Empowering CREATIVES – Ep. 1 – Mad for ART? (Music & Mental Health)

Empowering CREATIVES – Ep. 1 – Mad for ART? (Music & Mental Health)


The world loves creatives! The general population can name more musicians, artists, actors, and authors than scientists, psychologists, mathematicians, and lawyers But while society and culture venerate the likes of Ludwig von Beethoven, Vincent van Gogh, Marilyn Monroe, and Sylvia Plath, they also hold the stigma of suffering. This association has been ingrained in our thoughts. So even us creatives accept it as truth. This belief has led to great losses in our creative community through substance abuse, as with Heath Ledger and Amy Winehouse, Through suicide as with Robin Williams and Alexander McQueen among so many others. We need to break this belief. Creatives have certain traits and are often in environments that can easily lead to stress, depression, anxiety, and other illnesses. But we also have characteristics and skills that when used correctly can form happiness, creative flow, success, and deep fulfillment. I’m here to help you shift your routines and Perspectives to well-being by using the characteristics and skills you already possess. What is creativity? Creativity is essentially looking at things with a unique perspective Often it is taking two completely unrelated things and putting them together to create something new Interestingly enough, this definition is closely related to the original term for madness. In ancient societies and Medieval times, madness did not have the destructive and dangerous connotation that it does today. Rather, a mad person was someone who didn’t quite fit in, had thoughts unlike everyone else, essentially, they had different perspectives. In early times mad people were not locked up or sent to correctional facilities. They were sent to the outskirts of town to do their own thing. Now, the top definitions of mad (from Merriam-Webster) are: “arising from, indicative of, or marked by mental disorder,” “completely unrestrained by reason and judgment, unable to think in a clear or sensible way,” And, “Incapable of being explained or accounted for.” The word, along with the treatment of people who are mad, has become negative and harmful While the meaning changed throughout time, madness is still associated with creativity. Unfortunately, this connection has led to some very destructive beliefs regarding what it means to be a creative person. Struggling, starving, crazy, mad!– These beliefs turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. Creative people are more likely to struggle with mental illness than the general population My background is in music, and I enjoyed taking a lot of music history classes in my undergrad and graduate studies. I loved learning about how music relates to societies and cultures, the context under which a piece of music was composed, and possible motives for musicians. However, it contains destructive tropes, and Without a really good instructor who coaxes you to question everything in the text, you absorb them One common trope is that of the struggling musician. Here are some of the canonical musicians and their disorders that I learned about Mussorgsky-alcoholism, Felix Mendelssohn-aneurysm, Ravel-brain injury, Robert Schumann-depression and syphilis, Beethoven-deafness, depression & other chronic illnesses, Tchaikovsky-depression, Rachmaninoff-depression, Chopin-tuberculosis Wagner-migraines & other chronic illnesses, Mozart-possibly rheumatic fever?, chronic pain & illness, Gershwin-brain tumor, Franz Schubert-syphilis (therefore mental illness), Bruckner-OCD, Berlioz-manic depression, and Hildegard von Bingen-migraines. Now, we can’t blame the musicologists. Most people are fascinated with these musicians’ stories. These ailments make the people real and relatable. We are fascinated with the fact that despite their challenges, they all created great art. Mentioning the struggles of the musicians in and of itself isn’t harmful, but there is a question that often arises that sparks anxiety in a young musicians mind, that musician who wants more than anything to succeed, who yearns for the spotlight, the possibility that through their music they too can become timeless. That question causes a subconscious correlation: Is it the illness, the pain, the suffering, the struggle that causes the musicians brilliant creativity? This thought, however brief, can get lodged in the brain. It is especially dangerous for the ones who really yearn for success, recognition, and legacy. It is toxic, trickles throughout the mind, often unseen. So when it becomes reality, its source remains unknown. Over 70% of musicians have struggled with anxiety, and nearly 70% of musicians have suffered from depression. That is three times that of the general population! Now these are not unique to music. The other creative fields hold dangerous stereotypes that manifest into reality too. Dancers are more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than the general population, and They hold the stereotype of having eating disorders to maintain a certain physical image. These are perpetuated by the media with films such as the Black Swan. The fashion industry is also associated with models having eating disorders, and depression has plagued it, literally killing designers. Authors are seen as alcoholics and depressed loners with the likes of Hemingway to look