19 December, 2006

Life: The Usefulness of Depression

There's nothing worse than having a ready supply of muffin stumps.

There are some things in life that have no perceived value. You'd like to think there's some value, but nope. You're just stuck with this raw material for treasures no one in their right mind wants.

And so it is with me and melancholia.

But Scientific American is pleading my case!

It turns out that depression improves focus. Contrary to the stereotype of the creative, depressed artist, depression depresses creativity, but in exchange it improves focus. I think their experiment is pretty weak, and in fact, that it really proves that depressed people are more nitpicky (which is not exactly news) but I'll grasp at any straw in a storm. :-)

If they are right, then maybe I can use the gloomier moments of life to address issues that require deeper focus. It's an interesting thought.

Again with the unexpected twist at the end of the article, though.

As for the myth of the depressed but brilliant artist, Anderson speculates that creativity may be a form of self-medication, giving a gloomy artist the chance to adopt a cheerful disposition.


Almost certainly true.

I love to create things, and creating can absolutely lift me out of, "it," whatever it might be. But, it is so hard to make the brain create when it feels ineffectual.

BTW, I find that depression is not primarily a mood. It is a response. It is the response of despair in the face of insurmountable obstacles.

[OK, I'm really in "train of thought" mode here. Sorry. I love motivational posters, but one of the worst is, "Obstacles are those things you see when you take your eyes off of your goals." What vitriolic pablum! (Yes, cussing would be easier, and more to the point, but the mere idea of a poisonous, syrupy sweet paste amuses me more than saying what I was really just thinking then.) Do those addled half-wits at the poster company really not believe in insurmountable obstacles?]

Anyway, I was just say that depression was busy being a response to insurmountable obstacles, the response of despair. Grief for loss of hope, and grief for the loss of the things hoped for, followed by a general unwillingness to believe that anything else is worth having or doing. This leads to a systemic deadening. Hands, heart and spirit take on the character and weight of lead.

Creating something is the perfect answer to despair.

Remembering that I am capable of seeing something that doesn't exist, and bringing it to be, is a wellspring of joy. Creation requires faith. And faith opposes despair. So, creativity becomes an indirect tool. It's like having to do some woodwork in the basement. Step one is cleaning the workbench. That workbench needed cleaning for weeks, but it's the chance to create something that causes me to finally square it away.

Creating something doesn't clear the depression, but it gives me a reason and a little hope, and I am able to clear those cobwebs myself. If I can see something that needs to exist, then I can find the faith to attack the things keeping it from existing.

Ah well, I found it interesting.


Milly said...

It is interesting. . . .and it helps us move out of the dark mist into a creative rainbow light.

(Admit it you’ve been wondering when that was going to pop back up.;-}

pearlie said...

I have to say I really dislike some of those motivational posters!

Agreed, depression is not a mood but I think it is a state, sometimes you just cannot help but be in it. It would not help to tell someone who is depressed to cheer up.

Depression improves focus? Really? ... I am not sure but I think so though I am not so sure. Depression is quite damaging to say the least.

Create things, eh? Like what? I am not sure what I do - get busy maybe.

Kansas Bob said...

Depression improving focus? I guess I have walked through some of the most focused times in my life ... my problem was that my focus was on the wrong stuff. I wish I could say that focusing on the bible or God helped but sometimes it didn't - no formulas I guess.

About posters: I am a big fan of those demotivational posters because there is so much truth in the humor.

Maria said...

Ah! And you scoffed at the idea that creativity was an outspring of God!

Lynne said...

To me creativity is the outlet for pain -- a kind of displacement to move it one step away from myself. it is also empowerment, I might be overwhelmed and disempowered by theobstacles that block my goals, but in this self-defined area i can do something positive, even beautiful and real. What I find hard to do in pain is focus on the oughts of life, the mundane boring things which need to be done but which I have no energy left for

codepoke said...


I still have the 50 ways out of a dark mist that ya'll gave me those many moons ago. It's pinned to the wall of my cube, and I point it out to most visitors.

Ya'll are a riot!

codepoke said...

Maeghan and KB,

Here's an example I find of depression improving my focus. I pray much, much better when I'm depressed. When I'm all happy, my mind wanders, doesn't see the deeper things that matter, and generally seems to waste my time. When I'm depressed, my focus starts on me, but I have the patience and focus to wait for it to turn around to God.

Housework, too. When I'm depressed, I can pull out a scrubby, and completely transform a room. Not so much when I'm chipper.

Maybe it's just me.

codepoke said...



I could not be more confused than to think I might have scoffed at creativity being an attribute of God's, a gift from God, or a part of the image of God. It's all those things. If you give me any hints at all, I will seek out my moment of foolishness, and repent.

codepoke said...


I read every one of your poems, and they always dig deep. I'm sorry for your pain, but I love the song you sing! It is VERY beautiful, and VERY real.

Thank you

Kansas Bob said...

Merry Christmas Kevin. I have struggled lately with depression and pray for the both of us. Maybe 2007 will bring more joy.

Happy New Year!

codepoke said...


I'm sorry. I suppose you know I posted this free association gibberish for amusement only, not because I put any deep stock in its ability to help me or anyone else when "the day" comes. (I mean come on, it's Scientific American :-] I'm happy if they tell me why batteries explode.)

I admire the way you fight. I know you are acquainted with grief, but your blogging has never lost hold of the truth. You're inspiring.

I look forward to 2007 with you. Thank you.