In the creative professions, mental illness and depression can be celebrated and even venerated as an unavoidable way to access our muses. The romantic vision of the tortured artist is one we’ve all seen. The man or woman dressed all in black, pining for their lost love or just mad at the world, channeling their pain into their art. One of our most celebrated artists, Van Gogh, spent time in a mental institution and cut off an ear while painting his most gorgeous visions. Hemingway famously quipped, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
But I am here to tell you, your pain is not required to express your
art, and the depression and grief that invades you as a result
of suffering can block your creativity. Yep. That cruelty to yourself actually
keeps your muse away.
The belief that your pain and suffering is necessary to
express your art is, at best, wrong-headed. Shifting your mindset to embrace
the idea that you can express yourself creatively with a joyful attitude and
contented, balanced life is my mission as a creativity coach.
But sometimes the depression and pain can’t be avoided.
I live with a low-grade depression that some days takes me
out of play even now when I’ve learned what I have to do to deal with it. But
it’s nothing compared to what others struggle with. My depression can be
managed by setting aside one day a week to rest and rebuild my energy. If
things get a little too heavy, volunteering usually sets me on my hopeful and
contented path again.
Chronic and clinical depression needs more support than
Way back when I volunteered for a hospice organization (which is a great way to put your
own problems into perspective), our continuing education included a
talk from an expert in depression who discussed suicide. After all, suicide
among those with terminal illnesses is more common than in the general
The thing that stuck in my mind from this talk was the
fact that suicide was the terminal end of depression.
Depression is an illness, like the illnesses we saw every
day at the hospice house. And that, if someone’s life ended in suicide, we
could reassure their family that this act didn’t reflect on them or their
actions, but that it was the illness wrenching control away from their loved
one just like a tumor taking over a vital organ.
Little enough comfort for the bereaved, for certain, but
something that carried forward with me.
Now, this does not mean that every person struggling with
clinical depression will commit suicide. Depression is not a terminal illness.
But it does mean that we need to treat it with the seriousness that we use for
any chronic illness.
And that means that, just like we need to go to the doctor
for physical pain, we need to get appropriate treatment from a trained
professional for our mental health.
Now, I am not a trained therapist. I am a creativity coach,
writer, and former hospice volunteer who carries the wisdom of a certain age
and experience. You need a fully trained and accredited therapist to support
you with your mental health—and that’s not going to be me.
But I am here to tell you, you are not required to suffer
from mental health issues because you are a creative being. Suffering is not
necessary to bring out the beauty in your work.
The only thing your creative work needs to come alive is
So reject this romantic fantasy of the tortured artist,
and get the help you need to support your mental health.
If you don’t know where to start, click here to visit the National Alliance on
And if you need someone to hold your hand while you make
the call, reach out to family, friends, or me. I’ll stand by you as you
negotiate the necessary systems and encourage you in your search, guiding as I
am able and stepping aside when appropriate.
The only thing that IS required by your art is YOU. Only
you can bring your art into the world.
And I know I’m not the only person who would love to see it.
LA (as in tra-la-la) Bourgeois uses Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching tools™ to break down resistance, procrastination, and overwhelm while gently encouraging you with humor and heart. Are you ready to embrace joy as you pursue your creative goals? Discover more at her website, labourgeois.biz