As someone whose life has been buffeted, paused, accelerated and dictated by moods for as long as I can recall, I have always been fascinated by the impact of mood on creativity.
I don’t know if it’s a scientific fact but it’s been stated ad nausea that individuals diagnosed as manic depressive or bipolar can be extremely creative. Moods push introspection. Maybe it’s as simple as that. Which came first? The mood extremes or the soul inflicting itself on the brain’s chemistry? Nature. Nurture. Is there an in-between?
There’s a recognition, at the very least, that there’s been a dislocation away from that other place – the comfortable, busy one -where just getting out of bed, doing the dishes, friends, family, working, exercising and planning the next vacation is enough.
When well, days fling themselves impatiently past analysis, questioning, indecision. You forget about that hiding place – the quiet, controlled space; no interference – that’s sure to elbow its way to the forefront of time again – guaranteed – especially if it has descended in the past, more than once.
Depression strikes fear into the body’s memory, especially in those who have recovered from it more than once (is recovery ever fully possible?). They’ve resourced every ounce of will to put one foot in front of the other to recreate a life anew; one that builds upon the one they used to have and that used to work before that one disintegrated. Depression as grief. A life changed.
In the past, depression has been known to birth bad and/or brilliant poetry. Now, it’s more likely to suggest itself in un moments. A blank page. Indifference. Indecision. And writing, that form of expression that’s as natural as breathing, is sometimes confiscated as well.
Chronic bouts of depression can force a series of starting overs that become more exhausting as the years accumulate. Beginnings are required, more so it seems to me, for those who live with the irregular return of descent than for those who have never been captured by its creeping reach.
Building a life from scratch every few years can be exhausting. As someone else once wondered about in an essay on his father’s struggle, did his father wake up one day and ask himself, should I answer e-mail, should I go for a walk or should I just put an end to this pointless exercise?
Looking back on my history there is no disputing the decades-long personal case study that transforms flow to a drip in activity. When the stillness descends, I ask myself what might have been if consistency of anything had been a faithful friend? What would be through the window of the reliable – in work, in relationships, family and friends? Would that type of security have enabled a more steady flourishing?
I once did an exercise in What Colour is Your Parachute. It asks readers to draw a chart of the most significant things that they recall, positive and negative, in decade-long increments. When I did that exercise, the obvious was visually revealed. My chart resembled an EKG. There were no undulating foothills, meandering streams, or sloping ravines. Instead, jagged ups and downs. Definite. Assertive. No denying. Full-on foreign expeditions, backroads, detours. Up/down. Up/down. Keep going. Days in. Days out. Vast horizons, blinding tundra, barren fields, rocky outcrops until a slow rejuvenation, the half hidden path back to equilibrium.
With therapy, with medication, a single paper white in the grass emerges. One green shoot, then another. Easy to trample as the momentum towards the next beginning gathers.