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How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health

COW Library : Art of the Edit : Kylee Peña : How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health
CreativeCOW presents How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health -- Art of the Edit Editorial


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Let's talk. No tech questions, no debates, no critique. Let's talk about you. How are you? No really, how are you?

When's the last time someone really asked you that? When's the last time you answered truthfully?

Media production is hard. Like, really hard. It's the kind of industry where it's rare to have a routine and normal to work overtime. It requires you to constantly stay updated on software and skills and outlooks. Constantly look for work. Call people. Email people. Check Twitter. Call more people. And oh yeah, actually edit things. And oh, YEAH...have a personal life. Maybe. It's demanding. It's often thankless. You spend a lot more time being told you're wrong than right at some stages of a project. You can't leave your work at the office each day.

We had a good discussion about parenthood in post production last year, and more recently about being a good human to others. But what about you? You're the one that has to worry about all this. You have to, in no particular order: be a really good editor, pay your rent on time, deal with critical clients, juggle your personal life without dissing your friends to the point of abandonment, and accept more rejections than compliments. It's a rough industry. Your creative work is a direct reflection of yourself. The highs are really high, the lows are really low, and the drastic changes in work-related mood may mask deeper problems. And especially at this time of the year, when it's dark and dreary (at least in my hemisphere), it's something worth talking about.

A number of studies have pieced together some kind of relationship between mental illness and creativity. For example, a recent Swedish study showed that people in creative fields were 8% more likely to have bipolar disorder. Writers in particular were 50% more likely to commit suicide. You can probably name a number of famously ill artists, many of which took their own lives: Hunter S. Thompson, Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway...a seemingly endless list. Whether there is a quantifiable link between creativity and mental illness or not, you can see why a creative industry can become associated with mental illnesses. Creative individuals are more likely to be self-introspective more often, are often extremely detail oriented, and spend a lot of time feeling closely associated with self-expression -- a strong desire to create, and often a strong desire to be better, sometimes to the point of self-destruction. (Not that other professions don't have their own draws and challenges that attract, nurture and tear down individuals prone to mental illnesses, but we're artists here so I'm talking about artists.)

I think everyone reading this knows someone who suffers from some degree of mental illness. Maybe you suffer from it yourself, or suspect you might. Yet there remains in our world a tremendous stigma toward mental illnesses of all kinds. People don't talk to each other about this. Our society's support system for the mentally ill is embarrassing. Healthcare is a joke even in the face of the Affordable Care Act. From the highest regarded artists in history to the overwhelmed recent college graduate, mental health is one challenge we all have in common. So why are we hiding it, and why don't we give each other the benefit of the doubt?

Among the most common mental illness in the United States is depression -- something like one in ten adults report occasional to major depression. And even then, it's vastly underreported because many people still associate depression and anxiety with weakness. "I'll deal with this myself, I'm just being dumb." "She sleeps until noon because she's lazy." "He doesn't want to go out again, he must be stuck up." Rarely is the first response to abnormal behavior to simply ask a person how they're doing. On the other side, for the person experiencing the depression: "I'm too strong-willed to be depressed." "I can overcome this by myself." "I must be ungrateful for what I have."

Some people are capable of crawling back out from behind occasional bouts of depression. Others only sink further, not seeking help out of pride, fear or anger. A recent graduate might say "if only I could get a job, then I'll feel better." A seasoned camera operator thinks "once this gig is done, I know I'll be able to relax." But then it happens -- the job comes up, the gig ends -- and nothing changes inside.

I asked a friend in the industry with severe depression and anxiety to describe how it felt, how he differentiated it from loss or sadness or stress. He told me he felt like the main difference for him was his inability to ever experience joy, for months on end. It doesn't get better. It feels stupid, especially in the face of an otherwise decent lifestyle, to not be able to function correctly with simple tasks. Keeping up with household tasks or finding inspiration for your work becomes harder, and the difficulty brings anxiety. Medications help to level the feeling and make it less acute, but they don't generate positive feelings. People have tried to tell him "look at what you have, you've got what you need, things could be much worse, why are you such a downer." He could win the lottery and buy a zoo and he'd still feel exactly the same way because that's what his brain and mind have come up with for him. His perception of the world (and himself) is skewed by this as he struggles to accept his differences not as deficiencies and find a way to function with them -- a lifelong struggle often lost.

