Mental Health and Creativity

I have depression, and have in some form since childhood.  Its like wading my way through cold liquid tar.  Most of the time its about ankle deep, but sometimes it gets up over the knees – and wading through the cold black sticky stuff is hard work.

Depression taints everything in your life, taking the shine and colours away, making everything less joyous.  I can still have moments of happiness, laughter and joy, but the difficulty in getting to those places makes it so much harder to achieve them.  It also makes them that much more precious.

For the last year or so I have been feeling …… flat…. is the best way to describe it. Additionally another symptom that has  been kicking my ass is anxiety – that is what has really messing with my general mental wellbeing.  Anxiety affects my ability to sleep, instead lying awake at 3am with the hamsters in your brain running flat out on their treadmills – spinning all sorts of possible problems, scenarios and outcomes. This generates more stress, being aware of and awake for hours with the need to eventually function for work, plus the additional adrenal overload on my system in trying to react to, and process all these made up scenarios (which invariably are never as bad as imagined!)

But I can’t turn it off and having tried medication before and been singularly unimpressed with the response, am not willing to turn to a medical establishment whose default setting appears to be “prescribe and damn the side effects”.

I’m depressed, tired, strung out, wrung out and struggling to cope some days.  I am not suicidal or self harming or any danger to myself or others.  This is not a cry for help but an explanation and an opportunity for discussion.  Mental health is an issue that affects many people but is stigmatised and not discussed openly.  So in the spirit of The Bloggess – I share my story, maybe you will tell me to harden up, maybe you will quietly nod and understand.

Being tired and stressed tends to affect my ability to filter and be less *me* – a friend describes it from his POV as “the shielding around the reactor core fails and leakage may be experienced”.  To avoid radiation burns for those I care about, that often means staying at home, hibernating or hermiting – listening to music a lot.

So I isolate myself from people, and feel guilty about that, and then stress about the guilt and……..

Jenny aka The Bloggess says emphatically Depression Lies – but when everything in your life is covered in black sticky yuck, its hard to see the truth in that.

So here we have a brain, clogged up with black sticky sludge, making everything difficult and sucking the joy out of life.  How does that impact on creativity?

Stress makes me lose my mojo quite seriously – after the earthquakes that damaged Christchurch I didn’t pick up my camera for a couple of years really and even then I had to force myself.

Since my trip to Melbourne I haven’t touched my camera, nor edited more than a handful of images.  In fact my Tasmania trip from 3 years ago still has half the images yet to be edited. Its another thing that nags at me, makes me feel guilty and stressed about not having done what I should have *sigh* sound familiar?

Doing Awake has taught me a lot more about my creative drive and how that manifests, and one of the good things is learning that it is OK to give myself space and time to fully evolve a concept.  If ideas are being generated and journalled to come back to, then even though nothing may be actively created, the brain is still engaged and thinking.

Those ideas can be stored away for when I am in the right headspace to create with them.  Giving myself time has actually meant the final outcome was often better than my original idea, so there is added benefit.  Plus its easier to be kinder to myself and not add to the guilt and stress loading.  I give myself permission to do exactly what I can, when I can and how I can, and be OK with that.

Managing your mental health is about making compromises.  This may mean never becoming the award winning artist I want to, but right now, that is the choice that needs to be made.

What interests me about how my mental health impacts my creativity is the direction it takes.  There is a darkness inside everyone, whether they are willing to admit it.  Maybe mine lives a bit closer to the surface than other peoples, or maybe my brain is just wired that way.

Right now its damn near impossible for me to create anything light, fluffy, pretty etc.  But my brain is overflowing with dark twisted ideas relating to the things its feeling right now – ways to express pain, anger, frustration, loneliness.  Being able to tap into the horrible yuck and create art, whatever it looks like……that helps keep me sane in a way I never realised it could.

Therefore I’m embracing all that darkness, holding it close and singing it bittersweet songs of despair and unhappiness, because dark twisted flowers are blooming in that landscape, and right now that pleases me greatly. Seriously, how fucked up is that 🙂

Instead of having to deal with all the unpleasantness that depression and anxiety usually bring, and being left in a barren landscape with little hope of relief, knowing you just had to endure.  Now I can harness all the angry darkness, and create something….. not necessarily beautiful…. but compelling and evocative.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stranger 🙂

What doesn’t kill you gives you unhealthy coping mechanisms and a dark sense of humour!

I won’t lie, this is pretty tough to deal with long term.  Maybe trying to do it unmedicated is making it harder than it has to be.  Maybe the wear and tear on my friends will be more than they are prepared to handle.  Maybe it doesn’t get better and this is my new normal.

If you read this far, then thankyou. If you have any thoughts or insights or your own story to share, I would love to hear from you.  If you would prefer to email me privately, thats OK.

