Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Musicians and Depression: Going Deep

Depression is not something that can be easily summed up and cured. Oh that it could. This short three part series can only stir the conversation, and I'm glad it has. Deep, chronic depression is debilitating life-threatening and hope must be found. In this post I'll share some sources that may be of help. First of all, there are all kinds of different personalities. We don't have to be laughing all the time to be deeply joyful. We can bravely chart our own course with which we are satisfied, and for musicians and other highly creative people, a satisfied life is often one that is lived on the edge, in full color. My highly creative musician/writer/gardener, etc. sister Pam Hubbard, who has now found her own way to successfully deal with panic attacks and depression, says this about a "creative mind unleashed":
We shouldn't and cannot estimate the depth of creativity by labeling it as such-and-such mental "disorder". The uncreatively focused mind (a very controlled mind having been successfully tamed by society) fears the mind of the untamed. I believe the element of the wild (essence of God) is most evident in a creative mind unleashed. Treatment, yes, for some who would self-destruct...but not capture and taming. I don't understand the self-destruct mechanism other than that it is estimated from time to time in the lives of some of us that it is best to leave here now and go on to what we know is much better out there. Maybe that is more rational than the tame would ever allow themselves to be.
I'm grateful to Pam for pointing me to the following quotes
Is there actually a link between artistic creativity and mental illness? Most artists are not mentally ill, and most mentally ill people are not artists. However, several studies have suggested that artists are more likely than others to suffer from a class of mental illnesses called mood disorders... Some researchers, including Jamison, speculate that mood disorders allow people to think more creatively. In fact, one of the criteria for diagnosing mania reads "sharpened and unusually creative thinking." People with mood disorders also experience a broad range of deep emotions. This combination of symptoms might lend itself to prolific artistic creativity.
I would add that any musician I know would be bored stiff with a leveled out psyche. It's just that we need to figure out how to take the good with the bad. Stephen L. Bernhardt suggests a process he calls "emotional thought stopping"... say "STOP IT" whenever the negative thought come.. and do so repeatedly for a concentrated period of time. (Read about the process on his site.) He says further that positive thinking is not the answer to severe depression if it comes from the outside... only if it wells up from the inside after the negative thought is consciously stopped. Stephen says;
It is this internally generated positive thought from the subconscious that you want to seize and to reinforce. Go with it! In other words, do not try to shove positive thought into the subconscious, let them come in response to the renewed hope you gain from emotional thought stopping.
I know one sure-fire way to get a musician depressed... take away his/her music making. That's why I tell people who come to me and wonder if their music is commercially viable that they are asking the wrong question. How badly do they need to make music? Here's a quote from a now-offline site (if anyone knows where this quote originates, please let me know and I'll link to it):
We know that there are some for whom music is so compelling and innately powerful, they are unable to contain it within themselves. They can no more separate themselves from music as they could their own limb.
Indeed, take away the creative effort and you have a sad human being. This webpage also calls into question why we tend to attach the mental illness label to a creative soul. However, there is a certain vulnerability in sensitive creatives... from the same (missing) website I quote-
Anyone who knows something of the psychology of creativity, also knows that creative people suffer more severely from social pressures than 'adapted people' because they are more sensitive to them, because their creative drive is emotional in nature, not rational, and they have to rely upon them without the security of rational argument which makes them extra vulnerable to hostility from the environment.
But finally, here's legendary artist Sting says about the healing powers of the very music we create;
If you play music with passion and love and honesty, then it will nourish your soul, heal your wounds and make your life worth living. Music is it's own reward. ~Sting
To that I would add that music is not enough. In my experience, to be fully whole creatives we need to find spiritual connection to the source of all creativity... "in whom we live and move and have our being". In my life, God has turned my lows into depths of understanding, and into trusting that the lows are temporary.
"Weeping may endure through the night, but joy comes in the morning" Ps 30:5.
When the emptiness get particularly deep, do as my wise, creative friend Terry Smith says ... "let God fill the hole". He writes on his poetry blog;
I do know real joy Along the way I have found it My greatest treasure Drink deeply from this great joy Practice its presence daily
Three other good websites for further reading: 
Has this helped you? I'd love to know your story. Please go to the web and post by clicking the comment link. Thanks!

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  • At August 17, 2009 at 7:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Judy, this is good stuff. It will certainly help those who do not have these problems to understand a little more about their friends who do. I have fought with depression on and off for years. I have a prescription which I keep up, but, I don't take it anymore. The meds leave me in just a state of fog such that I can not write. While I despise the problems that I have, I would much rather be able to write than not. For me, it is easier to just deal with the depression than to lead a life without creativity.

    There are things I have found that help and hurt me. Overhead lighting with bare bulbs is like having a car coming at me with their lights on bright. I have all of my rooms set up with lamps or hidden lighting.

    Another thing that helps is to never let myself stay in one chair for too long a time. I know this may sound silly, but, it helps break any bad thought patterns that I might have...just by getting up and moving.

    For those that live alone, leave a radio or tv playing softly in another room. It can at times stop the feeling of isolation that has a real tendency to surround you.


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