Can you feel that? I can.
There is a sense of motion in the space that surrounds you. A timeless notion. A breeze unfelt.
Can you see that? Patterns in your mind’s eye. Magical spaces. Flow states.
You felt that come and go, didn’t you. The way it pulled you inside out, from the walnut deep inside your belly. The way it held the space for you. The way it honored time. The way it captured light and dark. You felt that because you feel everything. While the rest of the world sleeps.
Some say depression is a result of chemical imbalance in the brain. Others say it is a manifestation of pain stemming from childhood experiences. Or an imbalance in the gut microbiome. My first memory of depression was at age four. Fuck you. You don’t have a completely mundane existence at age four and end up with depression. My loving parents were together, and I played with legos and dolls, frisking through the neighborhood with the other children my age. Nothing bad ever happened to me. Except the world. The world was a very bad place. And I was one of the few people who could feel and see and know the patterns. The artist is an empath.
Depression, as it is commonly perceived, is a darkness inside. A roller-coaster of turmoil, a place to hide. It is head trash and demons. Wistful spaces to escape the confines of our perceived reality. And it is inescapable. Unsurmountable. Almost unbelievable. And contrary to popular belief, a place you’d rather live in than live without. For the artist never truly seeks to get out of their depression; they just think they do.
If you re-define depression as a state of heightened sensitivity, you can allow yourself the choice of heightened perception. How you choose to use this perception is yours, but most highly sensitive people choose the arts. Their sense of reality becomes a portal to wisdom, to depth of understanding, to creative expression meant for the masses. What does that mean for the rest, the non-sensitives? It’s probable that they did have bad experiences in childhood – lies told by parents, teachers, peers – that they can’t escape. Head trash. Negative self-talk. The demons that live within. Getting out of that takes years of personal development work for the extrovert who has not developed an expansive inner world. But for the introverted artist, “depression” is merely a shift in consciousness.
If depression in the artist is a shift in consciousness belonging to a highly sensitive person with an expansive inner world, the paradox is that, like any person, the artist can create their own reality, their own perception of their depression until it traps them inside a box they cannot escape. Such is the mind of the creative person who has the ability to weave complex stories, including those they can’t escape from. Because the world itself and human nature is complex, and sometimes the simple route is to create a simple lie that you can tell yourself and everyone else.
The nature of depression and anxiety is one of the biggest and most misunderstood lies we live in our culture. Not all cultures, for certain indigenous groups have very different belief systems, such as the shamanic view of mental disease, which respects the experiences of the highly sensitive person as valid portals and bridges to metaphysical spaces that the science of Western culture rejects. The highly sensitive artist in a depressed and anxious state has tapped into the actual feeling of the waxing and waning of physical space and time. Moon cycles. Tides. The cycles of cellular turnover in our tissues. Airplanes and vehicles. The sun rising and setting. A woman’s menstrual cycle. The past and the future sharing a space in the present. The sigh of the person standing across the room. The silent tear of the man next to you. The heightened fear of the woman trapped in her mind behind you. The collective consciousness of all of mankind and its pain. Eastern philosophy refers to etheric energy and beyond to define the space that surrounds the body, which can be easily felt and experienced by any highly sensitive person. Just ask them. It’s not just shit that the mind makes up when millions of people in other cultures have as strong a belief and evidentiary support for their experiences as you do for your Christ and God.
I used to talk with wild animals as a small child, compose songs, and saw death timelines above people around me who were on destructive paths. I was scared at times to breathe in their spaces. I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I didn’t know until I was an adult. I was a gifted kid with a genius IQ who was locked out of many spaces in my outer world because my mind conflicted with social paradigms. I questioned too much. I saw too much. I knew too much. I was scared. I would have been labeled “depressed” if anyone had been able to get a glimpse into my inner world. I was an artist.
What is the actual experience of depression and anxiety for the highly sensitive artist? It takes the inner world to a whole new level. And it requires darkness and space and time to process. There is actually nothing wrong with the state of depression itself, so long as it does not contain the negative self-talk and flashbacks of the individual who is still processing past trauma. Rather, the depression or sensitivity of the artist is simply in conflict with the structure and confines of the outer world – namely cultural and social obligations such as going to work, interacting with family, caregiving, and the like. Even eating and sleeping can interfere with the artist’s need to process the external stimuli they have received, which comes at them from all directions, in ebbs and flows. Here the artist wants to say Fuck You to the world, and they should. Because you can’t be a highly sensitive person and not realize that the systems our fucked up leaders and culture have created are highly destructive to the psyche. Forcing children to sit unnaturally at desks in rows in front of a platform from where they are spoon fed propaganda under fluorescent lighting is so fucking obvious, and nobody is talking about it. The artist talks about it. The artist is well aware of what goes on in the world that is completely unnatural to the highly adaptive brain, spirit, and its physical body as well. Ask science how well human beings actually “evolve” to be able to thrive in our current society – science will tell you we don’t evolve; we adapt, and poorly at that. And we are all sick because of it.
Understanding depression and anxiety in the highly sensitive artist is an opportunity to teach humanity about the level of respect for the dignity of the unique human person that is lacking in our society. Due to the complex nature of the inner world of the artist’s mind, the lack of integration of mind, body and spirit, the shame and blame culture, the predominantly Western push for an idealized state of the ego’s expression, and the excuse to label and homogenize collective emotional states and lifestyles, the exact nature of the artist’s depression has yet to reveal itself as an empowering force. All human beings are unique and creative in their potential, at all levels.
Depression doesn’t hide itself. Depression wants to scream. Depression is a highly sensitive, highly adaptive, highly functioning state of consciousness within a remarkably creative individual. It only wants air to breathe, so that the artist in turn may breathe life into the world, to shift paradigms, to be catalysts for change, and to love humanity in a way it’s never seen before.