Musings on Depression

Creative Depression: Rainbow Mother Unleashed
Linda McKay
Writing Workshop II
Dr. Julia Keefer
September 26, 1998

"Despite depression's eclectic reach, it has been demonstrated with fair convincingness that artistic types (especially poets) are particularly vulnerable to the disorder." William Styron addresses this issue with recurrent infatuation throughout Darkness Visible, his "Memoir of Madness." A graphic illustrator of the elusive disease, Styron offers an accounting of depression's panorama thirty-five years into his literary success. What greater gift could be offered to a wondering audience than that of the muse's self-bout with depression--a gift fashioned by a master whose craft is to define, describe and awaken? Styron's question why so many artistic personalities are hunted by the dreaded disease is one which has been explored for centuries. While the key to depression's mettle is one of physical origin, to label the brain's chemical imbalance as the race's starter is the tail wagging the dog. Rather, the starting gun is fired by stress, which causes the chemical depletion, which starts the race, which causes the mood drop, round and round life's track, till the runner ends up in the house that Depression built. The artist's demanding audience of participators, benefactors and critics is a cruel mistress, and satisfying her expectations is a stress-filled specialty. Since the artistic personality teeters on this stress's edge, a case can be made that every artist carries the gun capable of firing depression's race.

Throughout two millenniums, the Mayan civilization has instructed women in La Ultima Madre. In ancient times this ceremony was performed by the great priestesses for the benefit of all pregnant women to give insight to themselves and their children's souls. After their initiation, they understood why they behaved in a certain manner. Mayans are instructed that there are two types of mothers: Rainbow Mother and Nurturing Mother. Rainbow Mother is the energy of the poet, dancer, and artist. She does not nurture her children, but rather, she inspires them. Nurturing Mother gets married and raises her corn and her children. She loves routine and is very complacent. The Mayans believe that the soul of the mother is inherited by her child. Children are taught to analyze their mother's propensity which will ultimately become their inheritance. The philosophy claims that without her creative outlet, the Rainbow Mother will feel frustrated and unfulfilled, often turning to alcohol. This can lead her to travel to the other "end of her arrow" where Crazy Woman, the goddess of death, or suicide, resides. A two-thousand year old eloquent description of creative depression fortifies Styron's recurring ingredient's in the Darkness Visible madness: the genius's genetic tendency toward depression; chronic stress to maintain perfect performance for a relentless constituency; feelings of mood drop; alcohol use to medicate the mood's descent; and despair leading to suicidal preparedness.

While good stress drives the artist toward his creative brink, chronic stress can consume confidence, passion and productivity, crucial characteristics of an artist. Styron describes, "Of the many dreadful manifestations of the disease, both physical and psychological, a sense of self-hatred, or, a failure of self-esteem is one of the most universally experienced symptoms. I suffered more and more from a general feeling of worthlessness." In depression's inception, genius reacts to audience demand for constant quality performance by sprinting too many project and deadline dashes. Forgetting what led to the first creative endeavor, the artist becomes a strict taskmaster driving himself to procreate multiple masterpieces. He runs unleashed making large withdrawals from his artistic reserves. In the case of the artist, the gift is the demise. A right-brained thinker, the artist is a relational gatherer who metaphorically sits in the center of his experiences reaching out randomly for information and inspiration like a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower. Unlike his left-brained colleagues who move in linear avenues like inchworms digesting information bit by bit, the creative right-brainer can handle multiple projects at a time. However, the result of prolonged multiphasic activity is creative bankruptcy yielding lack of confidence, procrastination and blockage. Rather than seek help, the embarrassed artist now isolates himself and stews in his depression. Left unattended, his despair loops recurringly like a computer program gone mad. An early therapy for genius-in-the-loop is a vacation from creative commitment. Interestingly, Styron does not document any respite from his intense schedule. He remained snared in the quicksand of award dinners, benefactor hand-kissing, television appearances and personal engagements. His depression was stalled ultimately by a seven-week residential treatment.

The creative spirit is a sensitive one. Kept in balance with an eye toward withdrawals, its vitality can recoup. Since the receivers of the genius's gifts are relentless children in their expectations, it is the artist's responsibility to place a healthy limit on their demands. If left unchecked, the chronic stress of satisfying those edicts will become the madman's dictatorial coach shouting unrealistic directives to the beleaguered artist galloping blindly over depression's hurdles. Without psychiatric therapy and pharmacological intervention, that sensitive human spirit will surrender like many creative geniuses before it. Thankfully, William Styron did not surrender, but rather, survived to describe his painful inferno educating those who have never run depression's hellish marathon.


Andrews, L.V. (1985). Jaguar Woman. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.

How to Keep Your Artistic Creativity Alive. [On-line]. http://sims-

Lenz, F. (1995). Surfing the Himalayas. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Mayas From The Ancient Empire. [On-line]. http://udgftp.cencar.

Styron, W. (1990). Darkness Visible. New York: Random House.

Vittorio, K. Interview with Severe Depression Victim. September 20, 1998.


Rainbow Chaser

Rainbow Mother,
Out of body, or in night's dream
My creativity.
Unfrightened now, I am you.
Remember when I would close my eyes
and sing loudly so I couldn't hear you?
You never abandoned me.

I masqueraded as Nurturing Mother.
You wore her cloak.
She looked sane
and made me respectable at PTA.
But your inspiration gave me away
They looked askance at my ideas
and wondered who I really was.

Secretly you inspired my womb.
"Do this," I would whisper.
"Everyone else will be doing that."
Kerry would laugh in delight
and stand out in the crowd.
Dana would cry.
Nurturing Mother would wipe her eyes.

Like a transvestite--I drove carpools
entertained catty wives and other fools.
It was my Darkness Visible.
Work was my substance abuse,
an outlet for you.
But home again, feeling terrified
Nurturing Mother would wipe my eyes.

Like a child bidding adieu to an invisible friend
I can't remember your start and the other's end.
I do remember the fear.
You didn't comfort me. Instead you shouted impatiently.
"We've got a lot of catching up to do!"
I honed my gut and sharpened my wit
And slipped into your soul-the perfect fit!