Creativity Begins Where Anxiety Ends

Too many of us are locked in self-consciousness. We worry about how we will be perceived by friends and family, or colleagues, or that great nameless, faceless mass of folks known as “the public.” Anxiety of that kind is the enemy of creativity because creativity requires the courage to be judged. Whether writing or painting or sculpting or inventing a new product or starting a new business, there will be no shortage of critiques and critics. And the more raw or original or iconoclastic the idea, the louder the criticism will be. Get it just right as an artist/inventor/entrepreneur of any kind, and you can plan for lots of pushback—at least, initially.

Since this is the case, one way to tap into your creative spirit is to start brainstorming with this unfinished sentence, “If no one would ever know, I would try to create __________.” Or, you could use this unfinished sentence: “If no one would ever know, I would write about ___________.” Or how about this one: “If I knew no one would laugh at me, I’d design a __________.”

It’s worth using a device like this to get to your creative core because the fear of self-disclosure is actually paper tiger. You won’t lose anything worth keeping when you uncover and share the deepest level of your creative soul; you’ll gain the power to connect with others at that level. And that’s what a creative life is all about.

The interplay between anxiety and creativity isn’t a one-way street. Sure, anxiety can limit your creative output. But if you keep your creativity bottled up, it won’t just remain peacefully contained. It will start to churn uncomfortably, underground, and actually cause anxiety.

Even when a person is engaged in a creative process, it can take a conscious decision to burrow more deeply, in order to get to even richer sources of creative energy. Not infrequently, when writing the series of essays included in my book To Wrestle with Demons, I had to challenge myself to reveal more of my thoughts than I initially felt comfortable with. In fact, the reflections that initially begged to remain private ended up being the ones readers said they connected most with. That’s no surprise; we are more alike than different in what we fear and so much more alone with our anxieties than we need to be.

Self-revelation crushes anxiety and fuels real creativity because it accesses core truths. Just take it from one of my favorite authors, the late Harry Crews. Crews had written without any success for years. Then, he finally decided to stop pretending and start sharing who he really was. That’s when his work started to sell. One novel after another. Here’s how he described it:

I was sitting in a tiny room at the typewriter trying not to wake up my eight-year old son. Beside me in boxes were manuscripts. All rejected. Rejected because they were no good. I’d written five novels and hundreds and hundreds of short stories. I’d written ten years, and not a word had seen print . . . I was a writer. A fiction writer. And a goddamn good one. It was in me somewhere, but something had gone horribly wrong . . .

I turned and looked at all that worthless work stacked against the wall. Why was it all so goddamn bad? Because by then I knew the work I had done, and was doing, was no good. I had worked just hard enough and had learned just enough to know that I wasn’t neglected or overlooked by several thousand dumb publishers of one kind or another. No, I was a twenty-four-karat fake; that was the trouble.

For many and complicated reasons, circumstances had collaborated to make me ashamed that I was a tenant farmer’s son. As weak and warped as it is, and as difficult as it is even now to admit it, I was so humiliated by the fact that I was from the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in the worst hookworm and rickets part of Georgia I could not bear to think of it, and worse to believe it. Everything I had written had been out of a fear and loathing for what I was and who I was. It was all out of an effort to pretend otherwise. I believe to this day, and will always believe, that in that moment I literally saved my life, because the next thought—and it was more than a thought, it was dead-solid conviction—was that all I had going for me in the world or would ever have was that swamp, all those goddamn mules, all the other beautiful and dreadful and sorry circumstances that had made me the Grit I am and will always be. Once I realized that the way I saw the world and man’s condition in it would always be exactly and inevitably shaped by everything which up to that moment had only shamed me, once I realized that, I was home free.

Yes, indeed. He was home free. He went on to publish many acclaimed novels and collections of short stories. His biography Blood, Bone and Marrow, written by Ted Geltner, was published in 2016.

I want you to dare to do it. Free yourself from anxiety by diving into the creative work you worry might reveal too much about you. Challenge yourself to peel away layers of defenses keeping you from sharing the core of you. You will never be weakened in the effort, only made more powerful.

Keith Ablow, MD
Founder, Keith Ablow Creative

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Be Wildly Creative – Now

I want you to be wildly creative. What does that mean? It means that you’re not going to get anywhere staying in your lane and thinking what you’ve been taught to think and doing the things you’ve been told to do, because they’re safe, predictable or make you look productive.

