creativity, oppression and depression

in his latest post on creating a way out of depression, john offers these words:

creative work communicates with others, and that connecting is a critical piece. it’s the opposite of the isolating impact of depression. for me, the human connection through creative work is life-giving.

so i’m realizing that i probably started this series with the wrong question. i don’t get where i need to be if i approach creative work only as a means to an end – like curing depression or building self-esteem. the question is not how do i capture that wonderful feeling of creative working more frequently and use it as a counter to depression. the question is how do i complete creative work in spite of the presence of depression.

instead of seeing the solution as stringing together as many of these “high” creative moments as i can, i have to think of the practical dimension of living ordinary life through all the lows that major depression too reliably brings and still in the end complete the most creative work i’m capable of.

the minute i turn that around and view creative work primarily as the cure for depression, the work will certainly suffer. and if i see depression as the reason i can’t do creative work, then i’m on the road to a self-fulfilling prophesy. either way, i’ll continue to be depressed and i won’t get much creating done.

i was very touched by them and would like to explore what it is that moved me. perhaps we can move together.

let me just try a bit of free association here.

depression makes me think of sadness. this strange combination of sadness and creativity, i think, may be one of the reasons why i am so strangely attracted to writing about cancer. all the people in my life who have been affected by cancer are people who are/were highly creative, each in their own way.

i am writing this as i am listening to blues, an art form that has been important to me ever since my childhood.

another art form that has influenced me since my childhood are the creative ways of the oppressed jewish people (just like the blues of oppressed african americans?), from yiddish music to yiddish stories to yiddish jokes. the degree to which i feel passionate about that surprises me to this day. i often wonder, do i have some jewish blood in my ancestry that i don’t know about? (this shouldn’t be a surprise given that according to research, an average of 10% in a generation is “irregular” paternity; i.e. the father ain’t who we think it is)

whatever it is, i have always been irresistibly drawn to the lives of oppressed people.
an oppressed woman
so let’s make the connection from depression to oppression. a few years ago, while tracing the history of depression, i looked at the connection between depression and suppression.

when you look it up in the dictionary, “depression” is derived from “deprimere”, and “deprimere” means “to press down”. the interesting thing, though, is that “supprimere” (to suppress) means “to press down”, as well.

to oppress means, literally, to press against.

let’s pull it together, then: when someone – a single person, or a whole people – is oppressed (pressed against), their voice is suppressed (pressed down, into the underground) and depression may very well be the result.

also: when someone is oppressed (pressed against) by cancer, their voice is suppressed (pressed down, into the underground) and depression may very well be the result.

the underground, the place where the suppressed/depressed/oppress end up, the underground both of society and of our minds and hearts, is a fertile ground for creativity.

creativity as the phoenix that rises from the hidden ashes.

and it is the voice of creativity that helps, time and again, the oppressed to rise up.

the cycle completes?

(and how does this relate to cancer?)

(image by dude crash)


  1. i would assume it’s random, in the sense that if you look at occupations, i would imagine that there’s little correlation between being an artist and suffering from cancer.

    it just so happens that each and every one of the people i know who are dealing with it are also very creative people.

    and certainly one could experience cancer as a form of oppression, and perhaps see creative acts as ways of escaping the feeling of oppression?

    again, just thinking out loud here. sometimes that’s risky on a blog, i know …

  2. “…there’s little correlation between being an artist and suffering from cancer.”

    Depends on the severity of the creativity, eh?

    My recent and damnably lingering passage through the oppression of multiple medical drugs has sharpened my creativity; and, the oppression has enabled a submission to my Faith that I had never suspected I was capable of… (that’s a perfectly permissible preposition…)

    Alexander M Zoltai’s last blog post..Food, Health, and Common Sense

  3. Thank you for the quote – I’m always interested in what exactly draws someone’s attention in a post. Those are wonderful associations that happen to work for me as well. I certainly feel the link between depression and suppression, something that I still do to myself. Blues, especially jazz and John Coltrane had an enormous impact on me, but I must say I’m afraid to listen to much of that now. It seems to play into a tendency to dwell in my own darkness too much – not fair to the music – but I’m constantly playing those compositions in my head, free of the moodiness. Creativity and cancer are linked in my life quite directly -in fact, it was my rebellion against giving in to cancer when depressed that started me going in recovery. Lastly, working with oppressed communities is something I did for a fifteen years or so. I’m not quite sure what all that means, but we happen to link a lot of things together in similar ways.


    John D’s last blog post..Spiritual Paths to Healing – 3

  4. It’s an interesting exercise to think about the things, situations and thoughts that can lead to depression.

    Sometimes just by knowing what triggers something we can find a way out.

    Our lives always leave clues for us to experience the best…we just have to recognize the clues before they dissapear.

  5. Depression should never stand in the way of creative goals, no matter how powerful it seems.

    It is the hardest thing – and yet the easiest thing in the world – to explain why this should be the case: as creative beings our purpose must necessarily be to pass our creativity down to the next generation. Anything that stands in the way of that obligation must be inherently wrong.

    Depression makes us weak – it breaks down our creative juices. That’s how we can see through its deception – how we can think we deserve it in the midst of it being one of the most wrong things that can be visited upon us.

    B. Rene Williams’s last blog post..Sep 19, Domain Sales by Power Wealth Creation

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