Monday, March 4, 2013

Creativity, the Harsh Mistress

"Hmm....it's probably not good that I'm being eaten alive. Meh, there's nothing I can't do. I don't WANT to do anything. I might as well give up. Nothing I try seems to work anyway. *insert more foolhardy depression junk here*"

          I discovered a fascinating study that had been done on the link between creativity and mental disorders this morning as I was working on "self improvement" hour. I had been listening to a podcast by some local authors http://www.writingexcuses.com/  and it was really interesting because they spoke very frankly about depression and other mental disorders that they had had to face in their careers. Honestly,  the part about creativity possibly breeding depression really spoke to me.  Basically, I wake up every morning angry, overwhelmed, defeated, and passive aggressive about everything in the whole entire universe. In order for me to not be COMPLETELY overtaken by a monster similar to the one above, I've been trying to exercise some serious mental self-discipline, but HOLY junk IT'S HARD! 

      There's all these rumors that circulate around Utah about how we're the highest consumers of anti-depressants in the nation, as well as the biggest customers for breast implants, cosmetic surgery, and hair removal. Now, I'm not SURE if this is all true, and quite frankly, I'm a bit concerned about what I would find if I googled the information. Suffice it to say, that if you drive to Salt Lake from where I live, the billboards would certainly seem to agree with the myths, true or false.   It's just that, for some reason, our culture, in particular seems to put some SERIOUS pressure on women to be perfect.  I've often wondered if it's the same in the rest of the country, and I'm just not  noticing, because I only happen to be visiting other places to do festivals, so I only meet the awesome renaissance-faire goers. 

     Whatever the actual truths, I think everyone would agree that we live in a very tough world. And heck, I hardly know a single family that hasn't been affected by job loss, setbacks, pay-cuts, and demotion type stuff in the last few years.    I know very few women who don't deal with body issues at least on SOME level.   In the midst of all of this, I always feel HORRIBLY guilty for even feeling an ounce of disappointment with where I currently am. I have been so blessed to have an incredible husband, good kids, a pretty successful company, and marvelously loyal customers. It feels like an absolute betrayal to feel any depression.

      Yet, I wake up, I take a look at facebook, and those gross, hideous, negative running narratives start. I'll take a look at the wonderful supportive customer group on the "swap-meet" page, and I'll see a post about a customer that doesn't like how her bodice makes her look and feel, and instead of thinking logically and perhaps trying to figure out a creative solution, I feverishly indulge in reading all of the other comments, and then continuing on with my own wretched dialogue in my brain. It goes to  a REALLY  bad place in a hurry. "Gee, Michelle, you set out to make women feel better, and you end up making them feel worse. Applause.  Most likely all of these women are all going to tell all of their friends ever, and then all of them will hate you and talk about you behind your back. They're going to make whole entire facebook groups just for hating you and talking about how you've disappointed  them.  They're all going to start buying things from people who makes similar things to yours. You'll stop making anything and have to fire your employees, who will resent you for your poor management. Your husband will leave you and take the kids because he's so disgusted at how much of a failure you are. You'll only be able to afford ramen  noodles, and your body will go to crap, and you'll go and live with your parents on their farm, where they'll make you clean dishes and milk the goats, as they hang their heads in shame."

       Yeah...that's pretty much what it sounds like. All of that from one little comment. Why in the HELL would my brain go there?? First off, it's completely selfish and egotistical. To think that I matter that much, and that I have that much power is downright idiotic.  Also, where is the part of my brain that needs to be the LOUD one that says, "Hey Michelle, unhappy customers are a fantastic opportunity to examine your company and see how you can better serve people!  Because you're resilient  and creative, and strive very  hard to be compassionate and understanding, the good customers will see that and appreciate you all the more."   And honestly, that's exactly what happens. When I go to festivals, people are always taking me by the shoulders and saying, "Hey, you're way too hard on yourself!"    But holy heck, I don't feel like I'm the one inventing these indulgent self-criticisms!    I'm not NEARLY creative enough to come up with this sort of negative rabble! I almost feel like it comes, unbidden, out of nowhere, latches itself onto every little piece of happiness in my brain, and then festers away. 

