Creativity and chaos: channeling pain into art

I’ve touched on a few mental illness ‘tropes’ so far in my writing, but there’s one that really pickles my cucumber, and it’s this:

The suffering artist.

The neurotypical person’s argument generally goes something like this: “Well, if we’d put Vincent Van Gogh on lithium, we wouldn’t have the sunflowers!”

The issue with this is that it essentially boils down to a much more problematic sentiment: “I believe the ends justify the means, regardless of human suffering.”

Their thoughts are never with Vincent, miserable, in pain, mind buzzing incessantly. Their sympathies are not with his brother, who supported him for years and mourned his death with deep grief.

I’m definitely not a brilliant artist. I’m a writer, author of two published novels and myriad more half-completed. That said, creativity is still a big part of my personality, and lately it’s been a well run dry. A couple years ago, when I wrote my books, I had endless time to devote to them. I could procrastinate, and still get them done.

Nowadays, I spend all day looking at a computer screen. The idea of getting home and trying to tease the knots out of my narrative is unappealing, but there’s no other time in which I’d be able to do it. Inevitably, I don’t write anything at all, too exhausted by the effort of keeping my mask up all day to even entertain the thought of more work.

I’m also bitterly aware of the ‘dulling’ feeling many people experience when they start medication. When I was at university I was put (without counselling, after a ten-minute consult with a doctor I’d never seen before nor ever saw again) on citalopram, at what I would later find out was a ridiculously high dosage.

At first, once the nausea had passed, I was fine. Better than fine – I was blank! I’m sure anyone who’s ever been a teenager knows that intense longing for numbness, to just not have to deal with your own feelings.

The issue was, my motivation to do pretty much everything came from pain. Insecurity made me shower and put on makeup. Fear of criticism made me study and show up to lectures on time. Anticipation of judgement drove me to socialise, get out of the house, join in during pub-crawls (by the way, not a great idea when you’re on meds).

Without my pain, I was totally unmotivated. I drifted through life, absent and blank.

If I had my time again, I’m honestly not sure I would have had it any other way.

Yes, I didn’t make any art that year. I didn’t write anything worth reading, or make an impression in choir, in school, with my social group. Just as the Vincent-Van-Gogh supporter said, medication had taken away my spark.

It also showed me what neutral felt like again. Not ‘coping’, not ‘quiet suffering’, but honest-to-jeebus neutral. It numbed me out and rounded my edges. It made it so that grief didn’t blindside me and failure didn’t destroy me. It hauled me, like a fireman carries a limp body, away from my mental illness long enough for me to have a break.

If you’re a creative person, and your sorrow informs your art, that’s brilliant. Amazing. Some of my absolute favourite art, music, drama, sculpture, fashion… it comes from a place of pain. Those sad, desperate, evocative pieces are cathartic to create and to experience, and you might be making something (like this blog) that you sincerely hope will help someone else.

You might not intend it to, but if you take a risk and put it out there, chances are it will resonate with someone.

The thing is, I really would counsel against letting the fear of ‘dulling’ prevent you from getting treatment. It may be that your art has to take a rest on the back burner. It may be that you are just as talented on meds as without them.

Whatever way you look at it, no one – not even yourself – has the right to value your work over you. You are worth something, even if you produce nothing.

Take a moment. Breathe. Write out a list of things you feel grateful for, and be grateful that the list sounds beautiful.

I’m sure you’ll feel creative again very soon. I’d love to know what you decide to make.

With love, always,

Tea.

NB: Please note, I am not a doctor or a mental health professional. This blog is intended as a personal diary, and any advice given is friendly and light-hearted – please do not use it instead of seeking professional help. If you disagree with any advice I give, please let me know. Similarly, if you are offended for any reason, please share and I will take your thoughts into consideration. Finally, if you are having violent or self-harming thoughts please seek medical help as soon as possible.

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