But if you saw his work, you'd never guess he wasn't at the top of his game.

Mental illness is pretty damn common, especially in our industry. People are good at hiding it, and our professions make it easy to mask. We're in an industry where all-nighters are normal, obsession can be called passion, and the momentum just keeps going forward so fast nobody can stop for a minute to realize that something real is actually wrong.

But these illnesses are like any other disease. They need time and support to heal, possibly under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Some of them need medication to manage, and that's as okay as taking medication to manage high blood pressure or diabetes. There is no shame in asking for help, just as there's no shame in going to a general practitioner with migraines or a podiatrist with foot pain. If you feel you need help, try to ask someone. If you know someone that needs help, offer to help. Or simply offer friendship and support without judgement. For some people, that can make all the difference in taking whatever next steps need to be taken.

Mental illness is often mistaken as a personality flaw, especially by the very person suffering from it: moody, short-tempered, weak, lazy. And that makes sense in our profession, where we're harder on ourselves than any of the critique we face every day. Just hear this: just like it's okay to post a question in a COW forum or tweet soliciting opinions, it's okay to ask for help in managing your mental wellness, and it's okay to encourage a culture where we can all be a little more open about these things.

So hey, how are you?







Comments

Re: How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health
by Kevan O'Brien
So I think there is still a huge stigma related to mental health issues, especially in the UK but here in the USA as well.
Yep I pulled all nighters for weeks at a time in advertising and film production, it was expected as it had to be "clocked" Friday morning ready for TX that night. Only problem was that my body would "shut down" and by that I mean physically stop without warning when i even thought about relaxing, I have some interestingly funny stories about that if people want to IM me. This obsessive activity and self drive was often taken as a euphoric high, i drink but have never taken any recreational drugs, that was hit by the massive low that was the shut down.
Now no one in the UK ever offered help as that was the way they expected me to be and I got stuff done, but my obsessive attention to detail often caused friction between me and the producer staff. I was giving them my all but they wanted more.
So I took a slight career change and went out to whore myself for Adobe punting the radical change to Premiere to become Premiere Pro and the whole Creative suite. This worked reasonable well until I started to push myself once more trying to evangelize to a skeptical market of FCP/AVID users. I did it getting the Adobe Logo on some major award winning films but again my "eating my own dog food" philosophy of product demonstration, every demo I did was a real world scenario that I had cut myself, I was once more on the emotional and physical roller coaster.
It wasn't until I came to the USA and had a major episode, which wasn't well received by Adobe even though I had brought them an OSCAR winning project, that I was put in a program to get me stabalised.
I agree with previous comments about cognitive therapy but what works for me is DBT (Dialectic Behaviorable Therapy) which is part meditation and focussing in the moment and actually doing the thing that freaks you out. Now medication is also a route, SSRI and NSRI are good therapies coupled with CBT/DBT but your body is clever enough to find synaptic routes around this and so the doses go up, and so on.
Now my point is that yes mental health is a disease just like any other and taking medication is akin to taking insulin for diabetes as you need it every day to function.
So the stigma around people asking why you have a small gap in your career often leads to probing and ecuses have to be made as you don't want to admit your batshit crazy! Also companies have sections in their application forms that require to self identify as disabled, I go for the "decline to comment" option which comes up in HR conversations even though it shouldn't and also that you fail random drug tests and have to explain why.
I'm a big advocate of people coming together and sharing their stories in a safe environment, virtual or physical, to at least know they are not alone and others struggle to.
I've probably given away too much about my situation but I want people to know it is OK to suffer and hopefully one day employers will make provision for such highs and inevitable lows.
Re: How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health
by Mitch Temkin
Kylee - I'm really glad you wrote this! Removing stigmas about mental health is so needed in our world. You're a rare jewel in our industry. Thanks! Keep up the great work!

