Creative Happiness

creativityI seem to only be truly happy when I am actively engaged in the process of creating something. Creativity gives my life focus and clarity, a goal around which I can organize my otherwise chaotic and sometimes self-destructive thoughts. In addition, creating something — whether it is tangible or intangible, permanent or temporary— brings with it a great deal of self-satisfaction, boosting both my self-efficacy and my sense of self-worth.

Creativity represents a healthy balance in-between two other extremes: restlessness and stagnation. Both restlessness and stagnation are linked to insecurity and detachment. I know when I am getting restless because I feel impatient, ungrateful, and agitated. Restlessness can lead to brooding, unthoughtful behavior, and sometimes devastating life consequences. When I start to stagnate, I feel bored, lazy, and hopeless; stagnation inevitably leads to psychic death. This is perhaps similar to the theory of bipolar disorder in which there are two extremes of mood: mania (restlessness) and depression (stagnation).

Creativity, then, is an outlet that brings together complex emotions in a positive, goal-oriented way. It bridges the novel brilliance of restlessness with the structure and stability of stagnation. When I feel restless, it is often because I want something new in my life; when I create, I make something new in my life. When I feel stagnant, I feel empty and as though my life is on hold; when I create, I initiate and sustain movement through which meaning and fulfillment emerge. Through the creative process, I am able to use and reconcile conflicting emotions in a complementary way that hopefully adds more beauty and peace to the world.

I Was Happier When I Was Depressed

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I sometimes think that I was happier when I was depressed. I recently found a journal from 2006 and 2008, with an almost two-year gap in-between. The pages contained subtle and not so subtle expressions of sadness, rage, loss, obsession, and shame. While I read my desperate words with compassion for the promising young woman who couldn’t see past her, my, immediate challenges, I also felt a sense of loss for the person I once was. Who knew that I would someday long for those dreary days with a sense of sentimental pride.

At the time, I knew exactly who I was — or so it appears on the page. My mental health diagnosis was enmeshed with my identity. It was who I was; it explained why I felt what I felt and did what I did. I defined myself through my diagnosis with religious rigor. Resistance to recovery is often rooted in attachment to our sense of self at a particular time in our lives — a self that we have, necessarily so, learned to understand, manage, and control.

But I really only knew one part of myself, and now I have opened up to so many other possibilities for my life. I am happy, or I should say happier, but not consistently so. And that is unquestionably good. But at the same time, I feel that my writing, a reflection of how I feel about life at the moment, has become, at times, fake, sterile, and dull despite moments of restless rumination. I fear that if I do not suffer, then my art will on my behalf.

I didn’t originally have the opportunity to self-identify as a person who experiences mental illness, pervasive emotional distress. From a young age, I was told you’re this. You’re that. I was medicated. I received harmful treatment that fractured my already fragile self-esteem and identity. Without realizing it, I conformed to those various labels that were attached to me and implicitly complied with the related assumptions about my feelings and behavior. In my heart of hearts, I never fully accepted other people’s interpretations of me, particularly those that were based on a simplistic diagnosis — because I am a unique, complex, dynamic human being— as we all are.

No, I really don’t want to go back to those more difficult days, but I wouldn’t change them either. I am grateful for what they, both at the time and in retrospect, have revealed and taught me about myself and about life. They have made me a stronger, more empathetic, and more resilient person.