The Black Hole of the Soul

While wondering, to myself, if there was such a thing as “Inspiration Deficit Disorder” (in relation to describing the situation where people fail to find a way out of a rut) I happened upon this blog today and discovered there was:

What an interesting set of ideas!  There is even a book about it.  The rest of my blog post (below) came to me in the car, on the way home, this evening.  I apologize in advance for the dark matter.

According to the author, Jonathan Ellerby, most people have Inspiration Deficit Disorder (the term being his own coinage, I suspect) and it impacts their health and well being more than they know.  Sounds bad.  What is it?

Have you ever felt unfulfilled and like something was missing in your life?  If you feel there is an unexpressed, but important aspect in your life, you probably have IDD.  It could be working in a job that doesn’t suit you, self-esteem and body image problems, an unsatisfactory relationship or a life (I hate using a word like “lifestyle” in this particular context) that takes care of everybody else’s needs, but not your own, which get displaced in the crush.  If we let this gnawing emptiness persist, these aching black holes of the soul translate into bad habits, poor health, self-neglect and high stress.  By anybody’s definition, that qualifies as a disorder.

To me, IDD is that lack of something indefinable in your life.  It expresses itself as a hunger that can never be satisfied.   It’s a deep yearning and a feeling that something vital is missing.

How do you know if you are suffering from IDD?  I believe that if you have it, you know it, but this link is a self assessment quiz that can help you decide:

If you feel stuck in one or more areas of your life, if you struggle to maintain the energy you need  to carry on (clues are that you drink a lot of coffee, or use alcohol or drugs frequently to manage your moods), if you spend a lot of time daydreaming about a different life or a dramatic change, if you feel like you are always putting other people first, meeting their needs at the expense of your own, if you don’t get the time to rest, recreate, renew and enjoy your interests on a regular basis or if you don’t feel like you are yourself any more (feeling a loss of essential identity), then there is probably nothing wrong with you and nothing to worry about, provided that only one of two of these apply.  However, if most or all of them apply, you’re an IDD sufferer.

What can you do about it?  How do you find yourself?  How can you discover and know your vocation (calling)?  What if, by pursuing your passion, people won’t like what you do?  What it people no longer accept you?  What if your nearest and dearest, the people that you surround yourself with, disapprove?  What if you go broke doing it?  These are the most likely questions to pass through your mind, when confronted with the choice of your life as it is now, or following your dream.

The way to end IDD is to change your mind.  You need to learn how to be honest with yourself, listen to your heart’s desires, know yourself and honour yourself, in the sense of taking care of yourself and perhaps even by writing fifty things that are right about you.

If you have a hobby, or a meditational practice of some kind, that you find restores your happiness and enthusiasm, then make the time to do it, at least every week, without exception.  If you don’t have a hobby, get one.  This is one of the first steps toward putting your own needs in their proper place – not necessarily above all else, all the time, but certainly not relegated to last in line forever.  You’re important too and if you become too detached and depressed to function effectively, you’re no good to anybody, not even yourself.

Life presents you with decisions that you need to make all the time.  One way to combat IDD is to make those decisions based on your real values and with a long term perspective in mind.  If you can’t look yourself in the mirror, after your decision, with pride in this choice, for the rest of your life, then you made the wrong decision.  I’ve written at length about what we really value in a previous post (you can find it yourself, if you have the initiative – why should I put your need to have a convenient hyperlink above mine to finish this short essay before bed?)

Akin to making courageous (in the sense of “from the heart” rather than the more modern sense of “brave”) decisions is the need to be authentic and true to yourself in your communications.  This is especially true in your important relationships.  There is nothing to be gained by suppressing your needs or any discussion about them, perhaps in a mistaken attempt to avoid conflict or hurting the other person.  Ultimately, it will all come out in the end anyway and usually explosively, but only after you have suffered in silence for some time and the other person has begun to suspect you’re not being entirely honest and open with them.  They may even see your failure to express your own needs as a betrayal of their trust in you and a failure to engage with them whole heartedly, in the relationship.  They might feel shut out and neglected, instead of feeling like you are putting their needs above your own.  How ironic is that?

The final thing you can do about IDD is to banish fear.  Fear holds us back and is typically what has stopped you from making the changes you drastically need to make, up to this point.  Fear might be running (and ruining) your life.  If it is, then you might not be able to achieve a quick fix, in this area.  You’re going to have to work on your fear for a while, before you can conquer it.  I’ve also written posts on overcoming fears.  You can use the search tools to find those too (I’m still not putting your needs above mine, so there).  The astute reader will notice that many of these themes (the cures for IDD) recur in Brené Brown’s works (look for my blog post on the Wholehearted Artist, if you want references – I’m still not going to pander for your instant link gratification habit, you hyperlink junkie, you.)

