We all know what it’s like to fall on dark days. We all have that anxiety monster in us that pops its head up from time to time, but depression is a different beast of burden. It’s relentless, and if you let it, it’ll swallow you up.
Anyone who knows the persistent, seemingly incurable weight of depression also knows it’s more than just being sad a lot and has probably sought endlessly for reprieve like a miner trapped deep in the darkest cave, praying for a little light to break through the cracks. With more than 17 million Americans suffering from major depression, there’s some solace in knowing you’re not alone with what might be the loneliest feeling, the relentless mindset that the search party may never find you. But there’s good news: That unabating feeling can be channeled and used for good, if you’re willing to make a shift.
Ben Foster, author of Life Without a Centre, often speaks about how being depressed is another way of saying “deep rest.” Depression is heavy, and it keeps your light covered up, but there are ways to harness that evil energy so that you can shine a little more.
Art therapy has long been hailed for its healing properties, although the term “therapy” makes many people balk and check out. Just the same as depression is there for you when you wake up and throughout the day, so is creativity. It’s ever-present in so many forms and feelings, colorful mediums and countless possibilities, that, with the right discipline, it can heal a lot of wounds by giving a voice to that inner torment — soul exercise.
So much of what affects our mood is right in front of us on our TVs in the games we play, the movies we watch and the news we inhale like a filthy reality show that’s somehow more real. Most of it’s negative, angry, perverted and unrealistic, and worst of all, it’s an escape. Not that the occasional movie night is bad, but that kind of constant distraction rewires our brains into a habit we don’t need that so many people are doing, keeping us from being present with ourselves and dealing with what’s going on, good or bad.
When I turned 30, I kept TV out of my house. I got up early, swam in the ocean, biked home and wrote while I drowned myself in coffee, but I also bookended the days by writing at night to lull myself to sleep. Before I was 32, I had published two books. Now I’m 35, and TV has worked its way into my life like a little house rodent. At first, I put the TV away in the closet when I wasn’t watching it as a discipline, but then, of course, that just got exhausting. All these things keep me from doing the things I know I should be doing at night, and there is no greater torment than having something inside you that wants out. When you shut down the electronics and go inward, you’re forced to face yourself, and whether you write, paint, or whatever it is you do that purges those feelings, you feel more alive and more like yourself than ever. It’s when I’m happiest. And when I know what makes me happy but I avoid it, that makes me depressed and disappointed in myself. Sound familiar at all?
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But not all creativity is obvious, though. No matter what you’re into, there’s a creative outlet for it. Building cars, birdhouses, learning a new language, how to dance or challenging yourself at something both mental and physical you think is “so not you” like rock climbing, jujutsu or surfing. You can be whoever you want to be, and depression is likely stopping you from feeling like you can. Sometimes — fun trick — I just tell it to shut up and then I carry on with my life.
With the right perspective, creativity can be the catalyst, a catapult for that cannonball in your chest, that takes you someplace you may have never thought possible — towards a feeling of self-worth. If depression has an enemy, it’s anything that makes you feel good about yourself, and being creative, no matter the form, is quite satisfying.
Anything you want to do about it is an option, as long as it’s healthy. Beat the hell out of a punching bag, run a marathon or paint your feelings until you’re as blue in the face as your favorite pants because, dammit, you forgot to put on painting clothes before you started. I recently admitted basketball is one of those things that makes me happiest in my life. Even though I’m no longer on a team, in shape and my back is an absolute wreck, nothing brings me more joy that going out and shooting around in my neighborhood. Be willing to admit what you want, it’ll take you places.
Keep in mind: Depression needs no trigger to show up in your life. When it does, remember that creativity is there for you, too. When the walls are closing in, be it our rent, jobs, lack of social connection or general livelihoods are at risk, creativity will gladly show you another side of yourself, a certain greatness inside that’s been screaming to get out. You just have to be open to receiving it and ready to throw it back.
Check out our recent episode on anxiety below with The Flash himself, Grant Gustin, veteran comedian, Cedric the Entertainer, and, of course, your host Justin Baldoni. For more ‘Man Enough’ episodes, go here.
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If you or someone you know struggled with severe anxiety, you can find help below.