Self-Care Sunday: Mental Health and Creativity
Mental health has long been linked to creative endeavors. The sad artist trope is a clichéd and misused stereotype that has done more harm than good to creative people all over the world. Writers, painters, photographers — anyone doing anything artistic is portrayed as sad, introverted, and troubled. Creatives must have hidden drama that they excommunicate through their art. They're all moody and often turn to alcohol and drugs for inspiration. We see this in Jack Kerouac's On The Road and the Beat Generation — the endless unattachment and substance abuse, sexual promiscuity in the pursuit of a creative effort. Artists have been painted as mentally unstable people and that, to this day, has had an effect on how many people view mental health and creativity.
For a really long time, I thought I had to be a deeply troubled person to be a writer. I though it was cool to be sad and moody and while carrying around a notebook to write. Being misunderstood and antisocial was encouraged because it suited the image of the artist that I had always seen depicted in media. But guess what? That's not really how it works. Being sad doesn't make one more apt at creating art. If anything, it inhibits the art-making process.
Mental health problems are not to be romanticized — to be made into a positive characteristic or something to look for in creative people. It takes more than sadness to make something. It takes discipline, effort, motivation, and confidence. These characteristics help overcome mental illnesses. They are inspired by healthy behavior and feeling good overall. While poor mental health might not stop one from creating, it can definitely hinder the process and keep one from reaching their potential.
Last year, my mental health was the worst it has ever been. I started writing because of it, because I wanted to get better and thought writing would help me do that. However, when my mental illness was at its peak and I could barely bathe by myself, I couldn't write. All I wanted to do was sleep and lay in bed, therefore, writing was the last thing on my mind. I missed out on a lot of writing opportunities because I couldn't do the work. I was not able to be productive and my brain was in a massive fog. I just couldn’t concentrate. That is the reality of trying to create while depressed or anxious or dealing with massive mood swings. It's not fun or romantic; it's serious and upsetting and can have a real impact on your life.
So, if you're an artist or a creator that is dealing with mental health issues, find help and focus on your health strongly and freely before you worry about if you're not producing or creating enough. Sleep, eat right, exercise, take your medication, catch some sun, rest, breathe, and make sure you are doing what is best for you. Don't fall into the disturbed artist trope and think you will find your creative strengths through pain and suffering. You'll find it through happiness, health, support, confidence, self-esteem, and self-love. It might take time to get there and achieve those things, but they will be worth it and will ultimately make you better at your craft. So, take care of yourself and paint, write, photograph, sculpt, collage, embroider — anything that brings you joy.