Living in a state where your needs and passions are consistently denied and suppressed is akin to living in a prison of the mind, maybe of your own making.  If you are cut off from your dreams and the things you like to do best, you have lost your intellectual liberty and can feel as entrapped and incarcerated as if you were physically locked away in a cell.

The unbearable feeling of not doing what you love doing best can become a super massive black hole at the very core of your being.  Working in dead end jobs, where there is no chance of progression, learning, training or even new challenges, trapped in a beige office cubicle, in an uncivilized building, on a business park, at the end of the known world, can very rapidly resemble detention.  If you feel your skills, talents, hobbies and interests are underutilized and that you are underemployed (there are blog posts I’ve written on this subject too – but don’t even think of asking me for a link to them), you can start to believe that you really did trade a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage.

All of this would be of little consequence, except for the fact that the resulting poor health, depression, high blood pressure and stress are a killer.  You will die younger.  Think about that for a moment.  Are you too scared, too fearful to prevent your own premature death?

People often find it inexplicable that rock musicians on tour trash hotel rooms, misbehave on tour buses and engage in all manner of self-destructive behaviours.  They’ve got it all, right?  People would give their lives to change places with them and so benefit from their wealth, the mass adulation and the opportunities that only they have.  It isn’t that simple.  Maybe, in the context of IDD, the life of a touring musician merely exacerbates the condition.

Some people love to absorb love and some love to radiate it.  Whether it’s with fans or family, most musicians either need to receive warmth and love, or else they need to pour it out and give it generously.  When the musician is on stage performing, that can happen.  When they are at home, it can also happen.  However, in the lonely hotel rooms and on the tour bus for incessant hours, it can’t.  That turns out to be most of the time.  In all of those hours, the acid of IDD corrodes their spirit.  Belonging to a community and being social is another strong and ancient drive, but so is being solitary, for some.  Yet, for the average rock star, how much privacy and peace do they get for solitary pursuits (such as hobbies), when they are living out of a suitcase and trying to maintain an insane travel schedule?  Businessmen that travel a lot on business feel this too.  I know.  I’ve been one of them.  How do you connect to and participate in a community, socially, if you, as a rock star, are always on the move, travelling from town to town and never staying long and when you have to maintain distance from your screaming, clawing fans, for personal safety and self preservation?  It’s no wonder IDD sets in.  You can hear it in the music, after a while.

Actors often are afflicted by IDD too.  If they only truly feel connected and happy while performing, consider all the time they don’t spend performing.  The resting actor is a cliché, but the potential for drug abuse, loneliness or feelings of inspiration deficit is high, during those fallow periods.

One of my own particular human need is that I find it unbearable to see people suffer, in pain or deeply unhappy.  I almost cannot help myself from wanting to make them feel better.  When my constraints (e.g. the need to remain polite or not upset some apple cart or other) make it impossible for me to do anything to change the situation, or where I see somebody actively contributing to making others suffer, feel pain or become unhappy, it distresses me to the point where IDD can set in.  When we were children, my youngest brother was ten years younger than me, so I was like a big indulgent uncle to him, rather than a playmate or sibling.  In adult life, I once asked my brother what he remembered most about his childhood and about me, his then teenage brother.  His reply was one of the nicest compliments I have ever received.  He told me that he always remembered me as the person that made him happy, when he was feeling sad, afraid, angry and alone or upset.  I’ve always treasured that assessment.

I have many friends that conquered IDD, but remain on alert to prevent its return.  I have friends that can’t not write software, play guitar, paint pictures or make jewellery.  It’s not a choice.  It’s more like a reflex action, sort of like breathing.  They just have to express who they are the whole time.  Of course, the moment they are unable to do so or prevented from doing so, their inspiration evaporates.  They become different people.

We all know what happens if people are imprisoned for too long.  Self-destructive behaviour is a very real risk.  It’s why prisons have suicide watch.  If you are in the prison of your mind, the same self-destruction can loom.  Animals in the zoo do it, too.  We’ve all seen the distressing videos of bears pacing obsessively and unhealthily, driven mad by the confinement and boredom.  We have all seen intelligent, top predators looking for an escape from their cage, but never finding one.  We can sense their distress and discomfort.  We feel it too.  They cannot help but be wild and being forced to be tame drives them potty, because they have a strong instinct and inner need to be wild and free.