If you’re going to actually be the wildly creative person I want to be, and you want to be (or you wouldn’t even have gotten this far in this blog), you’re going to have to get dirty doing it. You’re going to have to leap at an idea that breaks into your consciousness, but needs you to leap at it, without a perfect safety net.

Let’s be honest: You already know one or more creative projects you’d like to leap at. I know you know because it usually only takes me two or three questions to get to the creative heart of someone who becomes a client of mine. Here’s one of them to get started with: “Is there something you used to love to do, but left it aside because it seemed impractical or a pipe dream or might end up not making you money?”

Well, here’s a newsflash: thoughts and impulses are not random events. God or the Universe doesn’t tap you on the shoulder for no good reason. When your heart and mind are taken by an idea or impulse, it means you are supposed to pay attention to it and may well mean that you are supposed to take action.

What might taking action look like and feel like? First, let me tell you what it need not look like and feel like:

• Walking out on your job
• Moving away
• Emptying your bank account and buying an Airstream trailer and hitting the road

The point is that all the drama that folks assign to really moving forward with a creative idea is usually resistance to the idea. It’s their minds saying, “Well, I would do x, y or z, but that would mean bailing on my family or my employer or risking being homeless.”

Um, no. Being wildy creative usually begins with modest steps in the direction of a dream. A future artist buys a canvas and some paints. A future screenwriter registers for a screenwriting seminar. A future entrepreneur sets aside one night to start searching the internet to see whether someone has already exploited her idea. A future teacher whose working as a software salesman (which is fine, but not if he’s meant to be a teacher) gets online and looks at teaching programs that can take some of his undergraduate credits.

There’s no U-Haul in site. There’s no luggage being packed. No satchel full of cash.

Now, if you’ve read to this point then you’re supposed to take your first wildly creative step. That’s right—supposed to. You’re supposed to get out of your own way and do the thing your imagination—which is wired to the Infinite—is telling you to do. Be revolutionary and take a small step in that direction. Commit to the step. Irrevocably. Show your intention to serve the Muse.

One step paves the way for another. That’s how creativity works. It’s like the flipside of an addiction to a meaningless drug (and all drugs are meaningless)—and a more powerful force by far. In fact, true creativity will obliterate addiction to anything without significance. It takes no prisoners. It yields for nothing. It just needs a beginning. A sentence written on a page starts a novel, or a business plan, or the lyrics to a song.

Who leaves a single brush stroke on a canvas? Nobody. How many people never place that first brush stroke on canvas. Countless people.

How many people write one sentence of a novel and never write another. Very, very few. How many people never dare write that first sentence? Countless people.

You get it. Now, get going.

(And, if you want to turbocharge your creative life, you know who to call. I’m gonna make it really easy . . . wildly easy . . . 978-462-1125.)

Keith Ablow, MD
Founder, Keith Ablow Creative

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MY FIRST DAY PROVIDING FREE CARE FOR VETERANS THROUGH #HELP22

Friday, November 22 was the first day I devoted to #HELP22, the initiative I started with Commander Kirk Lippold USN (Ret) and public relations professional Christian Josi. #HELP22 is our response to this startling and tragic fact:  As many as twenty-two veterans take their own lives every day.

I pledged to spend the 22ndof each month providing counseling to any veteran, free of charge.  As we build #HELP22, my hope is that other counselors, life coaches, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and clergy members around the country will do the same.  We plan to recruit them and organize them.

On Friday, I spoke with veterans from multiple branches of the armed forces, and I was humbled by what I heard.  These individuals devoted themselves to our freedom, despite the gravest of risks. Many of us can’t imagine leaving our loved ones, leaving the country and putting our lives on the line to defend freedom, but these individuals did just that.  They lost dear friends who fought alongside them.  They bore witness to acts of violence that, thankfully, most of us will never have to confront.  They were themselves injured.  They saw civilians killed by the enemy—especially civilians who aided our cause for freedom.

Not one person I spoke to on Friday asked for any sympathy, by the way.  There was not one ounce of self-pity expressed.  None.  They simply wanted to be heard.  They wanted to share the roots of their pain, not to complain about it, but to explain it.   Because that opens the door to the workings of human empathy.  And empathy, properly harnessed, is one of the greatest healing forces in the world.

