Confessions of a creative
It's 2005 and I'm 22.
I'm sat in my bedroom in my parent's house and I'm trying to work up the courage to leave the house. My pulse is racing, my hands are shaking, my stomach feels like I'm on a roller coaster and my throat is almost too dry to speak.
I'm having a panic attack.
My brain is running through an overwhelming amount of things that could go wrong if I leave the house. I know these thoughts aren't 'normal', but I don't know how to stop them.
I also know what's wrong. You see, a few weeks earlier I'd been diagnosed with agoraphobia, depression and some generalised anxiety to boot.
This was one of the lowest points of my life. I could hardly leave the house, I had no job, barely any self confidence and many of my friends I'd made in my life up to that point were rapidly dwindling away because I couldn't go out and socialise with them.
A Brighter Future?
Flash forward to 2016.
Not only can I go out and about now, but I have a job that I love, I have a small circle of friends and I have nowhere near as many panic attacks.
I am by no means 'fixed', but I can cope with life a lot better nowadays.
Right now you're probably wondering why I'm telling you this - Am I doing this for attention? For people to feel sorry for me? or give me special treatment?
It's simply because I was thinking of writing a blog about my creative process and how I think about my graphic design work and I realised it's very hard to do that without referring to some of my mental health issues and how that affects my work.
Why haven't I talked about this much before?
I guess for the same reason most of us don't talk about our mental health.
Shame, embarrassment, worry that people won't respect us, or worry that our employers think we're a ticking time bomb or won't be competent enough to do our jobs or something.
The truth is, it is difficult for me to talk about, but I also know that many, many people are suffering with similar issues.
The stats say that 1 in 4 people have some kind of mental health issues and they're just the conditions and disorders that are reported. So many people find it hard to cope from time to time... so why the hell aren't we all talking about it?
Perhaps the world would be a better place if we did? We'd certainly have a lot more empathy for each other.
Arts and Mental Health
Another reason I'm talking about this is now is simple - writing an introduction to my creative process means honest insight on how I think about things. And the truth is it does effect my creative work.
What's surprising to some people though, is that it actually has a positive impact.
To explain what I mean I have to take you back to 2005 again.
As a way of getting me out of the house (whilst doing something productive) I signed up for an evening art course at my local college. It was a familiar place to me (as I originally attended there when I was 18) and it was only an hour a week to commit to.
It was also something to look forward to because I'd always loved art and design.
Whilst it was still a huge challenge to get to, I got some great feedback on the course (which boosted my confidence) and the teacher suggested I do a full time Art Foundation course.
So I did. I worked my way up to getting a part time job to fund my art materials too.
I started getting interested in photography too which was another way of getting me out of the house. If I was worrying about ISO levels and focus lengths I wouldn't be worrying about getting back to a safe place (i.e my house) as soon as possible.
Art and design calms me down when I'm anxious. Motivates me to create things when I'm feeling down and challenges me to keep getting better.
Incidentally, on that foundation course I met Pete Regan who now works in arts for mental health and if you're interested in how creative pursuits can help people with mental health disorders and conditions, then head over to his site as he can explain it more eloquently than me.
Back to the Point
There are pros and cons of working in creative fields with anxiety and depression. For example, I'm often plagued with self doubt and worry what people will think of my work.
At times I often find it difficult to get motivated on tasks (due to the depression), but anxious about meeting deadlines. So the whole thing can be a crazy paradox.
However I once had a therapist that told me what makes me worry and feel down about things also makes me a good designer. She went on to explain that creative people tend to have more empathy and feel things more deeply than others.
This helps us create work that speaks to others, and helps us solve challenges and problems.
So, whilst it makes it difficult to cope with 'normal' life stuff sometimes, it also makes us potentially good artists, and I think that rings true.
Never good enough
Another way it effects my creative process is this.
I never ever think my work is good enough, so I always strive to improve every time. This keeps me on my toes and means I will never be complacent about my work.
Yes, this can be frustrating at the time, but when I look back on my work and how it's improved over months or years it gives me a boost of confidence that I take into my next project.
I hope that has given you a bit of insight of how my brain works sometimes or that it inspires you to talk about any issues you have, because we really, really need to get better about talking about it.
I also want to say to anyone that's going through anything similar is that it absolutely gets better. It just takes time, patience and a bit of hard work.
I also can't finish this blog without making special mention to my friends and family that have supported me through my lowest points and continue to support me. Thank you so much, I literally couldn't have done it without you and for all the times I put extra stress on you, I apologise.
After that lengthy, depressing post... here's a dancing banana to cheer us all up again