Creativity and Mental Health`

Anyone who possesses strong passions and the  burning need to express what they feel knows about the need to create. Having a mental illness creates a sort of “passion” within, if we use a Webster’s New World dictionary definition. When I was suffering from panic disorder I certainly had very strong feelings and emotions, and when I read the definition for “passion,” I laughed aloud. I felt like agoraphobia is almost synonymous with passion in the dictionary which emphasizes “suffering” and “agony” as the strongest emotions evoked, and suggests that “passion” is the combining of all strong emotions such as “hate, grief, love, fear, joy,etc.”

If you’re suffering chronic panic attacks as I once did, you are a passionate person and you have a need to express your feelings on the matter. I’m here to recommend to all agoraphobes that you begin immediately to discover a way to express yourself creatively. I’m bringing up the therapeutic benefits of creativity in view of the self-inflicted deaths of two male actors recently. Both men, James Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams, performed creatively in their crafts, but battled with depression and the downside of self medicating symptoms.  Some of the publicity about their deaths spoke of the destructive aspects of being mentally ill and highly creative.

There has been a connection between mental illness and creativity through the ages – much of it negative. Depression weighed upon the astronomer/physicist Isaac Newton, the composer Johann S. Bach, the painter Van Gogh and countless other famously creative people. The upside to these recent, tragic deaths is that we’re talking openly about mental illness. While we’re doing that, I want to keep a light shining on the benefits of creative thinking for folks I know best – people with panic disorder.

I used creative thinking and creative processes as tools in helping me totally recover from panic disorder and agoraphobia. I learned to become a potter and later how to draw and paint as a form of therapy, though I didn’t know that’s what was happening at the time.  I began my mental health career by volunteering at my town’s Mental Health Center, teaching pottery and drawing sessions. When I actually became employed at the Mental Health Center in my new town after I recovered from agoraphobia, it was because I was running their pottery program as a volunteer.  For most of the 17 years I was a full time mental health social worker, I also ran a drawing class for the Center’s day drop-in program. I think I can speak as an expert in this particular area. I know how grounding and calming clay work can be and I benefited many times from the meditation-like practice of drawing for 2 or more hours per sitting.  I saw how those very same activities benefited folks with seriously disabling mental illness.

That’s why I’m recommending you learn a new skill, preferably in the arts. Doing so will better you in the following ways: it will help you gain confidence as you improve your abilities; it will show you the benefits of meditative-like activities; it will re-direct your thinking to a more objective look at your world, and it will give you an outlet for your passionate feelings.




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