Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Creativity and Emotional Stability

Does creativity sometimes dwindle or stall after a burst of expressive activity? In my case, I believe it does. Allow me to iterate in more detail. Forgive me if I ramble or fail to write in an elegant manner because I'm at low tide with my mental ability to express my thoughts.

Like the tide, my emotions rise and fall. I have days when I'm upbeat. My creativity flows like a monsoon rain and I experience forward momentum toward my goal. And there are days when I feel down. It's as if I'm trapped inside of an indestructible sphere made of unobtainum where problems become exponentially more difficult. A brick wall would be a welcome sight because you can walk around it, climb over it, or dig under it. And if all else fails, you blow the darned thing up and work your way through the rubble.

I've been around long enough to know emotional state is a cyclic, with the peak and trough metrics varying from person to person. In my case, the emotionally draining feelings are associated with a number of stresses including tensions from being unemployed, a fear about making ruinous choices as well as simple fatigue. The little worries add up for brief periods of time and erode away at my state of well being. To counterbalance, creative expressions allow me to experience the excitement of discovery. It's the temporary feel-good fix I seek through artistic creations such as writing fiction or consuming hours to fabricate a light and shadows interpretation of Space Invaders. What it boils down to is that I think most actions have a reaction. But before I expand upon the physics analogy, I'll take a detour to delve into the topic of willpower.

There are a number of people who laugh or belittle someone who admits to feeling depression. They'll waste no time in calling out a lack of confidence or insufficient willpower to suppress negative feelings. To give a concrete example, a number of years ago I helped an acquaintance of mine who was the sole proprietor of a business. My acquaintance, a recovering drug addict, struggled to create a business from a starting point of nothing in regards to finances. He teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and had no one to help him. At the time, I was in a dire financial situation too with a negative bank balance for several months at one point. But I stepped up the plate and volunteered three hours of time every weeknight to help out with tasks around his shop so that he wouldn't end up on the street. While I worked around the shop, he noticed my mood swings and had taken to lecturing me about my lack of willpower. But shortly thereafter, I discovered he was abusing chemical substances and purchasing female companionship. To some extent, I felt he was being hypocritical by highlighting my weakness while making it appear that through willpower, he had beaten his own demons. Furthermore, declaring willpower as the only key element involved minimizes the complexity emotional states. Willpower is critical, but it's not the only iron in the fire.

Personally, I believe our environment has an impact as does our body and brain chemistry. Even the activities we participate influences our state of mind. The latter statement is deeply intertwined with my initial analogy of emotions sharing similarities to a tide. Through observation, I've noticed that when I go through bursts of creativity, I have a crash shortly thereafter. My brain feels like it has used up its cache of feel good dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. A period of lethargy follows. Nothing feels right. Only after a state of lethargic dormancy does the spark of creativity return.

I believe creative people have a tendency to become addicted to the peak part of the emotional rise and fall cycle. The lows become that much more pronounced as a result. We feel drained and emotionless without the thrill of discovery or creation. Considering myself creative, whether anyone agrees or not, I revel in the upswing but haven't learned how to appreciate the down times for what they are, the bodies need to take a break and recover.

I've been working on modulating these conditions by establishing what I hope are healthy routines and actions. A balanced diet with focus on foods good for the brain like salmon, blue berries, greens and even treats like dark chocolate. For the chocolate, I consume the bars with eighty-eight percent cocoa to keep sugar intake low. Exercise comes into play too. The gym costs too much but I can do push ups, sit ups and other forms of working out in my living room. Playing a game called “Bejeweled” has made me feel more mentally energetic by working out my sense of spatial relationships. And for hand-eye coordination, I try to create physical manifestations of art rather than focusing strictly on writing fiction. That's why I mentioned creating an interpretation of Space Invaders through light and shadows. Armed with acetate sheets, graph paper, an X-ACTO knife, tape and a light source, it forces me to work on my dexterity to control the blade while I cut out images to cast shadows. Not to mention trying to find creative ways to light the scene. Unique? Groundbreaking? Of interest to anyone else? Not likely, but all of these actions exercise the different parts of my brain. And if I didn't do these, I wonder how powerful the depression might become? I do what it takes to move forward, even if there are days where it feels like one step forward and two backward. And as I'm fond of saying, in the end, it's about the journey.

On a side note, I'm about to start reading "Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament" by Kay Redfield Jamison. Focused on creativity and mood disorders, the author discusses results from her studies, research and work as a clinical psychologist. Don't expect a self-help book as it appears to be a presentation of information about her real-world analysis of the topic. While I don't know what I'll gain from reading the book, it seem worthy of a side detour if only to understand why I feel the rise and fall of emotional state.