Suffering for Your Art: Not Required

As I write this essay, news travels around the country that a beautiful, accomplished, successful, strong, and seemingly happy young woman ended her life over the weekend. Two of the anchors on the morning news program we watch were almost in tears as they discussed the unexpected end of this vivacious person. They asked the viewers to check on their strong friends, emphasizing that you never know what’s going on underneath the surface.

And so, my friends, I’m checking in with you.

In the creative professions, mental illness and depression can be celebrated and even venerated as an unavoidable way to access our muses. The romantic vision of the tortured artist is one that we’ve all seen. The man or woman dressed all in black, pining for their lost love or just mad at the world, channeling their pain into their art. One of our most celebrated artists, Van Gogh, famously spent time in a mental institution and cut off an ear while painting his most gorgeous visions. Hemingway famously quipped, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

But I am here to tell you, your pain is not required to express your art, and the depression and grief that invades you as a result of the suffering can block your creativity. Yep. That cruelty to yourself actually keeps your muse away.

The belief that your pain and suffering is necessary to express your art is, at best, wrong-headed. Shifting your mindset to embrace the idea that you can express yourself creatively with a joyful attitude and contented, balanced life is my mission as a creativity coach.

But sometimes the depression and pain can’t be avoided.

I live with a low-grade depression that some days takes me out of play even now when I’ve learned what I have to do to deal with it. But it’s nothing compared to what others struggle with. My depression can be managed by setting aside one day a week to rest and rebuild my energy. If things get a little too heavy, volunteering usually sets me on my hopeful and contented path again.

Chronic and clinical depression needs more support than that.

When volunteering for the hospice organization in Steamboat Springs (which is a great way to put your own problems into perspective), we had to participate in continuing education. For one of these talks, an expert in depression talked to us about suicide. After all, suicide among those with terminal illnesses is more common than in the general population.

The thing that stuck in my mind from this talk was the fact that suicide was the terminal end of depression.

Depression is an illness, like the illnesses we saw every day at the hospice house. And that, if someone’s life ended in suicide, we could reassure their family that this act didn’t reflect on them or their actions, but that it was the illness wrenching control away from their loved one just like a tumor taking over a vital organ.

Little enough comfort for the bereaved, for certain, but something that carried forward with me.

Now, this does not mean that every person struggling with clinical depression will commit suicide. Depression is not a terminal illness. But it does mean that we need to treat it with the seriousness that we use for any chronic illness.

And that means that, just like we need to go to the doctor for physical pain, we need to get appropriate treatment from a trained professional for our mental health.

Now, I am not a trained therapist. I am a creativity coach, hospice volunteer, and grief companion who carries the wisdom of a certain age and experience. You need a fully trained and accredited therapist to support you with your mental health—and that’s not going to be me.

But I am here to tell you, you are not required to suffer from mental health issues because you are a creative being. Suffering is not necessary to bring out the beauty in your work.

The only thing your creative work needs to come alive is you.

So reject this romantic fantasy of the tortured artist, and get the help you need to support your mental health.

If you don’t know where to start, click here to visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

And if you need someone to hold your hand while you make the call, reach out to family, friends, or me. I’ll stand by you as you negotiate the necessary systems and encourage you in your search, guiding as I am able and stepping aside when appropriate.

The only thing that IS required by your art is YOU. Only you can bring your art into the world.

And I know I’m not the only person who would love to see it.

***Ready to get creative and want some support? Contact me at and let’s begin the conversation. As I finish my KMCC []certification, I am offering four session packages for only $200 (50% off my regular price).