Creativity and depression

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In my work I do a lot of intakes and interviewing.  My favorite question to ask is this:


What are some things that you like to do, or used to like doing, but you don’t do any more because it just doesn’t feel fun now?


Over and over I’d hear people say that they used to like to paint, or knit, or do woodworking.  They loved to work with their hands.  They would describe being “in the zone”- losing track of time, being totally focused on what they were doing.  What they were all describing was being in the flow state.


I realized that for the people struggling with depression, creativity was the first thing to go.


I started to encourage clients to make creativity a priority- to get out the paints, or yarn, or guitar, and spend a little time each night bringing back that feeling of joy.  For some this intervention worked, but for everyone else it was not that easy.  The horrible thing about depression is it not only kills your motivation, but it also keeps you from experiencing joy.  A few of my clients even found it upsetting trying to work in their creative field, because it was too disturbing to not get satisfaction from an activity they clearly had loved.  


These folks needed tools, encouragement, and some “enforced time”.


My clients didn’t need literal tools- they often had closets full of art supplies.  They needed access to new techniques and ideas that would give them a chance to be creative but not overwhelm/remind them of how they used to create.  For example, some of the people I worked with had been trained in fine art.  They found it too difficult to spend the time and effort making a portrait or working in oil paints as they used to.  It was too upsetting to get everything out and not have that experience of flow, then to wonder if they would ever have that feeling again.


Instead I would suggest entirely new activities, such as SoulCollage ®, Zentangle, coloring mandalas (but with specific restrictions).   These projects were perfect for stimulating the creative process- easy to learn, but complicated enough to retain interest.  My clients also knew that when they were working with me, whether in a group or individually, they had that time and space to work.  They “had” to be there, and couldn’t just wander off to do laundry, watch TV, or some other activity which seemed more important.  As the session unfolded, we would look at the thoughts and judgements that came up, process them, and talk about the self defeating beliefs we found.

Switching gears in this way gets people back on track, and the feedback they get from others keeps them going.  Remember the feeling you had in grade school when you brought home some art and showed your parents?  When the praised you for it and put it up on the fridge?  That little feeling of joy and pride meant a lot back then, and it still can when you’re an adult.  Joy and pride are feelings that can push through depression or creative blocks.