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Tortured Soul: Why Your Anxiety Is Actually The Key To Your Creativity

By Dan Scotti,  June 9 2015

Very few things in this world are absolutely good or bad.  For the most part, things are what you make of them -- and, a lot of times, whether you choose to see the cup as half full or half empty will dictate your disposition.  As the saying goes, “Each cloud has a silver lining,” and as Jerry Garcia sang (and Robert Hunter wrote), every silver lining has a touch of grey.

And it was also Jerry Garcia who told us music is “something that escapes between frenzies, between anxiety attacks,” so perhaps his ability to connect with millions of people was his silver lining.  Or maybe these anxiety attacks he speaks of were simply the touch of grey that his creativity came along with.  Either way, Garcia’s words depict something bigger: the inner conflict, which many artists face before we ever get the chance to see their finished work.

See, after becoming familiar with the music of Jerry Garcia -- and the Grateful Dead, alike -- feelings of anxiety are rarely the ones that come through, at least from a creative standpoint.  His music, itself, is very uplifting.  It’s very “glass half full,” so to speak.  Yet, according to Garcia, this all manifested from a place of darkness, a place of “anxiety attacks.”  I’ll admit, before I read this quote from JG, I never would’ve guessed him to be an anxious person.  But science will tell us anxiety and depression don’t usually target any one type of person in particular.  With that said, there may be one group of people who, as a whole, are more likely to deal with matters of anxiety: creatives.


According to Charles Linden, CEO of the Linden Centers, “anxiety sufferers all share a superior level of creative intellect.”  Linden notes this won’t necessarily equate to any type of academic superiority but “moreover as a distinct range of both physical and mental attributes affecting creativity, emotional sensitivity and clarity, eccentricity, creative energy and drive.”

I mean, if you think about it -- the list of “tortured artists” is a long one: Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, Elliott Smith; it almost seems torment is a prerequisite to creative prosperity.  Nevertheless, these “tortured artists” always find a way to transpose anxiety -- whether it be social anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder -- into something beautiful.   And that’s because, as Dennis Palumbo writes for Psychology Today, some artists are able to channel this anxiety to the right places, specifically to their creative benefit.  Palumbo quotes famous psychiatrist Rollo May, who felt “real creativity is not possible without anxiety.”  This belief comes from the idea that true creativity comes from expression -- and the most gripping, intimate forms of expression usually arise on the heels of hardship.  Think about it: The story of the man who walked through seven hells before arriving at heaven certainly sounds more interesting than the one about the dude working the desk job -- with a nice, cozy, loft apartment. 

“To co-exist with potentially crippling anxiety and create anyway, the rewards can be significant,” Palumbo says.

At the end of the day, life is experience, and those who are able to face their experience -- regardless of how crippling it may be -- are the most in tuned with themselves and reality.

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