       Let me make it clear that I REALLY don't like to talk about this stuff. I had a very wise manager at the wedding dress shop where I worked that told me to always keep everything between the customer and me POSITIVE. She told me to refrain from even saying negative things about other crazy brides, because even though the subject was not about the current customer, that very same customer might only take away the negative and NOT retain the postive. I've found that in my own experience! If I'm talking to someone working retail, and they say anything even slightly slanderous about the company for which they work, it always leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  And goodness knows, I don't like to be vulnerable and show people my failings. I very much fancy the idea of being some kind of pseudo corset celebrity that is always perfect, just like the Utah billboards tell me to be. ;) 

        Therefore, I don't like being honest and frank about some of the down-sides of entrepreneurship and owning a company, because I don't want you guys to take away a negative feeling!  Goodness knows I haven't always succeeded there. I've received plenty of hate-mail and malicious comments over foolhardy things I've said in the heat of the moment, and I've deserved a lot of it. If I made you take away a really gross feeling, then it's definitely my responsibility, and there's only so many times that someone will forgive a company.   We live in this whole entire world on the internet where everyone  is a critic, everyone has a strong opinion, and nobody suffers repercussions for blasting others to smithereens! You can hide behind anonymity and slowly crumble down the whole world until their down on your level. It's the cool, hip thing to do. 
      I've got to say, the very IDEA of spending my valuable time finding faults in others and pointing them out publicly is woeful.  (Wait, this is one of those ironies, where I'm saying mean things online about the people who say mean things online. OH, junk.)  I mean, I know what the angry, vicious voice of depression feeds me, and I have an incredibly hard time bouncing back from that.  To take that same kind of energy and hurtle it at friends, family, and  unsuspecting victims......Yikes, we do live in a scary world. 

      This really doesn't have a conclusion. Usually I like to wrap these up in a nice little life lesson, but I've just got nothing. I don't want a bunch of positive comments here.......for the LOVE OF EVERYTHING GOOD AND DECENT, please go and spread some joy and kindness to the people around you who need it. Find someone who you haven't talked to in a long while, and instead  of throwing something on their facebook wall or tagging them in your own status, give them a call....go out to dinner, do SOMETHING real!! The world beats us up. We beat ourselves up. Our jobs kick us hard, and then continue to kick us while we're down. Creativity sneers at you as she challenges you to get our of your comfort zone and stop defeating yourself before you start.  Go out there and show Creativity who is boss.....hopefully that's you and me. 


  1. Michelle, I can certainly understand where you are coming from.

    I all too often find myself over-analyzing myself and self-criticizing the products of my creativity and it has been really hard to break the cycle.

    Some days I'm successful and some days, well I'm not. (Today being one of those days)

    I look at you and I think "Wow, I wish that I could be more like Michelle - beautiful, talented, she has lovely kids and gets to make people look beautiful - she has it all!"

    Us Damselites feel SO honored that you bare your soul like this - it's hard to do!

    Dear, you inspire me to be a better me.

    1. Thanks, Kristina! Isn't it crazy how we use other people as a measuring stick for our own self worth? So strange! I guess that's the human brain there. It DOES feel better to let people see my shortcomings and vulnerabilities. Trying to hide that stuff and act like everything is happy all the time is too hard of work!

  2. Wow, I really needed to read this. I own a small business as well and am totally guilty of running my mouth about the bad stuff. People love to tell me how great my job is and how lucky I am and I can NEVER resist going on about how I can't afford the dentist, I've been divorced for eight years and live in a really crappy rental townhouse and my ponies stand in mud. And that's just me getting started. Every season I try to get rid of what was stressing me out the most the previous year, but I can't seem to get my unconscious to accept ANY thing. This year I am hoping to reconnect with my tiny patrons in a positive way, and make a last-ditch effort to really make this 'pay'.
    Thanks for the lesson in keepa ya mouth a shut a.
    The Peppermint Pony

  3. So you don't want positive comments...well too bad because here's some.

    There's always haters and trolls out there, and somehow their voices seem to carry so much more weight than the positive people. This hits creative people especially hard, because it's not just a product you're putting out there, it's a little piece of your soul too, and when people tear apart your product, they're tearing your soul apart too.

    So here's a piece of your soul back - I adore my 2 Damsel corsets, and when I feel down about myself, about how I'm too fat and no one loves me and I do everything wrong, I put on a corset and even if I don't leave the house it makes me feel a million times better. Oh it also helps with chronic back pain, so score! I love them so much that when a friend said she wanted a corset, I told her about you and how I love your message to empower real women and accept ourselves for who we are. She put in a custom order yesterday and I know she will love it as much as I love mine. Thank you for all you do, even on your bad days!!

