kathy Garland
Monet had moments of doubt and feeling powerless. Even though he was a successful artist, he still felt helpless at times to finish a painting the way he envisioned it. Artists and creatives seem to experience a wider range of emotions than other people.
Emotions are necessary to reach into the depths of feelings that help you bring your creations to light. Even if it means feeling on top of the world or powerless. Lately, I’ve dipped into existential conversations asking myself what my place is in this great shift happening on the planet and in humanity. I wondered if I was suffering depression.
To make sure I wasn’t headed in a downward spiral, I reached out to Dr. Rita Romero with a few questions about the emotional journey of a creative person. Dr. Romero is a leading psychologist and founder/CEO of San Diego Psychotherapy Associates. I had the pleasure of meeting her about fifteen years ago through a meeting at a women’s networking organization.
Is there a pattern or biology in a creative person's mind that makes them susceptible to moodiness and mental illness?
Dr. Romero answered, “Though there has been no scientific evidence suggesting there is a neurological reason why creatives are more prone to mental health challenges, there are many understandable reasons why this pattern exists.
Think about the heightened traits that increase the ability of someone to be creative: imagination, intuition, sensitivity, more access to depth of emotions, innate ability to question the essence of themselves or their existence; search for meaning and expression; multi-dimensional thinkers, etc. A linear thinker goes through life accepting things as they are and because they don’t question the nature of themselves or things around them, life is more straightforward.”
Existential depression or search for meaning can cause the creative blocks we all dread. Emotions and processing through them can be exhausting and limit our ability to create our vision unless we know how to work with them.
The comment below from Dr. Romero gives me insight into the psyche of those of us who are called to share our innermost visions in a creative format.
“It is the creative process: the questioning, giving birth to new ideas and possibilities that can also create an existential depression (questioning and/or needing meaning in their lives.) With creatives, an existential depression can occur because of the personality traits described above and an innate ability to want to make a difference. Depression can follow if they feel helpless to do so.”
On feeling helpless to do so
The business world expects us to produce and make things happen. I’ve had to change my expectations about how fast I can get something done when I’m working on a creative project. Shifting my mental and emotional energy from my daily world of teaching and mentoring so I can focus on a creative project is a process of adjustment, and, for me, it’s also necessary to manage my self-talk.
It takes mindfulness to observe a helpless feeling when you want to make a difference and don’t feel that you are. To put your work out there and only hear crickets is depressing! At least it is for me. This is one of those situations where if you can’t snap out of it, please take steps to help yourself or get the support you need.
So I asked “What can a creative person do to get past creative blocks so we can unlock our creativity, meaning and sense of purpose?”
Read on for some ideas from Dr. Romero.
“Compassion, understanding, patience!! The creative person is often an idealist, governed more by ideals and practical considerations. They have in their imagination and intuition the ideal they want to create. They can become disillusioned with practical considerations of a long timeline, frustration that their mental image is not manifested in 3-Dimensional reality as quickly and clearly as it is in their heart and minds.”
Dr. Romero further advises: “Be kind and understanding to how you function as a creative person. Big emotions and big ideas are suited to your personality. Accept that about yourself and also remember to have patience for the time lapse between conception of an idea and birth of the art.”
Monet says this about his water lilies
“It took me some time to understand my water lilies… I cultivated them with no thought of painting them… One does not fully appreciate a landscape in one day… And then, suddenly, I had a revelation of the magic of my pond. I took my palette. From this moment, I have had almost no other model.” - Claude Monet
Years ago, there was an advertising slogan for a wine that promised “No wine before its time.” Writers and artists would do well to remember this. Our inspirations comes to us when it’s time. I keep reminding myself of this as I revise my historical fiction novel that I often wish was completed and published.
It’s my nature to wonder about the meaning of life and how we fit into the Cosmos. I didn’t know existential depression was a thing, and I’m glad I reached out to ask questions and relieved to know that, right now, I’m fine.
I hope this post gives you insight and encouragement to keep writing, painting, creating visuals, performing, making digital art or whatever form of art you enjoy. Please know it makes a difference!
Thanks to Dr. Romero for these great tips!
'To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.' – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dr. Rita Romero can be seen on her website which includes contact information and her YouTube videos on trauma and anxiety. She and her psychologists enjoy empowering individuals to understand themselves better and assisting them in developing effective strategies in addressing anxiety or depression.
September is Suicide Awareness Month. If you are feeling thoughts of despair and hopelessness, please reach out to a professional, or someone you love and trust. It’s devastating to lose a loved one to suicide.