Mitch Temkin
Re: How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health
by Wayne Williams
I will likely take too much time crashing here in the pasture. I am a total and permanent Disabled American Veteran. I live with IndoChina PTSD, survived 1996 brain surgeries, I couldn't walk. VA Rehab allowed me a gear grant in 2003. Cool new DVCam (SD 4:3) tape system. For a year I received this gear grant as needed. I was totally taken with the Denver FCP Users group. From an upstairs room I found my spirit to fight. I learned how to make videos. Couldn't walk. But took every opportunity to give it all back. Besides the pleasure it brings me, I have since taped over 100 war veteran interviews. These accounts go to the veteran, their families and folks that care. They also live forever at the Veterans History Project, Library of Congress. Many of these warriors are gone now though remembered through this gift. For me there is much healing. Understand how others deal with their infirmities. Barb and I together 31 years have supported my passion. I taped many hundreds of 40-minute tapes. Know it isn't always good. Always an upgrade issue, there are few resources. I never ask for support. I show with gear and the room believes it's Hollywood. We still live from disability income, nothing more. In the past two years we were forced to migrate from FCP transitioning to Adobe CC. Premiere is FCP but in Chinese. Longtime friends in the COW Pasture are directing me through the process. A life friend came up with a new Mac book pro. My much warn 2008 Mac smoked a year ago. Also went to DSLR Canon 70D as we had good lenses for our 20D. Makes beautiful video. I miss the camera form and operation of my faithful Sony PD170 as I play it like a fiddle. Likely my next equipment requirement. I'm thankful Im making good video again. That's cool. So I talked video. It's not what I can't do, it's about what I can. Passion to Live ...And I'm good...

"Be who you are and say what you feel...Because those that matter...Don't mind...And those that mind...Don't matter..."
Dr. Seuss
+3
Re: How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health
by Tony West
That's amazing important work you are doing Wayne

Keep up the good work my brother.
Re: Article: How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health
by Bill Ravens
There's a reason R&R is so recommended by health care professionals. There's a great deal of autonomous healing that occurs when the brain is allowed to rest. Unfortunately, demanding employers leave little time available for significant R&R. There's always someone standing in line to take your job if you dare to take a days rest. If one is self employed, the self induced pressure to not "waste time" with what is perceived as doing nothing, can be pretty significant. The ethic of Western Civilization is to work hard, regardless of the cost. Sadly, this leads to exacerbating many emotional issues, rather than helping us to cope with them. Even a person who is capable of exercising healthy coping mechanisms can lose sight of that ability, when faced with long work hours, without the ability to rest and reflect. The work ethic is especially amplified when one is faced with supporting a family and children on marginal income. The ethic of working hard is focused on productivity, not on health.

The entire situation is made worse because most men are raised with the ethic that says, cowboy up, be a man, don't be a baby, don't admit to your limitations because it's judged as a weakness. So, we suffer, in silence, afraid to admit to the toll it's taking, or to ask for help.

Re: Article: How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health
by Rich Rubasch
I think we do what Sweden is considering. 6 hour work days.

Rich Rubasch
Tilt Media Inc.
Video Production, Post, Studio Sound Stage
Founder/President/Editor/Designer/Animator
http://www.tiltmedia.com
Re: Article: How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health
by Duke Sweden
I'm crazy. I know it. Next question.
Re: Article: How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health
by Gerry Fraiberg
Thank you for this article, which appears to touch all of us in some way or another. Film and video production are collaborative processes. However, technology allows us to be a one man band. We can now shoot, edit, create graphics and deliver high quality product - alone. For all the creatives working in large markets turning out network shows, there are many more in the hinterland working on meaningful projects for smaller audiences. And that solitary work environment can take its toll. I have regular production meetings with my dog and cat and value their input. But seriously, it can be an issue.

Re: How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health
by Mal Williamson
After 100 years of psycho-analysis we are misguided into thinking that we operate as the result of past stories. But the brain, analysed under fMRI scanners, reveals that really we want satisfaction now. We are not the result of stories - and the brain's "plasticity" can actually alter the highways and byways of neurons which tend to make us think we are stuck.

