On not being a tortured artist and learning to love the inherent messiness of me.
It’s so easy to romanticise a concept you’re removed from. For instance: when you completely idolise a person, or your idea of a person, only to finally, after years of fantasising about how warm and god-like they’ll be, meet them and realise they’re a total prat. The mystifying illusion is then shattered and you’re slightly bitter, but will eventually be okay without your fabricated hero.
When I was 16, my idols were some truly troubled people. Teenage angst is a complex and involved rollercoaster of emotions. It does questionable things to those poor little almost-adults. To me, it seemed that all of the great creative minds suffered with some form of demon: Sylvia Plath, Kurt Cobain, Van Gogh, Amy Winehouse, Patty Schemel, Hunter S. Thompson. My hormonal brain created a rule that in order to be creatively brilliant, I also had to be a damaged soul. The first time I picked up a cigarette, I fantasised about it leading me down a path of late nights and self-loathing over small glasses of whiskey poured from unnecessary crystal decanters.
The plot thickens. To add to my twisted fantasy, I had my own actual issues that were causing real damage. We’re talking more than a cigarette and a whisky. If “highly strung” describes a person who’s a little rigid and somewhat uptight, I was strung up so goddamn high my string was no longer in the earth’s stratosphere. Why, at 16, did I put astronomical amounts of pressure on myself to mold to my figurative idea of “perfect?” Anxiety, depression and an underlying vicious eating disorder, of course!
My mental health swiftly torpedoed to a crash-and-burn. I was in hospital for a month, but intensive treatment lasted the next 3 years. Finally, a combination of cognitive coping mechanisms, a fully-functioning body and anti-anxiety medication opened my brain’s gates to a kind of idyllic, sun-shining-sipping-cocktails paradise- a welcome change from its usual fiery abyss. And when I was at my healthiest, without struggle and desperation, both my perfectionism and creativity began to fall away.
I started sleeping in as long as I wanted. Clutter and mess slowly crept onto the wooden floorboards of my room. I didn’t want to do my homework so occasionally I just didn’t, and astonishingly the world ceased to fall apart.
What bothered me in my newfound unbroken brain was my evident lack of that beautifully tortured inspiration. Ironically, when I was grappling with the tumultuous state of my mind I was also writing a tonne, pushing myself to follow my creative pursuits when everything around me was crumbling. Besides, were all brilliant artists not suffering souls? Do we not create the most profound pieces when we’re in pain?
As poetic as this sounds, I quickly realised that when I was sick, my creativity was the only positive in my life. While I was creative, I was also self-destructive and desperately unhappy. And it turns out when I’m not in the grips of anxiety-induced perfectionism; I’m a bit of a disaster.
I frequently fall asleep wrapped up in my headphones with Youtube auto-playing to infinity in the background and tend to follow the due today, do today policy when it comes to most things. A 4-year-old would have a better sense of direction and higher spatial awareness than me. I’ve fallen in, or out of the shower more times than I’d care to admit. I often don’t do my washing and then end up wearing bather bottoms or pyjama shorts instead of underwear. I eat a lot of microwaveable foods because I’m a terrible cook. My phone looks like it’s been run over by a truck due to me dropping it twice a day (on average). I stay up until 3am incessantly writing because I got a streak of brilliance over my sad dinner, feel temporarily accomplished and then never finish anything I started.
Much to my dismay it turns out I’m not Sylvia Plath, which is probably a good thing because her husband seemed like a real piece of work and, in the end, her suffering truly ruined her.
Ironically, now that I’m not struggling, all I write is about when I was. Like this. But I’m happy to have traded my harrowing artist dream to be without feeling consistently on the cusp of self-imploding. Because it’s easy to romanticise torment when you’re not in the throes of a downwards spiral with pangs of anxiety, loneliness and depression niggling at the back of your mind. Creativity is inherent to your being, not your mental illness.