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Miles and Miles of No-Man's Land
March 6, 2014 7:04 PM   Subscribe

"Certainly, there appears to be a large correlation between artists and depression. But I would argue that artistic expression is not a symptom of depression so much as a response to it. I see writing as an act of resistance against an occupying enemy who means to kill me. It’s why I’m writing this now." YA author Libba Bray on living with depression.
posted by changeling (15 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
At the risk of sounding like a cad, it is her writing in battle against her depression as opposed to her depression running through her like a river unstoppable and coloring her perspective on the world and how she chooses to interpret it on the page is what separates her from the masters like Hemingway, Brautigan, Foster Wallace, etc etc etc. This is a bleak view of things, I admit. But I am also a lifelong sufferer from depression. I feel as though all the best writing in history is basically pain expressed creatively. Writing is unique in this regard, in my view. Painting, sculpture, music, et al can be a wonderful expression of anything. But words, words are pain.
posted by mediocre at 7:21 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


there appears to be a large correlation between artists and depression.

Is this actually clinically proven, or are those in the arts more likely to seek help and recieve the diagnosis?

/on anti-depressants
posted by jonmc at 7:34 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


"If I think about what depression really feels like, I imagine a kind of featureless black substance that causes intense psychic pain as I approach it. As though there were a psychiatric analogue of radium and I was trapped in a very small room with it. This pain makes me adopt a wide range of behaviors like self-loathing or cutting or drinking or snorting heroin. The despair itself is none of these behaviors, it only engenders them. These behaviors are what you would call the symptoms of depression and all of them serve as layers of insulation from this primary, elemental despair. The symptoms of depression are all, in a sense, forms of treatment. The self-afflicting weapons that I, a depressed person, aim at myself are only accidentally pointed in a suicidal direction. Their real target is this elemental and featureless despair, which lies behind and beyond my self, at the nearest approach my awareness can have to a purely physiological aspect of my mind."
posted by Iridic at 7:50 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]


Welp, only took one comment to pit the YA author against "the masters." Sigh.

That said, I like Libba Bray, I think her fiction is powerful, and I don't care how she channels or doesn't channel her depression—as a writer who struggles with depression, I am glad she's using her words for good here.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:14 PM on March 6 [12 favorites]


I think those in the arts are less likely to seek help. There's a powerful romantic pull in being a tortured artist.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:18 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I thought this was a really powerful personal essay on depression! But I'll admit to being a little surprised by the framing here-- I didn't feel that the author's thoughts on artists and depression were a focal point of the piece, and to be honest that paragraph kind of stuck out to me as one that was noticeably less insightful (and more well-trod) than the rest surrounding it.
posted by threeants at 8:38 PM on March 6


Try as I might, mediocre, I cannot quite figure out what your critique of her is.
posted by samizdat at 8:44 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


there appears to be a large correlation between artists and depression.

I wonder how this is broken down by medium. (I have a vague feeling sculptors and ceramicists may be more easygoing than oil painters.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:10 PM on March 6


Mud, mud, glorious mud.
posted by walrus at 11:45 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Yep, that's what a dementor attack feels like.
posted by Coaticass at 1:59 AM on March 7


I think those in the arts are less likely to seek help. There's a powerful romantic pull in being a tortured artist.

I think this is crap. A huge, steaming load of horse crap. Such a huge load that you'd need some kind of big tracked piece of construction equipment with an extra large bucket to move it. I actually had to sit down and take a deep breath so that i could post something more substantiative than "maybe if you're 14".

Read about things like, for example, this.

This is the reality of like, 90% of the artists i know. Healthcare is not an option. You don't choose to not seek help, there is no choice to seek it in the first place.

While i have met artists who, in my(shitty asshole buttface) opinion were obsessed with some "romantic" idea of being some tortured soul, it was just an affectation. i've never met anyone who actually really desperately needed some kind of medical or mental health treatment who didn't really wish they were getting it. I guess the only exception to that would be people resigning themselves that they weren't going to get it because it just seemed like an unrealistic goal. Well i mean, i guess there was the other exception of the "i'm perfectly fine with my weird brain, thanks" folks who might seem quite odd or just "not the norm" to others, but they're not really tortured now are they.

Are there people who don't take their meds because they feel more creative, less "foggy", like they actually have real feelings and less of a flat affect or whatever else off them? yea. And to let you in on a secret, i was one of those people.

If you want to talk about people who romanticize stupid shit, talk about people who do it with drugs. That one is absolutely real. But with this situation, i think that most of the characterizations are actually kind of offensive and only based in the ideas of what media and passed around tropes/assumptions/etc have preloaded into people. It's not more real than this crap, but people will keep saying it ad infinitum.
posted by emptythought at 2:43 AM on March 7 [8 favorites]


i've never met anyone who actually really desperately needed some kind of medical or mental health treatment who didn't really wish they were getting it.

...

Are there people who don't take their meds because they feel more creative, less "foggy", like they actually have real feelings and less of a flat affect or whatever else off them? yea. And to let you in on a secret, i was one of those people.
posted by emptythought at 4:43 AM on March 7


I've known many writers who clearly suffered from something (depression, bipolar, various other things) who felt that getting treatment for their issues would lead to less authentic art - it wasn't so much that they had a romantic attachment to the idea of the tortured artist as that they had a romantic attachment to the idea of "authenticity" (where authenticity was all tied up in ideas about being unmedicated and "natural" that seemed very suspect to me). Meanwhile, they couldn't get any work done.

In the US, the availability and expense of treatment is a big issue that I suspect dwarfs the problems of resistance to treatment for other reasons. But in Canada, where I used to live, I knew quite a few people who tried a single course of treatment then gave up on it because that one drug made them feel weird. Because of my age at the time, most of those people were in their early 20s, so maybe you wouldn't see that in an older cohort, I don't know.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:04 AM on March 7


The problem is not that being a tortured soul makes you a great artist.

The problem is that depression makes your life a living hell and you would do anything to escape it - suicide, drugs, art, you name it.

There is nothing inherently wrong with using a coping mechanism like generating your own fictional universe to deal with an inescapably shitty situation - the problem is knowing when to give it up, not having it in the first place.
posted by mikurski at 10:15 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


People romanticize misanthropy and cynicism. They don't tend to romanticize bad sensory hallucinations, emotional paralysis, grinding for hours around on a single nonsensical idea, and paranoia so severe it creates agoraphobia. They also don't tend to romanticize the screaming matches among family members involving delusional accusations.

The misanthropy and cynicism are good days for me on drugs. The rest are why I made the decision to take drugs.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:55 AM on March 7


"Certainly, there appears to be a large correlation between artists and depression. But I would argue that artistic expression is not a symptom of depression so much as a response to it. I see writing as an act of resistance against an occupying enemy who means to kill me. It’s why I’m writing this now."

Unless I'm wildly mis-interpreting, this seems to be a comment on the idea of writing as catharsis, does it not?

If so, then that's a pretty well-known concept and it's why projects like this exist: Lapidus
posted by lorelei_ at 3:16 PM on March 8


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