Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Depression and Creativity

My year is split into two design seasons - Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer. In each six month period I spend about 7 weeks doing muslins (design mock-ups in raw cotton) and 6 weeks putting together samples (the finished designs in the actual fabric). These days, Birds of North America collections can easily comprise 30 styles a season so during my 3 month muslin/sample time things need to progress at a fairly swift pace.  

A lot of the time the process rolls along smoothly. The muslins satisfy the vision I have in my head, samples pass my rigorous but somewhat intangible fit/look/construction requirements and the collection takes shape in a generally satisfying way. Sometimes things don’t work out and a style will not come together no matter what I do. It stresses me out because there is so little room for movement in the schedule that time of year and it can cause a delay of several days if I get stuck on something.

In that moment when I feel that I am failing, there is nothing positive anyone can say about my work, no praise that would make me feel like what I am doing is ok. My thoughts grow dark and pessimistic, and if I’m not able to recognize what is happening, it will result in a downward spiral of feelings of failure, hopelessness and anger. I have often found myself trying to cope with these feelings by curling up in bed in the fetal position for hours on a weekday afternoon, trying to disappear from life. It’s not a lingering thing generally - more of an intense 2-6 hour plunge into darkness. I would categorize it as a type of depression. Whatever it is, it’s not productive and not fun.  
On the other hand, when things are going well with my muslin and sample process, I feel fantastic. It’s what I imagine a manic high to feel like. I feel invincible, like I can do anything and solve any problem. It definitely feels better than the other side of the experience, but it is still an emotional state that is neither realistic nor truthful.

I have been trying to figure out for many years why I have these intense reactions to good and bad work days. It seems obvious that I have my sense of self worth tied very closely to my work. I am a perfectionist, and when I’m not able to meet the level of perfection I desire, I feel like I have failed. These days, I am coming to accept that this is maybe just how I work.

I believe that in order for a person to be forced to seek a creative outlet, there needs to be some kind of imbalance in their life. It is when we feel lost, dissatisfied and unhappy that we search hardest for answers. I am slowly coming to cherish my seemingly messed up reactions because I know that my creativity comes from the point of intersection of suffering and delight in my experience of life.  

I am no stranger to depression, but my reaction towards those feelings has changed in the last five years. I feel I have found a way to understand and find value in this particular type of “flash” depressive state by integrating the episodes into my creative process. Embracing and sometimes even welcoming them has allowed me the space to look at what my own mind is trying to tell me. The concepts for the “In Situ” shots for each collection often come out of an afternoon spent in bed, peering over the edge of the abyss of meaningless.

I feel I need to say that depression is different for everyone, and there is a wide range of causes and degrees of severity, therefore there is no one right way to deal with it. The kind of insight I have been able to find is probably more accessible when it comes to the shorter, more intense variety of episode than a chronic, long-term manifestation. Depression is still an unavoidable symptom of the human condition and therefore a part of human life. When it arises for me, I am grateful to be able to recontextualize it through fashion and deal with it in a creative way.

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