I have wanted to write about the relationship between depression and creativity for a long while. Although I have a neatly assembled story about the sequence of circumstances that set me off on a lifetime of writing poetry, I'm aware of how the mind likes to make a narrative out of disparate material, and although it would make a good metaphor, it might not be literally true, who knows. I feel more certain of the link between depression and my writing.
I've always had ways of dealing with depression. It feels as if they were built into me. In the first instance I was unaware of them, or indeed that I was suffering from depression. I suppose I thought that everyone must have, and need, similar coping mechanisms in their lives, that it was a commonplace. I slowly came to realise that might not be so.
Once I became aware that I suffered from depression, and that I had ways with which to deal with it, I started to think consciously about what I was doing, in order to define and refine them. Mostly I do without anti-depressants. Just occasionally it gets the better of me and I have to visit the doctor for chemical help. It was during one of these visits, when my own GP was unavailable, and I had to see a different doctor, that I told her of my usually reliable method of coping, and she explained that it was, in essence, a known technique called cognitive therapy. It seemed I had invented something that already existed.
My way of dealing with things starts with being aware that I am depressed. Depression is by its nature a very subjective state so I try to bypass feelings of worthlessness, and that life is pointless, by telling myself that it has happened before, that I know what it is, that its message was not true then, and won't be true now
Knowing this I try to stand outside of myself, and look at things from a broader perspective to get an objective view. For me at least it is no more complicated than that.
Then I try to think of depression as a separate person who has somehow managed to become entangled with me, but is not me. It can be a tussle sometimes, but it is surprising how effective this approach can be. Oddly I have never read the booklet the doctor gave me. This is typically stubborn. I just prefer finding things out for myself, and making my own individual way. I have been told I am an awkward person, which is probably true.
The thing that has taken me beyond merely dealing with depression as a problem, and has given life meaning that it did not have before, is poetry. My way of thinking about how poetry works for me is to consider it as a form of mental judo. Of taking my opponents weight and strength and using it against them. The opponent being that separate person I had identified depression as.
People who are struggling with a bout of depression will probably not find this a helpful observation, and I can understand that. Depression is a dead weight, and very hard to get a purchase on, but by describing it as separate from you it removes it from that close proximity where you thought it was you.
The following metaphor works for me, but I'm not sure it will mean much for someone who hasn't experienced depression (are there such people?) or who are currently in the grip of it, but there is in judo something called a sacrifice throw, which is a throw where someone allows themselves to fall in order to topple their opponent. What this means to me is that you have to be agile, think according to the circumstances, and be open to unusual approaches to the problem. Sometimes a certain amount of improvisation is required. Not easy, I agree, when you are suffering, but if you are able to stand clear of yourself, and see depression as separate from you, that makes it a lot easier.
This won't work for everyone, I'm sure, but it does for me. Most of the time.
The other thing that I find helps is doing things with your life, to too many people life is something that happens to them rather than something they take an active part in. Poetry to me has been an engine that drives me to use the negative feeling of depression to a positive end. It has also been something (especially when I am published) that provides a sense of achievement, something I can fall back on when depression starts to make life difficult.