Thursday, November 13, 2008

Happy Artists / Self-Fulfilling Prophecy vs Realism

Health professionals I've been in contact with regarding my depression, and some friends, refer to "you artistic types" or similar. I don't see myself as artistic, so that's a problem right there, but I wonder if "we who make things" have a propensity for depression, or is it self-doubt, or do we just notice/talk about it more? Is our work more conducive to introspection?

As a kid, I loved artists' (especially composers; I was far more into music than visual art in those days,) biographies and in the first term of third grade, I read all biographies in my school library except those of scientists. (Yeah, Dad was a chemistry professor. Anyone care to analyze?) And I learned from those books that artists were perpetually poor, and many didn't get much accolade until they were dead, but none of them said they had depression, or melancholy, or self-doubt and crisis of confidence. And at least the composers seemed to have spent a lot of long evenings in quaint cafes with constant friends. When they finally got paid. But I digress.

As I headed towards finishing my pieces for "Bye Bye, Blue Eyes", I thought about how other artist operate. I get so gung-ho towards finishing a project, especially exhibitions, I can fend off depression in most cases, but I do suffer a bit of after-due low. And I wondered how I can be a happy artists, hopping from one project to another, holding on to a light-hearted, forward-looking attitude. Then I wondered, are there artists who manage to consistently work like that? Do truly happy artists exist? Can I manage to be happy most of the time about what I do?

* * * * *

My parents raised me to plan ahead, prepare for all contingencies, consider, if not leave open, all options, and live with the results/consequences. In other words, we did our best, but if fate intervened and outcome didn't turn out the way we intended, it was most probably inadequate/insufficient planning, but occasionally something bigger than us working.

As I grew up, particularly in college and IBM, I became very focused on the planning and preparation process. In IBM we even had courses on time management, efficiency, and whatever else, and I was among the star pupils; sometimes I worked in jobs where I streamlined processes, planned and oversaw projects, or, do forgive me, improved others' efficiency. Albeit unintentionally, plans and process became the focus and the ends of my life. I was high-strung and could never leave work at home. As well, I started avoiding things which I suspected would not yield desired outcomes, even if I really wanted to try Like pottery, singing, and painting/drawing.

And then I changed my course and started this art thing, and you know, my expertise in planning and forecast and scheduling don't amount to a hill of beans if I don't get the warp on the loom and the scarf off it. Depending on how you count, it took me five to seven years to get used to this life of mine. Truthfully, it took my insane 18 months of due date after due date that forced me learn, (or as they say in Japan, for my body to learn,) my "ends" was to have a finished piece. Then sometime in the recent years, I also learned I had to abandon the idea that the process is gold, and let ideas gestate; that art takes a long time.

Somehow, and I realize there's a leap in the logic, I became what I thought at first was a realist, but also a pessimist. I don't know if it's depression, the constant "having to prove myself to myself", insisting that handweaving is fine art to an anti-women's-craft world, or even the financial worries; most probably it's the combination of all of the above and then some.

The thing that bothers me is since I have become a pessimist, I feel I have a lot of negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Some tell me I can't get rid of depression because I keep thinking about it. In the first instance, that's not true; I don't keep thinking about it. In the second instance, I've been reading about depression because I want to know my enemy. But in the third instance, I sense there have been times I forecasted low periods, because circumstances and symptoms pointed that way, because I became more aware of what to look out for. And I can't differentiate self-fulfilling prophecies and learned realism. I really feel powerless in controlling my life and it feels safer to assume the worst so I'm won't be disappointed. But you know, it's not a nice way to live, it's like once I've fallen into a bottomless pit, I've chosen to fire up my jet pack and falling faster and further.

The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or what little I've read of it, has proven to me to be a good tool. And yet I wished I didn't have to think about it, that I didn't have to live with it. It's a fine line, this one. Art was supposed to put me in a childlike euphoria, I thought.

8 comments:

  1. Try Prozac, Meg. It hasn't cured my depression, but it certainly helps. I'd be a lot less likely to accomplish what I am able to without the stuff. If you read my posts today, you'll know that I still have a day here and there when I feel depressed. But overall I'm normally very functional and quite happy.

