So here's where I get real honest. Hi, my name is Amy and I suffer from depression and anxiety. When I say depression, I don't mean that I occasionally feel a little blue. I'm talking about the soul-sucking black hole that opens up without warning and makes me feel like everything is wrong, nothing will ever be right, and I should just save myself some heartache and drink some rat poison. That kind of depression. As for the anxiety, that seems to be an off-shoot of the depression. I've dealt with both since I was a teenager. From what I understand from my doctors, the parts of me that produce certain hormones are over-achievers which leads to an unfortunate chemical imbalance. My emotional problems stem from a physical condition. They are not in my head, nor beyond control.
Control though, is the issue. I've had surgeries, had some over-achieving hormone-making bits removed, tried chemical regulators, etc. Such treatments help, for a while. I have also tried self-medicating with mixed results. Mood-altering substances, prescribed or otherwise, can make you feel floaty and invincible, but eventually you have to come back down and the crash can be catastrophic.
The best and longest-lasting treatment that I have found is simply losing myself in a creative pursuit. My first bout with depression came when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I had no idea what was going on and my parents chalked up my moodiness to teenage angst. I wanted to die. I was miserable, listless, un-engaged. My grades suffered and I had very few friends. Then, one day during the free-writing portion of my 10th grade English class, I heard some music that inspired me. The music led to a story idea and the story idea led to months of afternoons on my front porch scribbling furiously in a spiral-bound notebook. I wrote madly, sometimes sobbing as I did. The story was terrible, but after weeks upon weeks of writing, I found I didn't feel quite so hopeless anymore. A lot of the dark feelings that I had kept bottled up inside had worked themselves out onto my tear-stained pages. It didn't matter so much that the story sucked; the process had been cathartic and I emerged on the other side of it whole.
I owe a lot to Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman
My next major struggle with depression hit many years later after the birth of my first child. Childbirth does terrible things to your hormonal balance and I suffered major postpartum depression. I was still bogged under its effects when my son turned two. I was a single mom, living with my parents, with no job and no means of supporting myself. I was largely isolated and at the time I didn't drive at all. I began to see a therapist, who wisely suggested I get involved in a local community theatre group as a means to meet people and refocus my emotions. I auditioned for a summer musical, landed a lead role, and proceeded to once again pour out all the negative emotions I had been dealing with. It was exhausting, but I dragged out all the dark thoughts and ugly feelings and tossed them onto the stage and left them there.
In 2002 I played Maria in a summer production of The Sound of Music.
Fast-forward twelve years and another physical change has resulted in more chemical imbalance. I have moments of intense anxiety and days when I spiral down into the darkness of depression. Through it all my husband has been supportive and comforting, talking me through panic attacks and bringing me gelato on the black days. I know though, that I have to work through the emotional roller-coaster. It's hard, but beneficial for me to keep writing, singing, sketching, photographing, etc. in order to be well. Creative pursuits have always been healing for me. They aren't just distractions. When I'm creatively engaged, I can take the sadness, fear, pain and use them as tools. They become my paints, my pen, my words. That's a large part of the reason I am writing this post. Today has been a difficult day emotionally. I know it all originates in the chemicals in my body, but there are external triggers that are often difficult to recognize and avoid.
I hope that in sharing this I can help someone dealing with these issues. Emotional problems seem to go hand-in-hand with Art. If you are a creative, you likely suffer from depression, anxiety or some other emotional disorder, though no one knows why. Perhaps it is that people who suffer from emotional problems are given Art as a means of coping and as a way to balance the effects of such disorders. I think of Vincent Van Gogh madly slapping paint on his canvases day after day and I'm reminded of myself, hurriedly scribbling words on a page until my hands cramped. Perhaps I've been given Art as a Medicine to my Madness. I may be another fou roux, but hopefully something beautiful will come out of it.
Even if Art isn't your forte, you can take advantage of its benefits. Coloring, yes coloring with crayons or colored pencils, has been shown to aid in stress relief. I recently printed out some coloring pages, put on some relaxing music and added some color to this:
Yes, it's Vincent's bedroom...with my own touches.
It was incredibly therapeutic and it brought me through a rough spell of near-crippling anxiety. I don't wish for my emotional issues to become my identity. I am not just a depressed and anxious person. I am a writer who is working through her demons, and I'm doing it with the most powerful drug I know: ART.