James Desborough is an outspoken and sometimes controversial author and game designer. He’s the publisher at Postmortem Studios, where he creates highly imaginative and sometimes controversial games. He blogs about roleplaying and real life at this link.
Depression and creativity are close cousins. It seems that the one is very often accompanied by the other and this can seem like a cruel joke. I suffer from this, and this article is from my experiences so I’m not claiming them to be universal, but I do see them in a lot of other people who similarly suffer.
On the one hand, you’re driven to create, be it words, pictures or something else. On the other hand, you’re riddled with self-doubt to the extent that putting that work out there for critique, examination and review can almost feel like placing your life in the hands of others. You want honesty, but genuine honesty can be crushing and people will often spare you, worried – justly – about your mental health.
The thing is that this sadness and fragility comes and goes, unpredictably. Depression isn’t the same as being sad about something, it’s being sad for no reason. Things can make it better or worse but one of the hugely frustrating things about it is that you can’t identify what’s upsetting you and deal with it. One day a criticism might be water off a duck’s back, the next it strikes to the heart and becomes the focus of the sadness, a black hole you can’t escape.
If you’re a creative type working for yourself having a mental (or physical) illness adds a lot of stress, especially if you’re not sick enough to qualify for state benefits. Even if you are, the paperwork, institutional and public suspicion, and distrust of people who are mentally or physically disabled or unfit for work can seem like the assistance is not worth the trouble.
It adds stress because, like everyone else, you need money to live. When you work – or can’t work – is something almost random. You can’t promise to keep to deadlines, projects get forgotten when your mind doesn’t work properly. Letting anyone down – even yourself – becomes devastating and you force yourself to work when you should be resting, just so you don’t let someone down.
The ‘real world’ of work doesn’t tolerate this, so getting a ‘real job’ becomes something out of reach. When you are freelancing or working for yourself, reliability and constancy are worth almost as much as talent. If you’re lucky you can find people to work with who understand and sympathise, but customers – the people at the end of the chain of creation – are not very forgiving at all.
Perhaps the hardest part is that there is no solution to this. Medication can help, but many of the better anti-depressants can also make you tired or blunt your creativity. It’s also hit and miss as to what drug – if any – will work for what person at what dosage and it can take months – during which your mind is all over the place – to settle into a medication regime.
There’s no solution, but there are things we can do. As creatives we can own up to our problems and be open about them, de-stigmatise them. As business owners we can understand and accommodate as much as possible. As consumers we can be more forgiving because, believe me, we depressives are hard enough on ourselves.
Is this you?
Can we all be more open about this, and other problems that we suffer?
Let’s start a conversation.