  4. Hugs and cookies!
    "Grrr!!!" Says the monster, "Hey! I can't eat you. You ain't got no pants on! OH JUNK!!" lol

  5. "Nulum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit."
    Its latin for. "There is no great talent without an element of madness."
    I love this quote. I'm a ballet dancer/teacher and I embrace this idea completely. Am I obsessive and manic and off in my own little world? Totally. Its also why I'm so damn good at what I do. Love you!!

  6. You rock! And I ditto everything you've written here. Thanks! :D

  7. It's funny that you mention a group of authors, because as an author, I was reading your post thinking "I know exactly how that feels!" It doesn't matter how many five star reviews your books get, it's the one-star (or sometimes even the three-star) that sticks with you. Obviously, that one person is going to tell everyone they know, and then your career is over, and you'll have to hook for loose change on the corner. ;)

    All you can do is decide if it's going to make you quit. And if it's not enough to make you quit, you make the decision to soldier on. It's all a part of the creative process.

  8. My dear sister, you have completely made my day. I was just feeling that wallowing pit of sorrow in which I couldn't even eat chocolate to sustain my consciousness. School is throwing midterms at me and I have been hectic and hateful to everyone that I love dearly. So thanks a ton. Love ya.

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  10. I know I certainly have the same problem! Sometimes I find it impossible to even START something, much less finish it, because I am always always always telling myself that it isn't good enough, isn't smart enough, cute enough, funny enough, whatever enough. Weirdly, this applies to even the littlest things, like writing status updates on facebook.

    On the up side, you truly are a talented artist, and your customer service is AMAZING. I have always had fantastic experiences with you. You will always have devoted fans, and hopefully sometimes when you are feeling down, you can remember that we love your work, your work ethic, and your passion. :)

  11. Even with all the bad things, you have inspired me to open a baking business that also does mail orders. I find so much love and support from your posts and your Facebook "ramblings." I find I stress over small things too, bad shows, not turning a profit at a show, or worst of all, having my cookies break in transit.

    The fact that you have some insecurities reassures me that I'm normal, that I'm going to be successful, that the person from whom I find my inspiration is Just. Like. Me.

  12. Depression is a nasty little monster. Actually, it's a nasty BIG monster. I struggle with it myself. I've also heard of the correlation between mental health disorders and creativity (psych major) and it's one I find very interesting. My sister fights with horrible PTSD but her poetry makes my soul sing to read it. I keep encouraging her to publish it in a more substantial form than deviantART...but she doesn't think she's amazing. Ah well.

    I guess it takes special souls to see the ugliest things inside themselves and other people, and still bring into existence beauty.

  13. Love your rant inside your head.. We as women tend to have that ability to start at a very sane place and take it to the out reaches of silliness. I had a customer around Christmas that purchased an item from my etsy shop. She was unhappy with it and me being the pleaser I am gladly exchanged it to her request... She was still unhappy... I replaced again... Still unhappy. Her complaints were somewhat small and petty to say the least but I was determined to make her happy. In the end, although there were times when I truly wanted to tell her exactly where she could put some things.... I was thankful for the experience because it did help me to work on my self control and attitude. There will always be those who can not be pleased... Let them go.. Your quote from Mother Theresa says it all... Yea its hard sometimes but when it is all said and done... You will be the one who is more content...

    I hope that the monster of depression does not stay long... Too nice of time of year to be down...

  14. Its funny you mention the link between creativity and mental illnesses/depression. I just heard that same thing (somewhere) and have been coming to an uncomfortable conclusion as to my own mental state. I don't want to jump on the depression bandwagon, but seriously, I have been depressed (much more than normal) and being in denial about the seriousness of it doesn't help. I can usually snap out of it eventually, so it is easy to pretend it isn't as bad when I'm not there. But yeah... you're not alone. Thanks for sharing. Seriously, I know it sure feels like I'm alone in this sometimes in a squeaky clean, perfect blog/pintrest/FB on-line world. Being open about it takes a lot of courage.

  15. Depression lies and is a nasty rotten bitch. Don't listen to it.

  16. Your creativity monster just needs a corset. a pink one. With orange ruffles. Yessssssss. Exactly what she needs. >;)