When you are a good and decent person and your self-concept is that of a leader, and you inevitably lose men under your command, it can cut you to the core.  And the bleeding from that psychological wound can be hard to stop. But witnessing it, as a fellow human being trained in the listening arts, can begin to heal it.

When you are so heroic that you are willing to live in a Vietnamese village, alongside American sympathizers and then learn that, after your departure, the village has been burned to the ground by the enemy, and that dozens have been killed, you need someone to hear you out.  Because your story is too much to carry in your own soul, alone.

The fact that the men and women who risked their lives doing the work of defending America and her allies should find themselves in such desperation that they take their own lives is a cruel irony.  #HELP22 will never be, of course, a complete solution to veteran suicide.  But I know that every single hour I devote to listening to the stories of our heroes has the potential to remind one of them that another human being values what he or she sacrificed for me and my family and my fellow citizens and also understands—at a basic, human level—the resulting psychological wounds.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Dr. Keith Ablow is a counselor, life coach and co-founder of #HELP22, which he started with Commander Kirk Lippold, USN (Ret) and public relations professional Christian Josi. Dr. Ablow was, for 10 years, a Fox News Channel national on-air Contributor and member of the Fox News Medical A Team.  Any veteran who wishes to schedule an appointment for the next #HELP22 day, on December 22, should email [email protected].

 

 

 

 

 

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EXPLAINING EMOTIONAL PAIN IS NOT COMPLAINING

Do you think it means you’re weak if you share your pain?  You’re not alone.  Some of my counseling and coaching clients are stoic types who are very hesitant to connect the painful, early chapters of their life stories with the difficulties they are encountering in the present.  They don’t want anyone to think they’re making excusesfor their current struggles with mood or anxiety or relationships or a profession.  Even when they survived cruelty or abandonment or experienced very significant losses as children or adolescents, lots of people have told me they feel like they’re complaining if they make a connection between the trouble back thenand the trouble right now.

Well, here’s the truth:  It takes courage to connect the dots and trace your current struggles back to their roots.  It isn’t complaining about what you now face.  It’s part of explainingwhat you now face.

Here are some examples:

  • A man in his 40s had trouble figuring out why he was risk-averse and had passed up some very good opportunities that weren’t “sure things.” Amazingly, he never connected his reluctance to take risks with the fact that his father had passed away shortly after starting a business with two of his friends when my client was just 10 years old.  For my client, being bold was connected with death—literally.  Once we made that connection, he felt like a massive resistor had been removed from his decision-making process.  We had explained his fear of any risk.

 

  • A woman in her late 30s had married one weak man after another. Three short-lived marriages ended when she realized she was more like a parent in the relationships than a spouse.  She never connected her choice of men to the fact that her father was domineering man who unduly influenced her career path, among other things.  She wasn’t likely to ever risk being in a family with another powerful man, so she chose weak ones—until we explainedher choices by connecting the past with the present.

 

  • A woman felt her mood and energy plummet when her daughter turned 11. She was the CEO of a bank and had to take a leave of absence.  She hadn’t considered the fact that her sadness at losing one of her best friends when shewas just 11-years-old was being rekindled by her daughter reaching that age.  Once we explainedher sadness and fatigue by connecting the past with the present, they began to go away.

 

Explaining isn’t complaining.  It’s the opposite.  Only strong people are willing to do the hard work of connecting early life experiences with the ones that are troubling them today.  And the strength to do so pays big dividends, because it frees people to live powerfully in the present, rather than being hostage to the past.

There’s a very good reason to explain the roots of your recurring or chronic emotional pain, by the way.  Eventually, if you don’t, it will become debilitating.  The walls we build psychologically to keep our pain under wraps may start out as the walls of a fortress, but they always end up as the walls of a prison that keeps us away from our best intentions, most ambitious goals and capacity to love ourselves and others.

The idea that if you revisit troubling pages from your early history that you will become stuck there also is a myth. Revisiting them allows you to move past them.  Until you do, those pages will be your future, too.

Remember, human beings don’t really connect with other people by sharing all of their triumphs.  They connect with other human beings by being willing to share their struggles.  And you can’t really share what you’ve survived and how you’ve thrived, amidst adversity, if you can’t bear to look back at the earlier chapters in your life story for what they really were.