A recent event has made me conscious that life is precious and we need to make the most of it – so be kind to yourself *HUGS*

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About lensaddiction

Mad keen photographer figuring it out as she goes!
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28 Responses to Mental Health and Creativity

  1. I just wanted to say that I think it is good of you to write this post. I think the more people are open about their struggles the better for all of us. All the best to you.

  2. papertwists says:

    What an eloquent insight into your mental health problems , movingly written -thank you for sharing .

  3. Secretly, I have had this problem for most of my life. The ‘black dog’ as Winston Churchill called it, comes over like a dark cloud and lingers for long enough. I don’t know what triggers it and I don’t know what makes it go away. Usually it lasts for a couple of days (and so I guess I’m lucky). When it happens I adopt my own remedy and I call it ‘plodding along’. I know that it will pass and so I have to force myself to ‘plod’. Oddly, photography does help to keep my mind ticking over and away from the dark side. I think everyone has ups and down but I recognise your description very well……..wading through dark molasses. I have never talked about this to anyone. My little secret!

  4. Linda Austin says:

    I agree with The Photonomad – my life is very much like that. Don’t know what triggers it or what releases me from it. In my plodding along I get very quiet. I have to wonder where on the ADHD scale I am because I don’t like to talk to people (typing is different) and I am most definitely a hermit. Lucky for me, so is my husband. Usually in this funk I don’t want to create but I do other things, like look for creative materials, go for walks. I learned as a child that friends are not always friends and adults don’t have time to listen. All of what has gone into getting us where we are today as a human, is always there to disrupt our lives. There are other things too – lack of daylight, cold, changes in weather and our relationships with those events. I do not have much faith in a medical system that pushes drugs. In fact the best help I have found is homeopathic remedies & that’s all I took when I fell & hit my head on the ice in February. Later I did go to a chiropractor. Homeopathic works with the body in small doses and doesn’t have any side effects, no hangovers from pain pills and no hyperactivity from them either. I learned this on my own – there are many books out there. I’m still seeking a homeopathic doctor. Art is an important way of bringing feelings to the surface so we can examine and learn from them. I have always said that I create art for me, to learn something about myself. To do that I examine the colors, shapes, symbols, flowers, all of it to discover meaning and sometimes I am very surprised. If I can find “Soul Painting” which is a short book (project for a class) I’ll send it to you. I’m beginning to think it is on the computer drive that crashed. Be who you are when you are and tie the guilt to a balloon & let it go.

    • Hi Linda and nice to hear from you. As someone with a science background I have some issues with homeopathy. I do like to use essential oils though, scent and fragrance are intrinsically tied to memories for me and I need to remember to use them more often. Good luck with your hard drive issues!

      The constant drive for positivity and creation in Awake I find sometimes quite draining and counter productive – I dont think Sebastian has ever had issues with his mental health and doesnt always understand the impact. Thats OK, I take from him what works and let the rest wash over me.

      In relation to your comment about not liking to talk to people and hermiting – are you aware of the Myers Briggs personality assessment? It assesses your personality type with a certain amount of accuracy on quite a range of things and I am an INTJ – you sound like you might be too – you can do a free short online test here if you are interested https://www.16personalities.com/ – they give quite extensive explanations which might resonate with you 🙂

      • green_knight says:

        I’ve stepped back from Awake a bit myself. It’s not the relentless positivity, but the expectation that I should want to rearrange my life to do photo art, which makes me feel that I’m in the wrong place – I *have* been working harder to carve out more time for creativity, but as this happens, I am doing *less* art, and more writing/programming.

        My (very brief) experience with medication was that it *did* cut through the hamster wheel and showed my thoughts pathways there were not frantically going round in circles; I came off very quickly because of side-effects, but it had been worth trying just for the experience of ‘it doesn’t have to be like this’.

        As for the ‘creating dark art’, well, whatever works for you. It wouldn’t work for me; but I think that more important than the subject is that you’re doing something that proves your competence. I may not like all of your pictures aesthetically, but I admire their execution.

      • Yes I learned early in Awake to take away from it what works for me and let the rest of it go. Its a shame you have moved away from it as there is a lot of value to be had from the training – you could always skip the Sebastian bits LOL.

        I’ve been doing more with mixed media myself which I am really enjoying, and so long as I have some form of creative outlet, Im happy.

        You make a good point about the meds and the hamster wheel effect (nice to know Im not the only one that metaphor relates to!). Sadly that wasnt my experience of meds, I actually felt worse on them – even more depressed!

        I know my ‘dark art’ isnt everyones cup of tea, nor would I demand that would be. Part of why I do it is to challenge myself and challenge other peoples perceptions, so “liking it” is a pretty subjective concept there. The fact you can appreciate the work I put into is is appreciation enough 🙂

  5. Ron Kalinchuk says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I think all of us go through something like this, some more intensely than others, but all of us are not ready to admit it or share it with others for various reasons. I encourage you in your journey and all the “plodding” techniques you have acquired. I am sharing a couple of poems with you that have a kind of spiritual leaning, so I hope they do not offend you if you don’t lean in that direction. They reflect a little of some of the paths that I sometimes have walked down.
    They need to be read in tandem, as the first one defines the problem and the second one offers the “solution.”

