There was a pretty good article on Slate on Friday. Generally speaking, it’s about two books – “Against Depression” and then a book about how Abraham Lincoln was a depressive and how this may have effected his presidency. I own “Against Depression” – which is a rather misleading title. The book’s basic premise is that depression has to be treated like an illness rather than some romanticized personality flaw… which seems to be the public impression of it. Here’s a quote from the Slate article”
While it’s true that we can treat depression more effectively than ever before, our best biochemical explanations of its workings still resemble educated guesswork. Even Kramer… takes pains to point out that they are still “myths”—reasonable accounts of phenomena that elude complete understanding. In addition, we know about as much (or as little) about how antidepressants operate as we understand about depression itself…
Because of the lack of scientific certainty, the debate over depression turns on questions of language. What we call it—”disease,” “disorder,” “state of mind”—affects how we view, diagnose, and treat it. The fight over depression and pharmacology has come to resemble the other shrill and intractable debates of our day, such as stem-cell research or cloning. Where you stand depends partly on your political and religious leanings and partly on your intuitive feelings about scientific progress. As a public health hazard, however, the stakes couldn’t be higher. [Depression] affects more than 100 million people a year, and it’s the world’s leading cause of disability. In 2000, about 1 million people worldwide killed themselves—about equal to the number of deaths that year from war and homicide combined.
One of the more potent brickbats in the depression wars is the notion that depression fuels creativity… Whenever [Kramer] gave a reading or lecture, someone in the audience would invariably ask, “What if Van Gogh had taken Prozac?” This question, of course, is shorthand for, “If we medicate depression, will we dampen the creativity that often exists alongside it?” Who knows, Kramer suggests in Against Depression—maybe a happier Van Gogh would have gotten more painting done. Plus, for every tortured creative genius (Hemingway), you can also point to a sanguine one (Trollope). It’s just that Western culture tends to overlook the latter; the contented have the hard lot of never being granted much mystique.
It’s a pretty interesting dilemma. Not a fun one, but an interesting one. Having been on this roller-coaster myself since 2002 (and since 1993 without knowing/recognizing it), I can say that my creativity declined tremendously when I was in my deepest lowest low. The “in-between” lows – the ones that didn’t leave me weeping uncontrollably for no reason at my desk at work – were really good creative times. I would write poetry and start tons of projects and wake up at 3 in the morning with brainstorms of creativity. That didn’t last too long since I soon got to the point where I was too tired of life and the daily grind to have anything left over for any creative efforts, or even enough to take pride in my appearance, concern myself with things falling apart around me, or making any sort of improvements to my life in general.
I guess my take on this is not that depression fuels creativity, but that creativity in some way indicates that a person is more sensitive and open to depression for whatever neurochemical reasons. I’ve often spouted off the little tidbit that clinical depression is more prevalent in people with higher IQs. The same physiological/neurological/genetic things that allow people to “think differently” and be “smarter” or “more clever” (or however you want to term it) are the same things, in my mind, that cause depression.
Since third grade, I have constantly heard from teachers and guidance counselors and Girl Scout troop leaders and classmates/peers that I am different or weird or quirky. Two math teachers – Mrs. L in freshman year of high school and Mr. G in junior/senior year – made a point (in the middle of class, so fun for me!) of saying that I think differently from everyone else. My problem solving skills were there, but they didn’t follow the regimented mathemathical/algebraic rules of the game, I guess. Mr. G’s message in my yearbook was that my grades in Calculus didn’t accurately reflect the level of my intelligence. I think I was fortunate enough to have great teachers who were able to recognize that…
Even when I sucked in their subjects (and let me state that I did get a “C” or two in high school – in chemistry, physics and calculus, actually), they knew I wasn’t a moron. I just didn’t think along the same lines as pretty much everyone else. I was fascinated by and interested in what they were teaching, but wanted to know, “WHY??” for everything. It got in the way of doing things.
This seems to be a continuing trend.
Anyway, tonight I have to drive to JFK to pick up Theresa and Kofi. Their flight is supposed to get in at 8:22, so let’s translate to reality and say 9/9:30 depending on a variety of factors including impending thunderstorms in this area. I think if I leave at 8ish, things will be good. I asked LJ to come with me since driving into JFK by myself at night when I’ve only driven there once before on my own is not a very pleasant thought. He kindly offered to come with me… if not to keep me awake, to keep me sane and alive, I suppose.
That’s what friends are for, Dionne “Psychic Friends” Warwick!!
Perhaps I should try to get a cup of tea and a nap in before I have to start thinking about leaving for the airport. Some nice Earl Grey with a spot of honey. Mmmmm. It should help pull me out of this funk – I would really rather just sleep than do anything tonight, but seeing friends will make me feel better, so this is an occasion upon which I have to overcome my initial reluctance and DO something.