For anyone who wants to delve deeper into these topics, two of the books I wrote address them:

And, as always, for anyone who wants to take overcome today’s challenges and set the stage for tomorrow’s successes, contact me at [email protected].

 

Keith Ablow, MD

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WHY A DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY CONSULTANT COULD BE THE KEY TO RECOVERING

Are you still feeling low?  Still feeling anxious?  It may have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the treatments being offered to you.  Believe it or not, having a personal health careconsultant on your treatment team could make the difference.

Research shows that up to 70 percent of people being treated for depression have still not recovered three months later.  One study found that only 22 percent of those treated for depression by their primary care doctors were rid of their symptoms.

In the case of anxiety, the most optimistic assessments (PsychiatryAdvisor) estimate the percentage of those who do not respond to the usual treatments at 30 percent.

Experts believe, however, that a huge part of the problem with not recovering from depression and anxiety may be due to causes of these symptoms that go undiscovered by health care providers or effective treatments that are never offered.  This is why a personal depression and anxiety consultant could be critically important.

 

WHAT IS AN A DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY CONSULTANT?

 A depression and anxiety consultant is a combination coach and researcher who is extremely knowledgeable about your particular symptoms of depression or anxiety (or both) and who is also very knowledgeable about the variety of treatments available to make those symptoms go away. He or she would interview you and maintain contact with you, review your medical records, make you aware of treatment choices that may have been overlooked in your case and even potentially communicate with your psychiatrist or psychologist to help access new and effective forms of treatment.

 

WHAT AREAS MIGHT A DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY CONSULTANT FOCUS ON?

Here is just a sampling of areas commonly overlooked by mental health care providers:

 

  • An underlying medical illness (such as a thyroid condition or sleep apnea or Lyme Disease causing low mood or anxiety).
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiencies causing low mood or anxiety (and comprehensive ways to test for such deficiencies).
  • Genetic testing to determine if certain antidepressants or anti-anxiety agents are less likely to work for you.
  • Newer antidepressant/antianxiety medications that are superior.
  • The benefits of certain vitamin supplements that can be as effective as antidepressants or can addto their effectiveness.
  • The availability of newer technologies to treat depression and anxiety, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (Brainsway), bright light therapy and ketamine infusion therapy (Neuragain).
  • The availability of home devices to help treat depression.

 

Here’s one of my own client’s experiences, changing the name and some demographic information, of course, for anonymity’s sake:

George was a 32-year-old man who had experienced severe symptoms of major depression for the past 3 years.  His psychiatrist and psychologist had tried a combination of medications and psychotherapy, but George’s symptoms persisted.

When I was asked to work on his case (not as his doctor, but as his personal consultant), I immediately noted that the four antidepressants that had been tried in George’s case were all very similar, pharmacologically.  They all affected the serotonin system in the brain, but left the norepinephrine system largely untouched.  I raised the issue of trying a newer antidepressant that would increase the activity of bothneurotransmitters.

Before any change would be made, however, I made his psychiatrist aware of Genesight testing which would be able to determine if the new medicine was one that George would metabolize properly.

George improved, somewhat, on the newer antidepressant (which was among those cleared by the Genesight test), but he still wasn’t 100 percent.  That’s when I made his psychiatrist aware of the role that curcumin can play in alleviating depression.  Adding curcumin was helpful to George, as well.

Finally, in George’s case, his psychiatrist agreed with me that trying bright light therapy could impact George’s symptoms. And once George added that simple technology to his regimen, he rated his mood at 90 percent.

I also noted that George had never been tested for Lyme Disease and that he had no MRI on file.  His psychiatrist and internal medicine doctors ordered those tests. Luckily, the tests were normal.

Here’s the bottom line:  The number of patients who are being treated inadequately, despite the availability of very effective treatments for depression and anxiety is staggering.  So, when months or years pass without improvement, or without complete improvement, investing in a personal depression and anxiety consultant can make all the difference in the world.

If you or a loved one needs me as a depression and anxiety consultant (or a consultant on any psychological/psychiatric disorder), simply contact me at [email protected] or call

978-462-1125.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, The Ablow Center

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