    I don't know if you were looking for input on how to deal with depression, or if you just needed to get some stuff off your chest. So I hope you're not offended by my suggestion.

    Hugs.

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  2. Hi, Connie. No, thanks for the suggestion. If counseling doesn't work, I'll try St John's Wart, but if not, I'm sure Doc Eva will sit me down and we'll have a talk.

    No, I like any comment, especially from friends. Recently, on our photo blog, there was an anonymous comment that said, "i dont like ur site". Ben thought it was rude, but it must have taken the person, you know, a minute or two to load that! Ha ha!

    It is wonderful to have a place like this to "meet with friends" though. Very much appreciated.

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  3. That comment was coming from New York, USA who is using Windows VISA in 1024x768 screen resolution and ISP is...

    It is amazing the amount of information that can be easily retrieved.

    Oh, and that person spent at our blog 57 seconds.

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  4. Let go. Not worth five minutes of your life, dear, or however long you spent looking that up.

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  5. Ben, I have a fascination with these things too!

    Meg, I feel your pain. I struggle with depression also and I know a lot of other creative souls who do, and some who probably do but don't talk about it.

    Like you, I prefer not to medicate. But if I were on an extended low period or were having thoughts of self-harm, I'd choose medication over that. I find that when I am in a downward spiral, and you described it well, that the hardest thing for me to do is practice the behaviors that will most help me.

    I think, just my opinion, that we expect to be happy, as though that is the way we are supposed to be. Maybe we are all not wired to be euphoric, always. I know I would have a hard time sustaining that kind of energy.

    I am glad you are talking about your own struggle with depression, both with others and professionals. Your plan of knowing your enemy sounds like good self-defense.

    Love and hugs, Dana

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  6. There's a lot of research and anecdotal info out there that indicates that most of who we would consider to be great artists have struggled with depression, or mental difficulties of some sort. And certainly a lot of folks who's blogs I/we read feel the weight of depression at least some of the time. Perhaps it goes with the territory.

    I also think it goes with trying to get ourselves to fit in a cookie cutter world, but we don't or won't or can't, so there's this continual struggle to make ourselves right with it all.

    Re: happiness, I am learning that the key to it all is to strive to be happy regardless -- happy when we're happy, happy when we're depressed because we're just being who we really are. Maybe contentment is a better word for it.

    Hope things are looking brighter for you today -- they are for me!

    Love & hugs to you, Meg.

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  7. No, art is not supposed to put you into a childlike euphoria. It may occasionally, but most of the time it is hard, often boring work. Just plain work. I am grateful that I love the work enough so that when the boring things have to be done (PAPERWORK!!!!!!!!), that love helps to pull me through it, though there is a lot of procrastination involved (grin!). I have also been blessed with a sense of humor, though I must admit it disappeared during by 2-3 years stint with depression a few years ago. But that depression was environmentally caused and the day the environment changed, I said farewell to my therapist (whom I dearly loved, by the way).
    So, I do hope that your depression, whatever is the cause, lifts soon.

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  8. Dana, I wished happiness/contentment were my default position. It couldn't have been, but because my depression and art/life started about the same time, (most probably coincidental - two professionals think I had it long before 2003 - one thinks I've had it most of my life! Good thing I didn't know it.) I tend to think of my pre-art life as something less stressful. And yet I know it wasn't, especially when I ran events; that was hell. Well, now, I'm feeling a bit better already thinking back to those days!!

    Connie, contentment would do me fine. Still, on another level, in a possibly twisted way, I am more comfortable with this struggle where the scariest critic is me, in comparison to when I had office jobs where in most cases there was much too little I can do to improve my work environment.

    Peg, I though Julia Cameron promised/guaranteed it was supposed to be soft and fluffy and pink. Unfortunately, by your method, I'd have to erase portions of my childhood, among other things. I'm trying to do what Dr Phil recommends, that there comes a point I have to give myself some things I should have gotten when I was a child, but being a critic is soooo much easier.

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