I work with creators using neuro-linguistics, trance and other tools to unlock and re-build a range of unhelpful responses and behaviours from depression to anxiety to not earning enough or loving enough.

The only reason creators appear to be more prone to these conditions is that we are interested in ourselves, we enjoy and relish stories, we find meaning in the world and in ourselves. The brain remembers but does not create meaning - we simply respond here and now according to the neurons we have grown. What is resisted grows stronger because we pay attention to it... what is accepted falls away because we ignore it. Accept and discover what is or was useful about your unwanted behaviour... tell yourself "Thanks"...accept it..."And I don't need that now, I get it thanks".

Change is not only possible but absolutely probable.

http://www.neurocreator.com
http://www.creator-coach.com
Re: How Are You? No, really. Creativity & Mental Health
by Mark Suszko
I agree there's definitely a stigma still attached to anything to do with mental health, which makes getting help harder to do without risking conscious and unconscious reprisals at work. But it is vital that people seeking help don't let this problem keep them from getting the assistance they need. In other countries, they are often more enlightened, and taking a "mental health day" is seen as a positive thing, not an admission of weakness or failure.

SSRI's have certainly revolutionized the field and helped many, but even better, and more effective, IMO is to couple meds with some cognitive therapy, because your brain can unconsciously "think it's way" into a depressed state, or into a "rut" where you can't visualize and then try other options... but the good news is, you CAN analyze your emotions and patterns of thought to "think" your way back out again.

I recommend getting yourself a cognitive therapy workbook, whether you see a counselor or not. Whether you think you need help, or not. It's exercises can help with issues as varied as reducing stress, keeping to a diet and exercise plan, reducing anxiety, beating back phobias, fighting depression, solving interpersonal issues at home and at work, beating an addiction, ...all manner of problems. CT gives you the tools to examine yourself from outside your own perceptions and tweak the things that aren't working for you. Unleash your "inner Spock", and get control of the emotions. You'll find that self-understanding leads to even more creativity as a by-product.
Re: How Are You Doing? Really...
by Peter Butler
Wow reading this was like looking at my life from the outside.

I've realised over the years that I'm not a great person to live with. This really hit home last year when my girlfriend split up with me because of my inability to snap out of a really low point in my life. Because of this I now only get to see my Son every other weekend.

Reading this article has made me realise more then ever that it must be a mental issue that comes with the territory of being creative. I just have this constant drive to want to show the world what I can do but lack the ability to switch off.
+1
@Peter Butler
by Kylee Peña
Hi Peter, I'm glad you were able to connect to the article. While I'm also glad to see you drawing some conclusions about your own life, you should definitely consider talking to someone about your personal challenges. The ability to control a constant creative drive can be worked on, and like I said in the post, having difficulty in doing so can be a symptom of a deeper problem. Thanks for the comment!

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com
Re: How Are You Doing? Let's Talk: Mental Illness & Creativity in the Video Industry
by Douglas Toltzman
I was doing a project for a local university at a time when I was struggling with a bout of depression. I confided in the director in charge of the project and I didn't just lose that gig, they didn't answered any of several e-mails I sent to them over the next year.

I was their star player until I revealed the cracks in my armor. I was struggling pretty badly at the time, trying to keep up with deadlines and meetings. I'm not sure I regret having been "relieved of my duties", but I learned never to show weakness in my professional life. Maybe that's why people go "postal". They aren't allowed to talk about their emotional or psychological problems without risking their livelihood, so they hold it all in until the stress overwhelms them.

I try not to get too cozy with clients, because my social dysfunction eventually shows through. Fortunately, for me, I have a diverse enough client base that I can moderate my work schedule and bounce back from occasional disasters. Not everyone has that luxury.

