I hesitate to do this because it’s such a fraught topic, but I wanted to write about the art of composing while depressed. I don’t intend to speak for everyone’s experiences (I know some have had it much worse), but somehow I don’t think I’m the only artist in the era of late-stage capitalism to experience infrequent bouts of mild-to-moderate depression. So here we go.
The most obvious effect of depression on creativity is that your motivation generally goes way down. This isn’t always true–sometimes creative endeavors can be a refuge from depression–but it can just as easily be a minefield. Added to that, your tolerance for rejection is almost non-existent, and composers inevitably face a lot of rejection (as Rob Deemer’s post about Jennifer Jolley recently reminded me). A lot of this can often be mitigated by tricking yourself into just sitting down and starting, becoming immersed in the work before you have a chance to question yourself. But here another, more complicated problem shows up. You find that your critical faculties, so essential to the creation of work, are completely misaligned. When you are working in an area where you’re used to relying on intuition and instinct, this can be absolutely crippling. Irrational thoughts creep in, rejecting almost every idea before it has a chance to blossom. A rational mind recognizes when an idea just needs a little more development or reworking; a depressed mind has trouble with this concept. Or even worse, the anhedonia prevents anything from being good or bad. Instead, everything sounds equally lackluster, a gray ocean of mediocrity.
I still don’t have a reliable way around this, and I’m not sure there is a surefire solution. What I have found is that sometimes, just sometimes, I’m able to get my ear back by “pushing through,” for lack of a better term. That is, I act as though my critical abilities are intact, purely by memory of what they used to be, even if I don’t feel them. If I am persistent enough, then at some point they might kick in again, and at that point I’m no longer pretending. And even if they don’t kick in, I’ve still put the work in and have something to come back to the next day.
I guess the appropriate cliché would be “fake it ‘til you make it,” but I dislike how that phrase sets up ordinary instincts as the fake part. The enthusiasm and excitement I normally feel when composing–that’s the real stuff!