Creativity and Depression

My creativity has always had a ceiling. In my manic creative phases, all my time, energy and thought is focused on my art. Relationships become almost impediments. Work, an interruption. Eventually, significant problems arise because of this, which shuts down the creative will. Sometimes just until the next work budget materializes. Sometimes it remains asleep a lot longer.

After a two-and-a-half year creative marathon recording my eponymous album, released in 2007, a series of events converged in my life ending my high artistic plateau, plunging me into severe depression. The album never found an audience or generated much income. Cracks formed in my marriage, putting it in peril. The Great Recession hit, bringing about the demise of my company. My best friend died too young at age 52. I suffered anosmia after a concussion. This convergence became my dark tunnel that lasted 7 years.

The Great Recession arrived in 2008, and a personal decline began to feed on itself. With my income dwindling to a trickle, there was no possibility to continue with my music. Anxiety crippled my creative spirit. As my business opportunities dried up, my self-doubt was sensed by potential new clients, sending them elsewhere. I felt like I had somehow wrecked my creative process, been found out as a fraudulent interactive programmer, and invalidated myself as a family member. It made me feel like I had to walk away from being an artist, chuck my old job skill-set, and start from scratch. The things that used to work for me were failing.

I went through the motions of doing everything I did when my interactive business was doing well, but there were no projects materializing. Before, when one project had concluded, I would get on the phone and make calls off my lists, and eventually there would be another one. The projects came to an end, and didn’t resume. My calls led nowhere. No one had budgets for content development, and there was nothing on the horizon.

Waking up became torturous. Re-emerging from sleep, I would resume the Endless Loop of:

-You are not bringing in money
-Your business went under
-You have no relevant job skills
-You are in your fifties
-Your marriage is struggling
-You have embarrassed yourself and your family with your ‘art’
-You have no-one to talk to about these things
-There is no reason to believe any of this will change any time soon

I tried to keep myself distracted. Immersing myself in a sports broadcast would provide temporary relief from the Endless Loop. Watching a film as I rode my stationary bike was a pause in the dark pressure. But for every savored lull came a jarring re-emergence into the ever-present swirling dark self-doubt.

Zoloft knocked down the depression at first, but eventually facts on the ground called the shots, and its effectiveness waned. I settled into a routine where any little ebbing of energy would be taken as a welcome opportunity to sleep and escape again. I had no idea how to productively spend my waking time. I was left with this vast blank black slate to scribble my Endless Loop over and over again in my head.

My wife had a good job in a bank, but it wasn’t enough to cover our bills. I had to go to my family asking for help with the shortfall. It was embarrassing to be reliant on others, but I had no visible route out of the awful maze I was trapped in. The thought that I would always be dependent on others, no longer employable, from my early fifties on thru my old age made me consider early death. The idea of being utter dead weight for decades longer was intolerable. The darkness that started in 2008 went on and on with no signs that an exit from it was possible.

By early 2013, my un-employment benefits were gone. I found a brochure for a training facility that taught CNC machining in some paperwork from the state. I called the office and spoke with a rep, who suggested it was a good idea to consider computerized manufacturing where there were jobs, because of my computer skills. With the smallest spark, I visualized a way out. My family helped me with tuition, and I signed up. Starting in the fall of 2013, through early 2015, I sailed through the courses, wondering how a guy my age was going to adjust to a new career working a manufacturing job on a factory floor.

An instructor told me about a 3D modeling program called Solidworks used in engineering offices. This was more what I had in mind when I thought about computerized manufacturing. I realized that I was more CAD (computer aided design) than CAM (computer aided manufacturing.) I bought a student version of Solidworks and studied online tutorials and lessons from June, 2014 until April, 2015 when I tested and got my certification. By June of 2015, I had a job as a mechanical drafter in an engineering office in Schaumburg, IL, and the fever finally broke.

Almost immediately the dark place I was trapped in ended. My life finally, blessedly resumed a normal rhythm. A healthy, mildly dull but soothing beat of normalcy has come to sustain me again. I am grateful every day to be able to go to a job that I enjoy. The family functions again. My children are healthy and doing well in school. The door of the long, black tunnel is behind me in the distance and closed now. Life has resumed.

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Author: eric@ericschuurman.com

Father, mechanical drafter, former musician.