Anhedonia and creativity
March 1, 2014 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I am a writer and visual artist, mostly a writer. I have been through a grueling bout with severe depression. Now the agonizing emotional pain is lessened, but I have been blank, apathetic, and anhedonic for a couple weeks. I started on Zoloft a couple days ago and also had my lithium increased, and I also recently started a prescription dose of vitamin D because my levels were low. I'm throwing all those things plus therapy, exercise,omega 3's, and light therapy at the problem, but there is little help right now. My big question has to do with the fact that I am seemingly unable to be creative right now. I try to write and nothing comes out,or it comes out awkward and flat. I've tried writing about the flatness,but even that trick doesn't work. The visual side hasn't fared much better. Does anyone have suggestions for how I can keep my creative side alive while I wait for all the treatments to help?
posted by mermaidcafe to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Good time for exercises - do drawings or simple water media or collage with no specific intent - just set a goal like playing with value or texture or composition. Great time to take a workshop without any expectation or find a drop-in life drawing session or the like. I can't speak to the writing side but the visual exercises have helped me move past being down or blocked. And theoretically spring will come sometime in the not too distant future. If you're someplace where you can get outdoors at all that may help too.
posted by leslies at 11:36 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you think it might help to not put yourself under pressure to be creative at all right now? Instead, maybe you could use this time to absorb creativity rather than create it. If your internal well is dry because of the pain you have been in, now is the time to replenish it. Could you devote time each day to reading, looking at art, listening to music, and generally letting the beauty and stimulation of others' creativity help to heal you? It will keep you in touch with the part of you that needs creativity without feeling like you need to produce something when you're not ready just yet. And maybe you will come across something that will inspire you or move you to begin your own work again. Good luck.
posted by billiebee at 12:00 PM on March 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

Yeah, switch mediums; try painting, or sculpting things with modeling clay, design an article of clothing, or get an instrument and just doodle around making up little tunes. NO PRESSURE. just play. It helps you remember how fun marking some thing up is!
posted by The otter lady at 12:00 PM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

It is early in your treatment. These things take time. Your creativity is a real part of you; it won't be gone forever if you successfully treat your depression. But if these things are linked for you, if your creative self has been a way of dealing with your depression, then you may have to give it time to adapt to a different you.

Give yourself permission to step away from the pressure of creating for now. You are already doing a hard thing, and one that probably taxes the same energies you would use to create. But it's important that you do this thing. This is important work, just as much as anything you might write is.

Good luck to you.
posted by gauche at 12:16 PM on March 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

A friend of mine calls these empty 'unproductive' times incubating. Perhaps thinking of it in that way may help you stop giving yourself pressure. Can I gently suggest that you're not yet in a fit state to objectively assess the quality of what you're making right now.

Other suggestions: give yourself a break from producing actual work work, but keep a dairy. Keep a dream journal also. DO NOT REVISE: concentrate on getting the words down, when the words are there, AND DO NOT EDIT THEM AWAY INTO NOTHINGNESS. Keep them safe for later, when you'll be able to see what they meant. I mean, maybe, don't even read them back just now.

For some people when the drugs kick in it has quite a strong effect on dreaming, so noting down dreams, if they stay with you, may possibly help you touch base with yourself. Just a suggestion. Take care. You have a process to go through now and that's what you need to do. Critical self can go to sleep until s/he's fixed. But the other self, real self, is given some space during healing - things need to be quiet for you to hear that stirring.

Big apologies if this seems woo or twee. I've some experience with this.
posted by glasseyes at 1:44 PM on March 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm going to chime in that, having forced myself to try to be productive (in academic writing) early into starting antidepressants, I found my work laborious and of poor quality. But when I looked back on it as I started feeling better, it wasn't all that bad, all things considered. It wasn't great either, but I think my sense of what was decent work or not got really thrown off by exactly the kind of anhedonia you've described.
posted by thegears at 2:08 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can only tell you what has worked for me. Post-divorce some years ago, I was in a very bad place, I had no job, I had lost my wife, my daughter, my house, my dog -- everything. Essentially I was back to square one. Or maybe even minus-one. I've been creative all my life, as a writer, artist and musician. Though I was suicidal for a (brief) time, I realized that I still had a life's work to accomplish. This helped. Also, I was able to get rid of a lot of sorrow and anger through music -- the wordless communication I had with my band helped me immeasurably. They were my family, for a while. We had gigs and I did not have the luxury of "not feeling like it." Being forced to perform helped me. Also, though I could not write, I found I could outline... so I wrote detailed outlines for two novels. I likewise could not paint or draw, but I did not happen to be in a situation where I had to. So that part of me took longer to come back online -- and to date, after 7 years, painting hasn't, really. I can draw, and am making money doing that, so I assume that at some point the cloud will pass and I'll be able to paint again.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 2:22 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe your creative muscles need a break.

Think of yourself as healing or in recovery for a bit. Just let creative things be while you sort some other things out.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:30 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Blliebee's suggestion is a good one.

Sometimes absorbing art and human company have helped me. There have been times when I thought I was too exhausted and sad to enjoy anything - but when obligation forced me out to a class or concert or dinner with friends I found that my mood was boosted and I felt completely reinvigorated.

And if your region has been experiencing a difficult winter then dear god, cut yourself some slack. If it weren't for my weekly music class I would be completely out of touch with my creative side. I keep mentally patting myself on the shoulder and telling myself "There there, winter can't last forever, and everything will be better when spring is here."

And the class. I keep going to the class.
posted by bunderful at 3:55 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do research? And then prepare your research? I put my notecards up on my walls on spray-painted black cardboard. I mean, it's probably silly, but it works for me, and may stimulate creativity.
posted by angrycat at 4:40 AM on March 2, 2014

I don't want to tell you this, but Zoloft did affect my creativity. But since depression definitely can do the same as well, my advice is to give yourself about three weeks, and also add in exercise and sunshine. The zoloft will take two or three weeks to really kick in although you may start to feel somewhat better sooner.

(I think the reason is a lot of us depend on swingy emotions to kickstart our creativity. But that's not the only way. I agree with the folks upthread that say incubate and research right now. You will feel better and you WILL feel like creating, and BE creative. Give yourself a little time.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:32 AM on March 2, 2014

(PS to answer your question a bit more practically, I suggest listening to music when you do try to create. Maybe something you don't normally listen to?)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:34 AM on March 2, 2014

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