This pretty mini-mandala comes to us from Hannah, a crocheter from England, for the Mandalas for Marinke remembrance project. Hannah writes,
“I was diagnosed with depression nearly three years ago, and I have been crocheting ever since my “relapse” 18 months ago. I am self-taught and through magazines I learnt of Wink and her amazing designs – and then of this project. My mandala isn’t one of Wink’s designs, but is from a pattern in one of the magazines that keeps my inspiration going. I’ve used oddments from some of my favorite projects and hope the love from them will transfer to this. Good luck Wink; we will miss you. My thoughts are with your family.”
In yesterday’s post, I shared a bit about the depression that author David Foster Wallace struggled with throughout his lifetime. It reminded me a bit about something that author Elizabeth Gilbert has written about in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, which I wanted to share with you today. It is near the end of the book, when she writes a lot about the myth of The Tormented Artist, and how the idea that genius=madness can be traumatizing to creative work. She notes that of course there are plenty of creative people who struggle with demons of all sorts, including depression, but that she believes that those people create in spite of the demons, not thanks to them.
She shares the quote by poet Rainer Marie Rilke that says, “If my devils are to leave me, I’m afraid my angels will take flight, as well.” And then Gilbert wisely says,
“Rilke was a glorious poet, and that line is elegantly rendered, but it’s also severely emotionally warped. I’ve heard that line quoted countless times by creative people who were offering up an excuse as to why they won’t quit drinking, or why they won’t go see a therapist, or why they won’t consider treatment for their depression or anxiety, or why they won’t address their sexual misconduct or their intimacy problems, or why they basically refuse to seek personal healing and growth in any manner whatsoever – because they don’t want to lose their suffering, which they have somehow conflated and confused with their creativity.”
Shortly later she writes,
“What I’ve seen already of pain is plenty, thank you, and I do not raise my hand and ask for more of it. I’ve also been around enough mentally ill people to know better than to sentimentalize madness. What’s more, I’ve passed through enough seasons of depression, anxiety, and shame in my own life to know that such experiences are not particularly generative for me. I have no great love or loyalty for my personal devils, because they have never served me well. During my own periods of misery and instability, I’ve noticed that my creative spirit becomes cramped and suffocated.”
“Emotional pain makes me the opposite of a deep person; it renders my life narrow and thin and isolated. My suffering takes this whole thrilling and gigantic universe and strings it down to the size of my own unhappy head.”
Some people create during depression. Many people, myself included, create in spurts of energy between depressive periods. The point is not that depression will necessarily kill your creativity, but that neither does it nourish it, and that if you hold any sort of romantic notion that you must “suffer for your art”, it is vital to your well-being to release that notion and devote some energy to improving your own mental health. Creativity can and will thrive when you are well.