• What I've learned: depression and songwriting.
We've all read of Van Gogh's ear, Hemingway's prowess with self-inflicted shotgun wounds, Kurt Cobain's last days. And we think to ourselves, or at least a lot of us do, that great mental depression and great art must go hand in hand.
I couldn't disagree more.
As a person who has dealt with depression for as long as he can remember, I see it as something that gets in the way of great art. Because when you're depressed, you don't want to play your guitar, write a poem, sing, create. Or I least I don't. No, I want to sleep, or drink a little, or maybe just have a nice cup of coffee in the hope the caffeine will perk me up.
More important, I think people confuse depression with hardship. Personally, I believe that emotionally intense times/thoughts/conversations can lead to interesting, maybe even great, art, but they are very different from what you feel as a result of depression. An intense experience -- even a happy one, for matter! -- triggers a raft of feelings, stirs up your thoughts, make you look at the world differently. Depression is deadening. It kills thought, or at the very least, creates a very one dimensional thought pattern, hardly the kind of rich, nuanced, layers thinking required of lasting, meaningful art. In fact, research has shown that autopsies of people who suffered depression have brains that are missing gobs of healthy tissue compared to people who were not depressed.
I used to romanticize depression but now I hate depression. I fight it every way I can, and I will not for a moment give it credit for anything I've done, because I have never written a song in its clutches. Only when I've come out of an episode, have I been creative. Clint Eastwood calls me a member of the Pussy Generation for my condition. So be it. But I side with the folks who characterize depression as a disease: you can treat it, you can reduce it, but there is no surefire way to cure it. Not even Scientology.
If you have depression you're tortured for sure, but not necessarily an artist.
If anyone out there reading this post is interested, the best book I've read on depression is Against Depression, by Peter Kramer.