Humans are not so different, really.  The need for freedom is hard wired.  It’s from a time when we were unfettered by the beliefs imposed on us by the needs of commerce and industry.  No wonder we succumb to IDD unless we can achieve a decent level of autonomy and self-determination.

So many people never find a way to find their purpose, of course.  It’s one thing to know what you’d rather be doing, when you can’t do it, but it becomes solitary confinement of the mind when you don’t even know what you would rather be doing and don’t have the tools, skills, role models or hope to even discover what that might be.

It’s discouraged in society, this freedom stuff, in the name of command and control.  They fear social networking, because it leads to unity and strength.  It’s universally talked down and warned against in the media.  Given half a chance, the powerful would happily shut down social networking.  Instead, they give us 6,500 channels of televisual rubbish; an intellectual void where we are again consigned to a solitary, lonely, disconnected existence devoid of all meaning and satisfaction.  As a result, the feral youth often have no idea what their passion really is, let alone how to follow it.  There is little opportunity or support for it to be otherwise.  They already live in the prison of the mind, but live there all the time.  Since childhood.  Locking them up doesn’t actually change their thought patterns at all.  They barely notice the additional loss of perambulatory liberty.

Our society routinely encourages and empowers “somebody else” to plan your life.  You must do what they say, instead of following your heart.  Independence is an aberration.  Non-compliance is forbidden.  There is an entire capitalist doctrine and attendant monetary system built up to deny the basic human need to follow your dream, or give and express gratitude in preference to taking ruthlessly, even though this is sometimes what people need most.

There are punishments for those that don’t conform.  Not all passions are valued by the economy, so well-meaning parents and all the orthodox accepted wisdom steers people away from their passions and into more remunerative careers, where people slowly go mad and die of stress, self-destructive behaviours or slow, bodily self-abuse (a form of elongated suicide, really).  There is no available alternative.

Conforming to expectations or somebody else’s required vision of you, or even those constraints that you self-impose to try to keep other people’s approval, all erode your integrity.  The longer you try to be somebody other than who you really are, the worse you will feel, the more frustrated, angry, impotent, hopeless, stressed, pressured, unhappy and self-destructive and uncaring about yourself you will become.  You also become harsh, uncaring, cruel, unfeeling, hard, aloof, selfish, and unkind.  There’s no future in it.

Following your passion is not actually optional.  It’s necessary.  Society, the world of work and the economy needs to be remade so that this central fact is recognised.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” –J. R. R. Tolkien

For more on this matter, see

(Oh rats!  I threw you a link after all!  But only after my own needs had been met!)

About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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4 Responses to The Black Hole of the Soul

  1. Thanks: good post! I think I had IDD a few years ago. I’ve gradually been changing the way that I live!

  2. I’m glad you liked the post and that you are recovering from IDD. 🙂 Thanks for your comments.

  3. One thing that drives my energy severely down is seeing the success of some concepts who over individualise problems because I find that they comfort exactly the kind of liberalism who pretends it s in everybody s own decision to be in a good situation.
    It is not, and as we are interconnected, I ask how some can pretend they have a healthy good life when other suffer badly from the conditions who have been set up to increase the delusional lifestyle of the first group. I got already in trouble, saying that to a teacher at young age, and obviously things don’t have improve much since.
    I often feel that something is going on, I often could not precisely explain. I don’t consider it as only about my own person . This morning , I stepped out into the garden, I knew that the energy in the air was better than in the last weeks. I have learned that I can trust my intuitions and when I share them with friends, we often have the same emotions at the same time and it feels good to understand that it is not only about pointing at our individual situation, but seeing a bigger perspective who can be experienced by many.
    I see a great danger in adding another pretend encouraging blaming on people in difficulties by pretending, if they would try, they could feel better. Therapy has to include social and environmental factors impacting the individual experience. If it does not, it remains a unconscious or cynical part of the problem who plays with the expectations of individuals to well function in absurd systems. As concerned therapist it is important to frustrate such delusions of perfection under each conditions, not to encourage them. I am deeply annoyed by the false happiness promises of a driven society system. Let s respect our all reality and care for our wounds without wishing them away too fast to understand their wisdom .

    • I think it was Carl Sagan who once said to make an apple pie, first you must create the universe. I think was are all connected and those people that try to individualize all problems are missing the point that context and the situation you find yourself in at birth, by sheer chance, have significant influences over your life. My view is that to solve some of the point problems that currently bedevil the world, first you must redesign a significant amount of the world. The things that humans have overlaid on the world, such as banking, commerce, industry, media, consumerism, etc. are all things that can be re-imagined, reconfigured or replaced, if necessary, when they no longer serve humanity’s needs well. Thank you once again for your comments. It’s always interesting to read them.

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