up to. The statistics reflect it. These beliefs sink in and . . . Become a demon, which We carry with us. The beasts Erode the best of us, suck us Dry, dampen our feelings bring Pain and fear. They Propagate inside our Bodies, our minds, our souls. Slowly Decomposing, irritating, devastating. Some demons advertise their Existence to the world, while others Remain hidden. Eating away at us, they are Chronic illness, paranoia, and depression; Disease, substance abuse, and apathy; Paralysis, greed, and dependence! [Music] [background music] We question: What Is happening to me? When Will this end? Why me? The beasts erode the Best of us, suck us dry, Dampen, our feelings, bring pain And fear. Some let it Consume them; ignoring it Until it breaks them. Others Battle the beast. Flailing and Thrashing to stay afloat; Fighting and losing over and Over; succeeding and gaining Hope. Only to be Torn back down again. I’ve seen Loss, death, and delusion by Bad luck, stress, and surrender. But, I’ve heard stories of triumph, of Remission, of serenity; of Health, of composure, of repletion. So I toil on to mend the decay. [Music, high register cello solo doubled with marimba] [Silence] It was only after five years of no composing that I was able to write this poem and its partnering musical work, Mending decay a cello chamber concerto. I know from experience that when you aren’t well, when you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed, it is so much harder to create anything. It is impossible to create things that are worthwhile, things that are true to you, things that you want to share with the world. In fact, we know that although creative folks are more likely to have mood disorders, people with mental Illnesses are not more likely to be creative. Again, even though creative people are more likely to have mood disorders, people with mental illnesses are NOT more likely to be creative. Mental disorders do NOT make you more creative. This question, that was rooted in our minds, turns out to be a myth, a speculation, but you have to specifically look for this fact to find it. It is not addressed in our textbooks, in our lectures, or noted as a disclaimer to the media that perpetuates our stereotypes. Continuing the debunking: from my own experience (and others that I know), illness makes the quality of work go down–Not up! We have no control subjects to prove that Berlioz wouldn’t have written something more amazing than Symphonie fantastique without his mental anguish. Or that Mozart wouldn’t have composed a better Requiem, And I’m willing to bet that he would have finished it if he would not have died from his illness. It sounds a lot less romantic, But he wrote amazing music because he put in the time and effort, and he grew up with so many musical opportunities for growth and development. Furthermore, think about when these guys were alive. The 18th and 19th centuries hold most of the canonical figures we so consistently study. What were their living conditions? What were their environments? This was before sanitation and modern healthcare. Not that all modern healthcare is better, but back then they did believe in bloodletting. Even surgeons didn’t wash their hands, and condoms weren’t available to prevent venereal diseases. Sounds like a heyday for bad bacteria! It was not uncommon for people to be ill from all sorts of things. These infections caused both physical and mental ailments. So the people affected weren’t just creative folks. Most likely everyone had problems. We just study these wonderfully creative people, and also the kings and queens (many of them were sick, too). But when were they sick? Most often not their entire lives. When we read about them in history books, sometimes is just plainly stated that they had depression. Only with deep research would you find that it may have only been for a few years of their life surrounding some sort of tragedy? Illness and wellness are fluid. We see it most easily with physical illness: When you exercise and eat well, you get fit–your body changes. You may break your leg, but it won’t remain that way the rest of your life. It’s going to mend. It is the same way with mental illness.Just because you are stressed, anxious, or depressed now does not necessarily mean that you will be in the future. Sometimes doctors say that, when they prescribe antidepressants, but they get paid by pharmaceutical companies, and in other countries outside the US, they don’t say that at all. Recent studies on meditation and positive psychology have shown that it is possible to change your habits and perspective to create chronic wellness! If we change our beliefs, we can get out of this negative rut of mental illness. This may take some time, but it is worth it. It doesn’t mean that what you are going through right now isn’t real–it is. But it can be changed. Know that the world loves you! We want you to be well so you can create intriguing, inspiring, and meaningful art to share with the world. My name is Anna Brake, and I am a composer, an author, and the founder of Breath Mark Retreat. If you enjoyed this first episode of empowering creatives, Please subscribe to my channel, and be sure to click the bell to be notified of new videos. Visit me at www.annabrake.com Follow me on twitter @AnnaLBrake Join me at www.patreon.com/annabrake Thank you for listening!

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