Author of VKey2f (vector keyer) and other video plug-ins for Final Cut and Motion
Re: How Are You Doing? Let's Talk: Mental Illness & Creativity in the Video Industry
by Ron Anderson
There are several common things that people in production and especially post deal with on a regular basis that are known to make depression and anxiety worse: irregular hours and lack of sleep, stress, bad diet--too much sugar and/or salt, lack of sunlight, lack of exercise. With a routine of sitting still in a dark room with no windows for 18 hours with a deadline looming, a client or boss breathing down your neck, snacking from the bowl of chips and eating terrible food delivery, sleeping a couple of hours, then repeat, anybody would start to show some mental wear and tear. If any break in the cycle is just a time to stress about where the next gig is coming from you can't ever recuperate. Mental illness is a real thing, but do anything you can you to remove environmental factors like darkness, food, or lack of exercise that might be making it worse.
+2
Re: How Are You Doing? Let's Talk: Mental Illness & Creativity in the Video Industry
by Gary Ash
Creativity is a double edged sword. Many of us who use our minds to conjure ideas out of thin air realise there's a flip side to this gift when the subconscious runs wild with those same creative tools to paint a very convincing world filled with anxiety, despair and depression. Add to this mix a volatile job market, long hours, stress, dealing with that a**ehole director..

It's pretty much a given that many of us will hit the wall at some point.

For many creative types it seems that mental illness, in some form, is the price you pay for your gift.
To any one who feels this may be becoming an overwhelming problem I would definitely recommend that you begin learning about the way your thinking patterns affect your mood. They are intrinsically linked.
There are many great therapies out there to help you. From experience 'cognitive behavioural therapy' is an excellent way to regain control of your thinking and steer it in a more positive direction, away from the precipice.

Your mind is an extraordinary creative tool. Learn to be its master, not its slave.
+1
Re: How Are You Doing? Let's Talk: Mental Illness & Creativity in the Video Industry
by Mia Holton
Thanks for the thoughtful post.

I definitely think that talking more freely about this is helpful because depression can trick you into feeling very isolated and unique in how you feel. You lose perspective that there many other people going through very similar things both emotionally and physically. Basically you are not alone, and you don't have to solve it alone.

I can very much relate to your friend's description.
Also that people misunderstand that depressed people are usually quite (painfully) aware of all the good things in their life and what they have and it is precisely that awareness that exacerbates the depression, because you feel like a schmuck for these good factors not improving your mood. It's a horrible guilt loop.
Stress and sadness are often factors, but overall for me depression is a 'lack of vitality'.

Sometimes it is caused by definite factors like events, or my own reactions to things, but other times it's just inexplicable. Just because. I'm coming to terms with my depression being something that I have to manage. A big step for me was realising and accepting that when in a hole, my perception is distorted, not necessarily reflective of reality and that I can make choices about the way I think about things and what I say to myself. It's hard work to remember to be self-reflexive and not just let it take over you, but it's harder being flat out depressed.

Videography, especially editing has become harder for me to manage with my mental health. I'm currently learning to say no to certain jobs and am slowly but steadily building a 20min per day meditation routine after trying out a mindfulness yoga course. Getting away from the computer, even if just for a 30 minute walk is also important.

I've never won with pure willpower, rather I'm working on small, scheduled baby steps to try implement self-improvement.

Most importantly remember to be kind to yourself.
Re: How Are You Doing? Let's Talk: Mental Illness & Creativity in the Video Industry
by Kylee Peña
Some follow-ups I shall post in a comment thread with myself here. Feel free to join in.

This blog post has generated a lot of discussion with me on Twitter, especially via private messages. I'm really glad I've been able to capture something that so many people really wanted to talk about. I keep hearing "I thought you might have been describing me" or "I really wish I could talk about this more." There are a LOT of creative individuals that think they're alone in this, and my DM inbox on Twitter is proof otherwise.

Some comments I've gotten have focused more on the burn-out and stress side of the industry. While this is obviously VERY important - taking care of yourself and taking time away from your jobs - an even more difficult concept for people to grasp is that for many, no amount of time spent away will help depression. The industry can both exacerbate AND mask the symptoms, so it IS important to realize this tendency in one another and keep tabs, so we can all realize when negative feelings are deeper than they appear.

Depression and anxiety can be physical (and) or emotional. It's complex and varies greatly. Be kind to one another and speak more openly about these things with people you trust. Take the lead and we'll be better off as an industry.

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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