Creativity vs Mental Health

Writing is hard. What  seems like an easy thing, sending thoughts to paper, turns about to be strenuous, to an almost overwhelming degree. A combination of the physical act of moving your hand to type or write, combined with the mental contention of forming your thoughts coherently, it leaves the writer feeling drained after only a short while.

Of course, this absolutely isn’t true for everyone, and I have found myself thinking about that constantly of late, and how it only appears to effect me when I try to write.

Somehow becoming a writer has been my obsession for about fifteen years, and it is all I have been thinking about, and that’s just it. The pressure, the constant shouting in my mind to succeed. It’s an incessant din, present mostly not when I sit down to write, but just before, and suddenly, I become the most productive man in the world. Suddenly the dishes that needed to be washed need washing right now. Even though I’ve already cleaned my bedroom today, that slight bit of dust needs to be eradicated, right now. I have the ideas swirling around in my head like a vivid cyclone, but the physical act, of sitting down, focusing entirely, somehow that is something that still frightens me.

But it is only with my writing I find this. I’ve never been a skilled artist, but if I decide to spend a vacant afternoon drawing, my brain just switches off, there is no physical drainage, just a physical, meditative type of peace. Same with anything creative; painting, baking or just making something, I can allow myself to be lost in the moment and the movement, and the outside world is irrelevant, because I don’t pressure myself with those ventures. I don’t care if someone likes my drawing, or if my cake didn’t rise the way it should have, because those are labours of love. I made a cake because I wanted to try a new recipe, I began drawing a character because I wanted to see what they looked like outside of my head, the result doesn’t have to be perfect. Even though creating and writing are my absolute passions, I still haven’t been able to write just because I wanted to, solely, but rather because I felt like I had to. I can feel the grains of the hourglass trickle slowly behind me, and I know that if I want to make it, I have to make a start now. But what if no-one likes the way I write? What if someone else publishes a story with a very similar idea to mine before I’m even finished? What if I come up with an idea I like even better than the one I’m currently working on? Suddenly this passion has become a duty, and I can feel it weighted upon my back.

The voice that whispers these notes in my ear has been prevalent for the entirety of my life. That little monster called anxiety. A grotesque, weeping, scared parasite burrowed deep into my subconscious. A pestilent presence on my life, affecting every aspect of it. From going the shy, reclusive, eye-contact-avoiding little boy, to a fully functioning adult who can make conversation with anyone, but suffers  when no-one is looking. As it happens, I have been diagnosed with an extreme case, which I’m still trying, with difficulty, to find help with. While I have found ways to control my depression, to the point I can even utilise it to help fuel my art, and in turn the art helps relieve me. Of course that’s never a perfect system, but a system that works most of the time is better than none at all. However with anxiety, there is no system.

Territory that comes with being the shy child, was being lost in a fantasy world. While I was too frightened to join in with any and all conversations as a lad, whenever I was staring into space, I was somewhere else, pretending I was a knight on a dragons back, or an explorer in a dangerous, uncharted tomb, and these fantasies would evolve naturally into stories. Soon the stories would become full, breathing worlds, with multiple tales and histories existing within, I used to insist on walking home from school, a tenuous 45 minute walk each day, because that was the time when I was truly alone, and I spent every second imagining I was walking through a different world of my creation. I believe I used the word obsession before to describe my tendencies, and I don’t think there is a single more accurate word. Even now, I still continue to constantly think about made up worlds and made up things, and that will always be a part of me. I just also talk to people now.

Creation is part of me, a skill that I have developed, but I have no real evidence to prove that. Telling you what i’m like is all well and good, but at the end of the day, anyone could say that, anyone can claim to be more creative than another. All I want is to express how badly I want to get the ideas from my brain into the physical world, and maybe then I can feel at peace, but it’s still so hard.

I know I’m not special in this case, that’s not what this post is about. Firstly, it feels good to get it out in the open and just write again, but secondly, it’s an important flag for each person. There are millions of people who happen to be extremely creative, happy and successful, that’s no secret, but i’m willing to bet there are ten times as many who want so badly to create, but are hindered by the same anxieties or worse. Some of the most imaginative, passionate and talented people I know suffer behind closed doors, and we find solace together. It’s like reaching towards a dream suspended in the sky, but there are invisible hands, dragging you back down and anchoring you to the bottom.

So, how do we overcome it?

Fuck it I know. I feel like I wouldn’t have written this whole page if I had any definitive answers. I can find short, momentary answers, but they never last longer than a week. Those are good weeks, mind. Like when I began my short-story challenge,  write a short story each day for just a month. I gave it a good try, but I fell under my own ambition, and I always do, and maybe that is the problem. My obsession builds impossible, intricate and convoluted plots and plans, and I never build towards them, because they are too dense, impenetrable. Personally, I need to simplify things, let stories grow organically rather than building ornate helix-structures out of ideas and concepts. I have tried schedules, disciplining myself, putting myself into better environments and situations,joining writer groups, but I can’t get anything to stick. It’s just more pressure sometimes. I know I’ll beat it, I just need to convince myself that it’s not gonna be an instant thing.

Thanks for making it this far, this has been more of a rant than anything, but dang it, it feels good to write again.

If you struggle with creating something due to mental barriers or illness, whether you’ve beaten it or you’re still trying, I’d love to hear about it, leave a comment and let’s talk about it, and if the struggle is effecting your life, you can find help. In our modern climate, it might be hard to get on the waiting lists, but the stigma of mental health is lifting, in our new world, we are finally becoming more accepting as a species, and that’s a wonderful thing. Reach out, get someone to listen and don’t apologise for continuously talking. You matter, and so does your happiness. Reach out, talk, and create art.

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