The slippery slope
Regardless of what the title might suggest, this post is not to be a sociopolitical comment on the current state of the Western world. Therefore, I will not mention the latest Presidential election in USA, nor the worrying emergence of fascist nationalist parties in parliaments all over Europe. No, this is a more personal post, on the topic on time, mental welfare and creativity.
If that sounds a bit cryptic, I shall endeavour to explain what I mean in more detail below.
Time, or the lack thereof
I’m a father of two small children. This means that time is always lacking, what with getting the kids to daycare, getting myself to work, getting the work tasks done, going home in time to pick up the kids or at least be home for dinner, getting them ready for bed and convince them to go to sleep. Time – or at least time for oneself – is a luxury. Once the day’s over, I usually collapse in the sofa, too tired to even watch a television show.
Being an introvert means this is extra problematic, since I get very little time to recharge. As a result I get cranky, stressed and snappy, and not really the person I’d like to be.
It also means that I’m tired all the time, on the verge of being exhausted, which means I tend to get distracted and forget things. And even when I don’t forget things, it always feels like I have, which doesn’t help with the stress.
All of this affects my mental welfare, pushing me closer and closer to the abyss of depression.
The dark abyss
Depression is an ugly thing. It’s a dark cold indifference to life, where nothing really matters, except the overwhelming sense of tiredness and exhaustion.
But more than that, it’s a delusional state of mind: the brain lies to you, trying to convince you that all’s hopeless and lost, and that you’re whole existence is pointless and you as a person is utterly worthless.
In a bigger perspective, this is probably all true. A couple of million years from now, my life will have mattered very little, if at all. But we live here and now, and to our families and loved ones we do indeed matter.
Fighting depression is about fighting hopelessness. And to do that we need all the mental energy we can get. Which is ironic, since that is exactly what a depression robs us of. So, how to break the dead-lock? How to get that elusive energy to start to fight back?
The creative solution
There are of course pharmaceuticals for treating depression, but for a range of reasons this might not always be a viable alternative. What else can we do?
Well, since the main challenge in fighting depression is to get some mental energy, we need to figure out ways of generating some. While this might be easier said than done, there are some methods available. One of these is to do something creative. For me, that means taking photos, writing blog posts or making music, but it could be just about anything that tickles your fancy.
Creativity is a funny old thing; it absorbs you and your mind’s focus in a way that makes time and space disappear. We get so into what we’re doing, that we don’t notice the flight of time or even the place we’re in. Then, after a few hours, we look up and wonder: “What time is it? When did it become dark outside?”. It’s like coming up to the surface after having been scuba-diving.
This intense focus we use in our creative processes might sound counter-productive. After all, how can being hyper-focused help? Doesn’t that just drain us even more? Well, yes: it does require a base-level of mental energy to get started, but focusing helps us forget our worries and self-doubt. There’s no room in our brains for negative thoughts when we’re busy getting a minute detail of what we’re creating just right. In a way, it works just like meditation – by focusing all our attention on one single thing, we block out all our other thoughts.
The end-result is that, after that initial required energy to get started, we emerge on the other side invigorated, happy and content. Of course, it’s not a simple fix-and-forget, and our brain will continue to tell us we’re worthless given any chance. But with each creative session, we get more and more energy. Soon, we have the will-power to actively fight back and swat away those negative thoughts as they appear.
Don’t forget to remember
So for me, it’s a continuous and ongoing struggle. Stress and exhaustion pushes me down the slippery slope to depression, which makes me even more tired and paralysed. It’s a vicious circle fed by the lack of personal time, and it makes it difficult to motivate myself for what I know I so desperately need: being creative.
But once I manage to get myself to spend an hour or two making some music or writing a blog post, I feel much better. And I vouch to remember that feeling the next time I’m all tired and lethargic. For me, being creative is more than a hobby or a pastime – it’s self-medication.