Why your creative success will save you from depression

by Annelise Mitchell December 02, 2016

Why your creative success will save you from depression

In Western culture, depression is often seen as an illness or a disorder.

Something like a spectre that can only be managed with medication and talk therapy.

This is what I believed when I first had panic attacks in 2001. I was scared out of my mind, and the fear of a recurring one plunged me into despair.

I felt hopeless and scared. Every book I picked up talked about how Depression* is a lifelong condition that can only be managed, and how I was now stuck with it for life.

Oh sure, it would go underground for a while but would inevitably come back with a vengeance, proving that it was a biological illness or something that was to do with the faulty wiring of my brain.

The blessing, which I could never have foresaw then was that the experience of being depressed would set me forth on a journey to find out why the hell it happened.

What I found was that depression is not an illness or a disorder.

It has a far more human explanation.

It revealed how I had turned against myself, and how I was completely out of touch with who I was.

I was living according to other people’s narratives, their beliefs and values, or what Dr Demartini, an educator on the human condition calls “social idealisms.” Living your life to how you think you should or ought to live – a life where you express other people’s intentions and aspirations.

This is exactly what I had been doing. I spent very little time creating things that filled me with joy, such as writing and designing.

I was mostly on the consumer treadmill, buying things to try and fill my emptiness, but I found that the more stuff I bought, the worse I felt.

I would very occasionally create educational posters, books and other resources for my sons, only to be told that I needed to get a real job. So I did.

I hated every job.

Not at first. I would be initially very excited to be there and learn. But very quickly I would find that I would get bored. Rather than see it as a sign that I needed more creative stimulation, I would blame myself for not being able to cut it, to hack it out.

Then the guilt, oh the bloody guilt.

This spiral continued even after I began teaching. I was so grateful to have a job before I graduated. I had been pinpointed as someone who was a natural born teacher. They were right there, but definitely not one who will slide into a system and stay there.

Not me.

I wish I had known this but I couldn’t have known.

I couldn’t have known that what I needed to do was find out who I was, what I truly valued the most and create goals that I found the most meaningful to pursue. It was only when I knew these things would I begin creating things that made life meaningful. I thought teaching in high schools was my only choice.

Teaching in high schools, and later in universities, provided me with an outlet to pursue my obsession with creating educational experiences, especially designing things that really resonated with my students. However, most of the time, like over 90% was behaviour management or marking papers.

I realised fairly early on that I needed to find a way of life that I could do more of the things that really inspired me. Spending most of my days in frustration and pretending to be happy was not sustainable.

But I saw the creative life as full of uncertainty. Creative success seemed more than an elusive pipe dream.

Everywhere I searched, high and low, people would say it is far better to stay in your job. The creative life is full of uncertainty and you will be as poor as someone living on the dole. Or worse!

I believed that there was no way that I would achieve success in such an uncertain field, especially as an English and History teacher who is obsessed with the human condition. How do you make money off that, especially outside of a system? All I can do is write essays and mark papers. Creative success is for the really talented and the brave. Both of which I convinced myself, I was not.

I didn’t realise that this type of thinking was causing me immense pain. Because behind the doubts was a dread that I would never express what I was capable of.

Please, I would silently plead to whoever was out there, don’t let it be true.

Thinking like this quickly spiralled me towards a world of hurt, especially as I doubted there was anything out there.

Sadness, passivity, horrible skin, neglect of my body, and a feeling that I was about to be sucked into the ground, like I was never even there. This became my daily reality.

Click on the printable poster below for a depiction of how we feel before and after living our true values.

Before and after living your true values

Thankfully (and I say this with every realisation of how nasty this world of hurt can be) as soon as I found myself with these nasty demons trailblazing through my head, I have a part of me, like the tiniest hint of a flame, say what the hell, get back up and fight!

There is no doubt you have done this or you wouldn’t be reading this post.

We get into this world of hurt because we lose touch with our inner voice. We think that what we have to offer the world is not valuable. We are not valuable.

Why did this happen?

The answer is simple.

Somewhere along the line in our earliest years, we learnt to shut off our inner voice.

We would listen to what other people were doing and think that we need to live like they are. Heck, we were even praised when we behaved like others. What a good girl or boy.

This process can be taken to the real extreme, where we no longer hear our inner voice. We sit on the fence, too frightened to stand on one side or another.

