A few weeks ago, I heard author Matthew Johnstone talking about his experience of depression on the BBC World Service, and it got me thinking about the link between depression, dreams and the creative life.
Strikingly, Matthew said he would not change anything – his depression was part of him. Rather than try to kill the black dog, he had learnt how to tame it.
In the West, we treat depression as an illness, a malfunction in the brain which needs to be cured with chemicals or brought under control by psychological explanations.
Depression challenges all our cultural values. It makes us antisocial in a world where naturally solitary types are labelled ‘poorly socialised’; it makes us still, in a world of manic activity.
Depression stops us from having what we want – which boils down to happiness – and we believe we should always be able to get what we want, because this is a secular world. Without God/fate/mystery, we expect to have control over our own lives.
Nobody would choose to feel depressed, but that is precisely the opportunity depression brings. It brings us to a standstill on our chosen track and, by stopping us from having what we think we want, it opens us up to something new and unexpected. It makes our life bigger.
It’s a well-documented fact that people dream more during periods of depression. Often these dreams are particularly vivid and memorable; they release a torrent of new images which, if we pay attention, can open doorways into new places of the mind, and inspire new directions in life. The loss of these life-giving dreams may be one of the most harmful side-effects of antidepressant drugs.
Many writers label their depression as ‘writer’s block.’ Suddenly the story they thought they had all planned out is stalled, or they can’t find any ideas for the next one. But this is the gift of the black dog for writers – it forces you to be still and receptive, so that new insights and inspirations can come in.
Writer’s block is simply impatience, which means literally the inability to tolerate suffering, delay, toil or vexation (from the Latin word meaning ‘to bear’)
Depression can feel dark and frightening, like a big black dog, but kicking him will make him mean. Don’t try to kill him, but don’t underestimate him either – if he hangs around your house, you need to tame him.
I think the black dog is a special danger for children and young people, before life has given them the perspective of time or put support systems in place. That’s why I wrote my children’s book, ‘How 2B Happy’, in which the very first principle is that we can’t be happy all the time; we have to accept unhappiness. But we can deal with it, and discover what gifts it brings.
In my last two posts, I’ve been talking about synchronicity, and needless to say several blog posts on dreams and depression have come to my attention this week. Toko-pa has written a passionate piece here, in which she talks about ‘the intelligence of our melancholia’ http://toko-pa.com/2007/03/08/bleed-joyfully-a-fresh-view-of-depression/#comment-497 You might also enjoy this piece from ispeakindreams http://ispeakindreams.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/the-beauty-of-our-dreams-healing-within-dreams/
Has a period of depression ever led to a breakthrough for you?