Creativity: for me, this is the magical feeling of having ideas flying around in my head, excitement about working out stories or illustrations. It always fills me with a lot of energy and excitement, but this feeling felt very far away when I was struggling with my depression.
Read on to learn how I got back into creativity after struggling with my mental health
As always, this story is written from my personal experience of how I connected to my creative spark and how it helped me during my depression. Everyone’s experience is different, but I hope sharing it will help in a small way to reconnect you with yours!
Recognize what gives you energy
Being honest, I was not a very creative person before my depression. I have always had many ideas in my head, but never had enough courage to make them a reality. When struggling with my mental health, the endless pit of black and beige did not help to inspire any new ideas either. I found it quite difficult to feel the small sparks of positiveness in this period – and those are so important!
My biggest inspiration to pay attention to these sparks was Martina from Simon & Martina. She explains that it’s important to pay attention to the small things that help you build a ladder to climb out of the dark pit. Mental and physical health struggles have an enormous impact on how we feel, and doing small things that make you feel better help more than you may think.
A few things that help me build my ladder (and inspire creativity):
- Writing or talking about travel
- Anime and cartoons, always make me feel better watching it
- Watching Simon & Martina on YouTube
- Taking a walk and listening to an audiobook (Rick Riordan or JK Rowling were my faves last year)
- Drawing cute illustrations and listening to podcasts
- Meeting up with friends
Start small – getting back to creativity
I have the tendency to be very strict with myself. This is one of the main reasons I wasn’t very creative before, as I was so scared of failure. However, during my sick leave I spent so much time by myself, I decided to give drawing and watercolors a try. My therapist was thrilled, but also very clear: “do it for the enjoyment only”.
So I started small, following Youtube tutorials and copying simple drawings. Later, I started blogging again but did not let anyone know I was publishing new articles. I started a second Instagram account, which gave me a lot of joy, but didn’t tell any of my friends. Not sharing these things with anyone was for one reason: to eliminate external pressure. It also removed the external validation I received, which meant I started learning which things I really liked and did for myself – and which were perhaps more for the external world.
This made a HUGE difference! It has helped me understand what I enjoy, and learn that it’s fine to suck at something. Yep, this is legitimately something I had to learn, that it is okay to do something and be bad at it – as long as you’re having fun. Better late than never I think 😉.
Allow time for your creativity
This was a suggestion from my coach and therapist – once you identify what gives you energy, allow time for it. It felt counter-intuitive, as I often did not feel in the right headspace to be creative. However, sometimes I needed to push myself to get started and felt much better once I was doing something which gave me energy.
I sometimes still feel like this today, and what works best for me is to plan that I am going to do something creative. I don’t define what, when or how long – it’s about the enjoyment of creating something, not the actual output itself. My drawing or painting may not be museum-worthy, but that doesn’t matter if I enjoyed making the painting.
What also helps me a lot is to allow myself to get bored. It sounds strange, but I have a tendency to keep myself busy with unnecessary tasks. But when I sit still and allow myself to get bored, I get creative! It allows the creative thoughts to get through, which were otherwise being crowded out by the tasks I was doing. This is how I got to do the final edit today – in a tiny café in Tokyo.
Don’t compare to ‘before’
This is something I really struggled with, and I believe many other people do too. It is easy to think about how I used to be ‘before’; how I used to think, my energy levels and my creativity. However, going through depression allowed me to improve certain behaviors and allowed for a lot of self-reflection. A key phrase that stuck with me was:
“you will never be the old you, you will be a new you”
I took a creative writing class earlier this year, and something the teacher Laura Jane Williams said really stuck with me. She kept repeating “you are not your art, your art is your art”. This means that it’s ok if your art isn’t the greatest, it doesn’t say anything about you as a person.
This is something I still struggle with because my inner voice still tries to convince me everything has to be perfect the first time. However, I’m happy that I have been able to silence that voice for the most part, and have been enjoying producing art and writing just for the fun of it.
Expect some resistance
My depression always felt as if it didn’t want me to get better. It actively resisted activities that would help me or give me energy – that’s what it felt like at least. I learned over time that this resistance would always be a present factor, and if I wanted to work on something creative, this is something I would have to learn to work with.
Feelings and behavior have a function, and avoiding something does not always mean that what you’re avoiding is negative. In my case, feeling resistance to being creative was in part my depression, and in part my fear of failure. Once I acknowledged this and addressed my fear of failure, the resistance I felt became less and working past it became easier.
Most importantly: Don’t wait until you feel better. The importance of building your ladder is doing something small every day. This applies also if you are not in a great mental space. Whether this is a five-minute doodle or dancing along to a song you like, it doesn’t really matter. Anything that will give you a spark of positivity and creativity is a huge win.
Give yourself time and be patient…
For me, this was the hardest part of all. Everyone that knows me, knows I’m extremely impatient (eh, my Aries nature always just wants to be on the go). But the cliche is true, allowing yourself time helps tremendously. Don’t force it, and hopefully, you will start to see the first sparks of creativity breaking through the beige-ness. In the end what helped me the most was not being too hard with myself, and learning to enjoy the process.
If you are struggling with mental health, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone to talk. Friends, family or a professional – or myself if you like. My Instagram is open if you would like to talk 😊.