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Creativity and Depression: Getting out of the Hole

There's no doubt in my mind that without the love of my parents, support of great counselors, and access to the anti-depressant drug called Zoloft, I would be dead now. I drew this self-portrait in the initial stages of my bout with panic disorder and depression back in 1988.

I remember showing it to my mother who looked terribly disturbed when I told her that my brains were coming out of the top of my head. (She had hoped it was just a strangely-knitted cap.)

I know I can't expect to feel happy and wonderful all of the time, but mine were not ordinary ups and downs. At that time I was always physically exhausted. I had little or no appetite for food— or for life for that matter. Nameless despair, fear, and hopelessness overwhelmed me. I cried all the time. Well-meaning friends and distant relatives told me to smile, to cheer up. That just made me feel worse. My parents knew better; they got me the medical attention I so desperately needed.

I don't know if my problems with depression are tied to the fact that I'm a creative person, but research suggests that creativity and mental illness — especially manic depression — are closely linked. The good news is that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, "of the mental disorders, depressive illnesses are very responsive to treatment."

In my case, I went to my doctor and the psychologist my parents chose for me just to pacify them. I knew in my heart that I was a lost cause, that all the special treatment was a waste of their money. I felt terribly guilty about that especially. I couldn't remember a time when I didn't feel miserable. It was just my personality.

But a month or so into my treatment — I was seeing the psychologist a few times a week and had begun taking Zoloft — I was delighted to admit that I'd been wrong about everything. I was really starting to feel better. It was as if I'd been driving down an unfamiliar country road in the dark without my headlights, and suddenly they'd been flipped on. I could see where I was going and it didn't look half bad. (I should tell you, of course, that even with my medication, I still have some very bad weeks, but I get by.)

The doctors told me that some people have to stay on anti-depressant medications their entire lives and others can take a short course of the drugs and then be done with them. It appears that I am among the first category. I've tried to taper off my medication and I've tried to stop taking it altogether, but each time I was right back where I started — in the hole.

I tell you this not to discourage you, but so you'll know that it really is possible to feel better — with help. There is seldom a quick fix, but, the good news is, there are ways to cope.

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