How Mental Health Affects Creativity
A few months back I started to attend weekly therapy sessions. Having always believed that I would benefit from discussing the inner workings of my mind with someone other than my family and friends — the final push to seek some professional guidance came at a breaking point.
I started to feel what most people experience from mental cloudiness — a proclamation that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had suffered since adolescence from feelings of depression and anxiety, but never felt strong enough to talk about it. In fact, I didn’t give myself any kind of empathy or concern — instead I forced blame and told myself that I was stronger than my weak state of mind. You’re an achiever, a go-getter — you can’t let every little thing bother you.
But, mental health doesn’t work like that.
I sat in my new therapist’s office — a mid sized room where I was directed to find a spot on the couch as she rested in a chair in front of me. In the corner was a shelf of children’s toys and a standing air unit that buzzed and hummed through the entirety of our session.
Therapy is like telling your secrets, only to then dissect them and direct the conclusions back to instances in your life in an attempt to discover where the problem arose from. We talked about my childhood, my family, my relationships and career goals. We talked about my intention to move back abroad and my plans for the future.
In my two quick months of therapy, I often heard that the source of my problems (or what I believed to be problems) all came back to the idea of my unwillingness and inability to live in the present moment. I either focused too much on the past and became depressed. I worried too much about my future and felt anxious. There was hardly ever the space for pure contentment and peace that can only be achieved by living in the moment.
And yet, with such realization we always came back to the idea that I was an artist, a creative and that my mind doesn’t always work in “normal” ways. It wasn’t that I couldn’t move on or slow down the motion of my thoughts if I tried, but instead that I was plagued with such instability by my own self infliction. I was using these past moments or future worries to build and shape my existence and to create a story that felt worth telling.
My Depression as Inspiration
Most people can let things go easily without even a glance back at the remnants left behind. But when you suffer from plagues of restless mental health and bits of unhappiness, you tend to focus on every minute detail with excruciating certainty.
I found that through experiences I had, mistakes I made or emotions I felt with such intensity were always the driving force of my creativity. I chose to represent my personal feelings in a tangible way through creating photographic scenarios infused with my ill sensibilities and less than cheerful demeanor. Everything I wanted to write felt as if I were this bleeding heart oozing out onto the page. An accumulation of artistic sorts, all originating from the story I felt that I needed to tell.
With mental health, the idea of being depressed has always seemed taboo. I felt that talking about being sad or unhappy would cause others to tip toe around my feelings and give me special attention in fear that I would lash out otherwise.
Again, this is not how mental health works.
My depression was a result of thinking that my past was better than my present. Feeling incredibly crippled and frozen by the thought of not being able to create and experience such memories again — I convinced myself that I was had lost my shot at a happy life.
Even though it doesn’t seem logical, mental health like creativity is at its core illogical. I cannot explain why I harp on certain aspects more than others, I can’t control the way memories and moments take shape and shelter within my brain. I can only recognize my pattern of thinking to then use this as a catalyst for something beneficial.
My issues with sadness, depression or a unenthusiastic feeling about my life was the source of my inspiration. We have to take the upset, hardship and transform it into something that speaks levels for our art. Pinpoint the feelings you have and think of how you can express them in a way that benefits your emotional and mental state. Use the past, the experiences and even the mistakes as your inspiration.
My Anxiety as Motivation
Anxiety is the devil on my shoulder that tells me I’m not good enough. You’re not that great at photography, there are more talented people than you, you will never get what you want, you should give up now before it’s too late.
I worry, I fret and I overanalyze the motions of my life with such precision that you would be tired living just one day with my brain. Anxiety is a pattern of thoughts that focuses on things that haven’t even happened yet, instances I have zero power to change and situations that truly hold no meaning. It is a lot of “Well, what if this happens” or “This is the way this scenario will play out” — followed by mountains of stress and uncertainty.
I know that deep down, anxious tendencies are rooted in my wanting to thrive and succeed. I am anxious because I truly fear failure and living a life that doesn’t live up to the idea I have concocted inside my head. I let thoughts circle the drain for hours on end, before I can even realize that I need to pull myself out from under the weight of my own stress.
Anxiety plus creativity equals motivation. I began to realize that my mental state is a muscle that will always need to be worked on and strengthened. I will not wake up one day with all my problems having disappeared. Every day will have to be a battle against myself to overcome the issues I face in order to live a functional and happy life, free of obsessive nervous thinking.
In my work, my anxiety to succeed and thrive causes me step up my game and use this internal panic as fuel to the artistic fire. I worry, but instead of lying in bed trying to find a solution that doesn’t exist— I work instead. I increase my productivity to match my qualms about the unknown of the future. I use this unrest as motivation — never allowing the fear of what could happen hinder me from making things happen.
Use Your Mental Health as a Catalyst
It wasn’t easy to turn negative attributes into positive action. Had you met me at the beginning of this year — we may be having an entirely different conversation, a far more negative one to say the least. Yet, the ability to have an open conversation about our mental health and how it affects our daily lives is essential in realizing how to combat such turmoil.
I look at the uncertainty I face each day with more willingness to change and use these feelings effectively in my work. I can either allow my worries to define me or choose to alter and redefine them to create something with truth and meaning. This is how positive mental health works.