For those of you who don’t know me especially well, I will let you in on the worst kept secret of all time – my favourite day of the year – bar none – is New Years Eve. It is amazing. The raw potential, the passion, the time for reflection and the knowledge that when that clock strikes there will be a whole year stretching out before me that is unwritten and it could see me doing ANYTHING.
I love it more than coffee. Which is saying something.
But – the thing I don’t hold much stock in are the resolutions that come along with it. The frantic three weeks of gyming and healthy eating before the inevitable slide back into our “regular” lives. I stopped making them years ago, they never seem to stick for me. I am resolutely anti-resolution. Isn’t the English language fun!?!
But this year I did make a couple of guideposts for myself. Things I wanted to try to do a little more with my time. One of which was to be more honest and open about things that I am going through. Like a lot of us, I do try to avoid talking about myself. Amusing then that I am a blogger, but even here on my blog I can be a character. I can slip through the cracks and oh, how I do. But one of the things that I want to try to be more open about – is my journey against myself. My own mind. My mental illnesses – such as they are.
Some of the biggest and the best have been afflicted by mental illness in some form or another, including; Sylvia Plath, Lord Byron, T. S. Eliot, Irving Berlin, Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh, Beyonce, Adele, Zayn Malik, Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Robin Williams, Carrie Fisher, Heath Ledger, and Ellen Degeneres. That’s just naming a handful and the afflictions they suffer from are wide ranging and include everything from insomnia to addiction to bipolar disorder to depression to anxiety and far more than I could even name in this article and keep you reading.
So it would seem that I am in good company.
Still – the stigma that surrounds even the discussion of mental health is extremely strong. The resistance to accept it is, frankly, overwhelming and where that is true, actually dealing with it is extraordinarily unlikely. I’m not just talking about myself here, or my own reluctance and resistence to getting help. This is information gathered from long discussions with my fellow creatives, many of whom suffer undiagnosed and untreated. Needlessly.
For myself, I suffer from bouts of anxiety, and depression. As I have mentioned previously, these are usually manageable. Either day to day, or when paired with counselling. Sometimes there will be days, or weeks when it is worse. Functioning is much harder on those days – putting one foot in front of the other is about all I can do. Sometimes not even that. I have known moments of struggling to get out of bed, or to answer the phone, or to have a conversation because of the overwhelming anxiety. Fortunately for me, these are rare moments, and as I age (gracefully??) I have gained a better understanding of how to deal with them.
The truth is, it should never have taken me so long to accept it about myself, or to override the stigma that surrounds the issues. There are studies that would suggest that creatives exhibit at least a 25% higher chance of also suffering from a mental illness. According to similar grouped studies they also have a higher likelihood of having first relatives who also have a variety of mental afflictions but also have creative type personalities.
A 2005 study conducted by Dr. Alice Flaherty at Harvard Medical School posits that creative thinking, like many forms of mental illness (manic depression / schizophrenia) both involve unusual frontal lobe activity. A further study from the University of Florida by Dr. Kenneth Heilman goes a step further and suggests that such unusual frontal lobe activity results in combining information stores in the parietal and temporal lobes in innovative ways.
So what does that mean, why did I write it, and why did you read it? Excellent questions and I am glad you asked.
In and of itself – nothing. Not a damn thing. But the fact that there are credible studies, a mouse click away – and not just one but dozens, is surely comforting when things get dark. This information means maybe we all need to take a step back and adjust our idea of normal – and if “we all” is a bit general, then at least me. At least I can sit back and not judge myself so harshly.
As to why I wrote this article – it’s a nice precursor for things to come. I don’t want to be the guy who flies around and talks about illness day in and day out, but I also don’t want to be the guy who sits back quietly while I, and others go through the same thing. This stuff doesn’t just effect creatives – there are many people out there not getting the help that they deserve because they are afraid of having a stigma shoved down their throats. I don’t want a continued silence to be my legacy. Not if it means that I could have helped even one person find their way through.
In that spirit – if anyone reading this DOES need to talk about anything or reach out to someone in any way, they should’t hesitate. Here are a list of support networks in Australia. It is by no means a comprehensive list but it will give you a good place to start your journey. It can be scary to start – but all the steps that come after it are easier. I promise. We’ll do it together.
Happy Creating friends.