    Wistful Wraiths

    The emptiness of life,
    The vanity of existence
    Presses heavily upon the heart
    And soul.
    As the cruel, cold winds of change
    Scrape the scarred surface of our lives.
    Everything and everyone
    Is swept away like dead leaves blowing in the ditch.
    The tedious brown of a hesitant Spring
    Sucks the life out of us
    And the clammy cold fingers of despair
    Clamp harshly around our heads like cruel claws
    Inflicting pain and releasing life-blood
    From our aching bodies.
    People we thought we knew,
    Those we called friends,
    Brothers and sisters,
    Just disappear as if they never existed.
    Death, destiny, destinations unknown
    Each claim their own,
    Unfeelingly snatching them from our memory
    And our lives.
    Soon it will be as if they never were part of our lives.
    Friendship, fellowship, conversation, laughter no more.
    We were strangers then
    And now we are nothing.
    Neither of us exist in the memory of the other.
    We have all become melancholy wraiths;
    Mere smoke and mist instead of substance and joy.
    I will no longer remember, love, care for you,
    As you too push me from your memory.
    The zen of the now
    Has been replaced by the hollow ache of the future.
    Dreams, fantasies, promises and hope
    Have been sliced so thinly
    They no longer have any substance to them.
    The wind blows and bends our fragile lives
    Back and forth,
    Until we break and shatter into nothingness.
    Shards of life scatter like broken glass
    On a rocky shore, and the tides of time
    Take us out to sea,
    Crash us into the rocks and dull our sharpness
    Into smooth sea glass,
    Carelessly thrown upon the beach of time
    Until a little child comes and finds us lying there,
    Picks us up and imprisons us for eternity
    In the jar of her collection.

    White Horse Rider

    With white robes flowing behind Him like billowing clouds
    The rider sweeps along the misty beach
    As thundering hooves splash joyfully
    In the foam of the rolling waves.
    He dismounts and looks quizzically at the closed jar
    Partially buried in the smooth white sand.
    As He reaches down to pick it up
    The sun glistens off the waves and tiny rainbows of colour
    Sparkle and dance in its light.
    He opens the jar and retrieves the smooth blue shore glass
    Nestled in amongst the shells and polished stones.
    Now I am free from what I perceived as my eternal prison.
    He nestles the stone comfortably in the palm of His carpenter-calloused hand
    And turns it over and over, appreciating its glinting brilliance
    And silky texture.
    He holds it up to the brilliance of the Son
    And His light shines clearly through
    Forming a light blue spot on the foamy beach.
    No longer am I imprisoned in that cruel, closed jar
    But now I breathe the salty air with great gulps of delight
    And absorb the warmth of His gentle rays of gold.
    He pockets me and I snuggle close to His warmth.

    I have been meaning to do some photo art to illustrate these poems, but have not got there yet. One day I will.

    Blessings to you.

    • Hi Ron, I am not really a spiritual person, but I resonated with the line in the first poem about how our dreams and hopes have been sliced to thinly. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. Depression runs yes runs in my family. I believe it’s a genetic disease. My mother was severely-crippled- by depression. I have had mild bouts with it. My 3 daughters suffer too. All have been off and on meds. They try to thrive. Some days are better than others. When will there be more done about such a devastating illness. Thank you for creating platform for this misunderstood illness.
    Isadora 😎

  7. Thank you for having the courage to speak honestly about your mental health challenges. I am wondering whether it would help you to find images that express your state of mind, specific feelings – no matter what those feelings are? You incorporated some pretty striking images into your post. I went for a drive today and saw some fallen trees; not pretty to look at but the word that popped into my mind was “broken.” By listening in and honoring even our darker emotions, we can still create art and, perhaps, move thru those very emotions and come out in a different place?

    • Oh I have plans to create a series of images that are quite dark fetish themed ones, as soon as the last of my props is organised, I will be getting started on it. Great idea tho 🙂

  8. desleyjane says:

    I can’t comment from my own experiences but I will say that I am so impressed with the work you produce and the way in which you share it and your mental health journey. I say use what you can, when you can. And keep being you ❤️

  9. Respok says:

    I can feel where you’re coming from, I too suffer from depression and anxiety. The last 7-8 years including today as I write this havr beco mr a nightmare that doesn’t end,

  10. newhonesty says:

    I liked this post a lot! I especially love the photos you added, they are beautiful!! I linked to this article on my recent post, hope that’s okay 🙂

  11. This is so raw and brave. Your photos you chose are so fitting, and really moved me. When we give ourselves permission to compromise and work with the emotional challenges we have (while managing them), it’s amazing what our body and mind will allow to happen. Some of the most creative people (musically and artistically) struggle with mental health concerns, and really were able to channel that. It’s all about how you use it. beautiful post ❤

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