Today I’m going on a tangent. I’ve been dancing around this subject for a few days now, perhaps since the beginning of this blog. Because I recently read The Beauty of the Fall and Sherman Alexie announced that he would be cancelling his book tour due to depression, I figured that now is the time to discuss a very fragile but very important issue: mental illness.
A supposed link between artists and mental illness has been a source of laughter, fear, and debate in the creative community, from writers to painters to engineers. I recently read an interesting blog post on the website for Scientific American in which the author discusses a link between creative people and mental illness which most people may not consider.
I’m not going to arguing for or against the link. As the above article mentions, most researchers agree that “mental illness is neither necessary nor sufficient for creativity.” I trust the science behind this conclusion but you cannot deny that many well-known creative people have suffered, or at least seem to have suffered, from some form of mental illness. Van Gogh. Hemingway. Woolf. Plath. Rowling. Many, if not all, of my creative friends have some form of mental illness. I suffer from crippling anxiety and depression.
Does that mean mental illness aids creativity? While it can serve as experience-gathering and inspiration after one has overcome or gained control of it, I would generally say no, mental illness does not help creativity. In fact, as the Scientific American blog post suggests, the opposite is true.
I can only speak from personal experience. The days when my anxiety overwhelms me or I can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel due to depression, I can’t write a thing. I doubt that anything I could possibly write would be worth reading and I feel like some invisible force keeps shoving me away from the creative and cognitive functions of my brain.
Perhaps that’s why so many creative types who suffer from mental illness self-destruct. Like anyone else, we’re afraid of the stigma surrounding depression, anxiety, and similar illnesses and want everyone to think that we’re doing fine. We trick ourselves into thinking that so long as we stay busy, so long as we keep writing or engage in whichever creative outlet we prefer, that we will be fine. It’s just another source of inspiration.
Eventually, mental illness wins out over creative action if we don’t get help. I know this view is rather pessimistic but it’s the truth. We try and push through our inhibitions but we wear down.
Daily creative acts can ease mental illness. Still, that doesn’t mean that they will make the problem go away entirely. We can’t ignore the issue and hope it’ll get better.
We have to let people we trust know about our experiences. The stigma is strong but we have to break it. Support from loved ones, therapy, daily life changes, medication, many options to improve our mental conditions exist if only we choose to pursue them. I know that, in the United States, it can be hard enough to get the medical support due to health cost restrictions. Why deprive ourselves from the other options, too, because we’re scared of what other people will think?
Remember, you can’t write if you’re too overwhelmed and not taking care of yourself.
If you find that you’re suffering from mental illness and don’t know where to go (or don’t want to start out locally due to finances and/or privacy), check out this article about 81 mental health resources for when you can’t afford therapy.
Do you have any experiences with mental illness you wish to share? Words of advice, encouragement, or additional resources? Feel free to drop a line in the comments. Remember, this is a safe place. No one will judge you and, if anyone starts to troll you on here, please contact me at email@example.com.