CREATIVITY + DEPRESSION: YOU'RE NOT ALONE
We spoke to WNW Member #103 Sara Shelton about her brave and very necessary new project, We Get Depressed. Having battled depression herself, and losing her brother to it, Sara knows better than anyone the importance of starting a cause that directly tackles one of depression’s false and most dangerous calling cards: that you're alone in your depression.
"I was walking my dog, thinking about how, statistically speaking, I was walking by tons of people who get depressed. And wouldn’t it be comforting to just know who they were, so we could do a little nod, like, 'Yep, I get you.' When I got home from that walk, I bought the URL for We Get Depressed, googled 'how to build an online store,' and now here we are."
We also explored depression's link with creativity: "We’re thinkers! We over analyze and question things and sweat all the details... I try to think of it as a package deal. Being creative means that sometimes, I’ll struggle with depression. But it also means that sometimes, I’ll get to feel funny and smart and excited to make things. I try hard to be okay with that package because, for one, I don’t have a choice - I’m stuck with myself. But also because when I’m in a good place, I really like getting to be me."
Get your t-shirt here to let others know they're not alone.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Who is Sara Shelton and how did she get here? How did you become a copywriter?
I wasn’t lucky enough to be one of those kids who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. All I knew was that I wanted to do something creative, something I cared about, and something that I could do while wearing sneakers. After growing up in Texas, I eventually found my way to Ft Lauderdale (okay, I moved there for a dude) and finished up my degree in Communications.
When I set out to find my first real job, I immediately regretted majoring in Communications. I hadn’t learned how to DO anything. But I loved writing, so I made a list of every film company, editorial house, and ad agency within 50 miles of where I lived, and started knocking on doors. My first job was as a personal assistant at a tiny, three person ad agency. Then I moved to what I thought was a more legit agency, only to discover that it was basically scamming people with those “Click Here and Get a Free iPod” web banners. (Sorry, everyone).
My uncle is a copywriter, so I talked to him and he said, “you’re not really working in advertising, you know.” He told me about copywriting, and about Miami Ad School. I wasn’t too thrilled about going back to school, but I decided to give it a shot. After my first quarter in ad school I was like, “okay, I love this and I want to be really good at this.” So I put my head down and got to work.
What do you do when “Not Working”?
There’s nothing I love more than sitting in a bar with funny friends laughing about dumb shit. I’m also a big lover of comedy. I’m so fascinated by standup, although I’ve never performed it. I used to do a lot of improv, but being part of a group is a huge commitment… and agency life makes that really difficult. So now I just perform in storytelling shows from time to time. It’s not as popular of an art form, but I love it. You should check it out! I also have this really awesome pitbull named Thor who I wander around Brooklyn with quite a bit. I can be a bit of a hermit, so it’s nice that he forces me to get out of the house. I actually had the idea for We Get Depressed while I was out walking him.
What led you to start this project?
Depression has been a “thing” in my life since I was in high school. I lost my brother to suicide when I was 16, so I’ve spent years thinking about his depression, and playing out ways I could have saved him. But since then, I’ve also struggled with my own depression, so it’s always top of mind. There was a time about four years ago, when I had just moved to LA and out of nowhere, I got really depressed. Like, really depressed. I remember meeting my aunt for dinner and just hoping she’d be able to tell, because I was too embarrassed to bring it up. Luckily, she noticed immediately, and she and my cousin put me in touch with a professional. I got on medication for a while, and once I was feeling better, I thought a lot about how ashamed I had felt for feeling depressed. I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone with my problem, and I was honestly too exhausted to google “therapists in santa monica”. Keeping it a secret had been so important to me, which in hindsight felt really messed up.
So when Robin Williams died last year, I posted something on facebook, encouraging friends to get help if they need it. The last part of it said, “And don’t think, for a second, you’re alone. There’s probably more of us than there are of them, just no one ever talks about it.” I got so many messages about that post. Friends basically saying “hey, that’s really brave of you to admit that you get depressed. Nobody knows this, but I’ve struggled with it too.” I realized admitting it wasn’t just a problem for me, but for others as well.
Then a few months ago, I was walking my dog and thinking about how, statistically speaking, I was walking by tons of people who get depressed. And wouldn’t it be comforting to just know who they were, so we could do a little nod, like, “Yep, I get you.” When I got home from that walk, I bought the URL for We Get Depressed, googled “how to build an online store,” and now here we are.
We Get Depressed directly tackles one of depression’s false calling cards, that we’re alone in our depression. Do you see that feeling of loneliness in feeling alone as the most dangerous effect of depression?
I do, and social media doesn’t help. Online, we all present ourselves as these perfect people loving every moment. Depression makes you feel like you’re the only one on the planet who’s such a mess, so you go out of your way to hide it from all your “perfect” friends. Which, I’m telling you, is absolutely exhausting. And only makes it worse.
There seems to be a general consensus that depression is particularly prevalent in creative individuals. Why do you think this is? How has your creativity helped keep depression at bay? And how has your creativity perhaps opened the door to depression?
Because we’re thinkers! We over analyze and question things and sweat all the details. Creative people have heightened emotions. Sometimes that can work to our advantage, and other times it’s the opposite. That’s just the way it is. So I try to think of it as a package deal. Being creative means that sometimes, I’ll struggle with depression. But it also means that sometimes, I’ll get to feel funny and smart and excited to make things. I try hard to be okay with that package because, for one, I don’t have a choice - I’m stuck with myself. But also because when I’m in a good place, I really like getting to be me.
What’s been the reaction since you started this project? Any unexpected effects from sharing it?
The support has been so reassuring. Not only are people buying the shirt, but they’re wearing it. I found wearing it to be a bit intimidating at first, so I’ve been really inspired by those who throw it on like it’s nothing. It makes me feel like I’m a part of something, rather than just a lone wolf trying to make a point. One thing I wasn’t expecting to happen was how many people would reach out to me, and share their personal experiences with depression. People seem to really want to open up about it. Makes sense, because it feels pretty liberating.
What are some top tips (say 3-5) you can give to fellow WNW members who suffer from depression?
I don’t know if I’m qualified to give tips, but here are some things I wish I was better at:
- Don’t wait until it gets really bad to admit it to yourself. Talking yourself out of a dark hole fucking sucks, and the deeper you’re in it, the harder it can be to motivate yourself to start crawling out of it.
- Make mental notes of what triggers your depression, so you can (try to) limit those things.
- When things are good, note the things that make you feel joy, and make those things a priority in your life.
- Don’t give up, you’re doing the best you can and that’s good enough. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
- Tell someone. (Maybe someone who you know can relate, because you’ve seen them wearing that shirt around.)
Who are some other WNW members whose work you admire, and why?
There are so many! I’ve always admired Brian Moore, Rahul Panchal, and Graham Douglas for each having this fearless attitude towards making ideas happen. I’m a big fan of Tommy Noonan and his new bodega project. I’m obsessed with Donnell Johnson’s writing. And nobody has a better eye than Elizabeth Dilk. Anything she lays out, I want to buy.