It is for these reasons why you are not achieving creative success. You’ve convinced yourself it is a fantasy, a dream and something that you would never be capable of.

Besides, you are far too distracted by the demands of daily living. Everyone else appears to be towing the line, why can’t you?

I did this for a long time.

My brother and sister had achieved things that my mother really valued, like having a stable job since they were 14 years old. I had had over 14 jobs. They had a very large house, two cars and frequently took luxurious holidays. I had sold my very large house to leave my very secure teaching job – where nobody ever gets fired. If teachers do leave, they are either transferred to another department or end up in the mental hospital.

I was like, NO, I’m not doing that, as tempting as it sounded. Sitting next to a guy that says he’s Jesus Christ, and being treated like I’m a broken person who needs medication to suppress my woes was not my ideal.

It was other creatives that pulled me out of this abyss of commiseration. I would hear a constant thread of truth along the lines of:

Do what you love and it will never feel like work.

This started with Confucius, and many other ancient philosophers, going all the way up to Ralph Waldo Emerson and is now the common mantra of so many creatives – Elizabeth Gilbert, Robert Greene and Dr John Demartini.

I remember listening to an old Sunrise broadcast through YouTube with Dr Demartini. He said with clear conviction that when you understand your highest values, and you align your goals with them, including your business goals, you will overcome any obstacles in your path.

In fact, it is only when we do this will we achieve any success.

Demartini continued to add that a life where you are creating things that are most meaningful to you, whatever that is, will cause you to take the high priority actions that are necessary to leap giant buildings, fight off invading armies, and conquer any mountain, no matter how treacherous.

You’ll do the work simply because you love it so much and you’re on a mission to share it with the world. Yes, your work must help other people meet a need, whether it is to feel beautiful, to be entertained or to be distinctive, but through meeting this need, your self-worth will increase.

This was the nugget of wisdom that pulled me out of the abyss.

You will feel valuable when people see what you do is helping them. Your work is helping them feel good, and people will not only give you their money (which is never your primary goal), they are giving you their attention, and this attention is the ultimate goal of all human beings. To be noticed and feel that what we create is valuable to other people.

This is what the successful creatives have always done. They spend every day on the activities that are most meaningful to them, and through trial and error, over many years, they begin to produce work that other people also love.

It is the creatives who don’t spend the necessary effort on their craft, and expect to achieve success without pushing through challenges and obstacles that won’t achieve success. They don’t realise that their initial creations will not attract a lot of attention – they may even be faced with a dead silence, feeling like what they are creating has no worth.

What they must do, especially if they are wise and realise that over time they will get better, is to keep making their stuff.

Click on the printable poster below for the 4 steps you need to take to achieve creative success. You cannot bypass these.

4 Steps to Creative Success by Life-changing Learning

Rather than see challenges as a sign that it’s not meant to be, challenges are better to be seen as on the way rather than in the way. They are there to show us what we truly value creating and to help us craft things that truly resonate with our audience.

We see challenges, such as not having enough money, not attracting the right audience, or having people stand in our way, as educating us about life and our creative process. This opens us up to seeing creative solutions and opportunities.

Indeed, it is only through these challenges will we grow in wisdom, thus maintaining our wellness and well-being.

I knew Dr Demartini was right, I’d seen it time and time again. A lot of people who suffer depression will reveal a deep despair over life’s challenges. They have been hit by far too many obstacles, and the creative life represents too much pain down the road. These beliefs lead to an instinct to self-protect, hide away from the world and do what they are told.

Rather than become empowered through their work, their inner creativity, they are in perpetual conflict with themselves, paving the way to depression, even if it is not the fully-fledged variety. Depression doesn’t have to be completely immobilising, it can be just an ever-present passivity where your heart never sings.

This is what I mean about creative success saving you from depression.

I mean when you feel fulfilled – life is rewarding you for creating work that reflects who you are. You are living a life creating what you absolutely love and you’re making a very joyous living through it.

Over time, your self-worth and self-confidence increases, creating success in every other area of your life too.

This ultimately means that it is within your power to embrace the challenge’s that will ultimately lead to your creative success.

*Within Western society, there is a tendency to turn a verb (i.e. depression – a feeling of annihilation and hopelessness) into a noun (i.e. Depression - a thing (entity) that exists on its own and can be measured and touched). This turning of verbs into nouns causes us to think the thing is real and has a life of its own, rather than seeing it as a process.

Annelise Mitchell
Annelise Mitchell


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