Over the years we have noted how many creative people; artists, writers, musicians, struggle with mental health and also, in a sense, reap the benefits of it. In a fluctuating climate, mental health in creativity has either been regarded romantically, disregarded or occasionally actually taken seriously. In a 2007 essay from Stanford University, Adrienne Sussman on the ‘Tortured Artist’ explained how “instead of trying to eliminate them [mental illnesses] by medication, we should embrace these mental states as valuable in their own right.”
This opinion embodies quite a popular opinion these days, that of the one that prefers to work with diseases of the mind and turn them into a positive as opposed to violently chasing a cure that may never occur. The late Robin Williams was famously quoted as saying “you’re only given a little spark of madness. You musn’t lose it” which celebrated uniqueness and oddness. Even more recently, the cinematic sensation ‘La La Land’ included a song that taught us that “a bit of madness is key’.
We have been slowly bringing, both awareness and understanding of mental health to the forefront for quite some time, but we are still confused and baffled by how to deal with it. Yes, it can help our creativity, and more than often creative minds are influenced by their ‘spark of madness’, they are inextricably linked. However, we still hear stories of creativity in schools declining, and creative curriculums ever under threat of extinction, possibly because schools either disregard them as unintelligent or dangerous (when we consider the link between health and creativity.) But what about the positives that come from creativity affecting perception?
When we are taught to use writing and creativity in order to help us, we are given a whole new lease of life. Not only can we find greater ways to express our mental woes but we can also use it to understand our fellow humans a little better, which is something this world could use more of. When I was around 10 years old, I properly began writing poetry and short stories, after a recommendation from my councillors at the time. I was a traumatised, angry boy who felt very much the outcast and had a hard time understanding the world. They suggested I began writing, to urge creativity to spill from my bones and watch what arrives on the paper as a result. Anyone who read what I wrote back then, as a child, believed it was far more mature than it should be and I discussed things that might be difficult for adults to deal with. It is this early onset introduction to creativity that I believe allowed me to uncover that advanced maturity. Not only that, but the healing began.
I was lucky enough to be taught in a school that prioritised performing arts above other subjects, and my ability to channel my emotions into writing and acting was encouraged thoroughly by wonderful and empathetic teachers. This is an essential part of creativity. That guidance from other people, to allow us to harvest our creative possibilities while also understanding the difficult power of seeing our trauma and feelings presented in such a raw and poetic manner.
When I reached my early teens, 13 to 15, I hit my rock bottom. Bodily changes, the social pressures of school and expectations, and the healing I was still trying to allow to happen sort of imploded. I wrote sparingly and lost all care. I mistreated my body and my mind and fell into a pit of suicidal and self-deprecating thoughts and actions. While I felt lonely, I still had that influence of creativity that my councillors previously had recommended. My mind had been opened just that little bit more, so that when the darkness arrived, I had taught my brain to imagine, to create, and as a result to persuade my brain that there was more than my current reality.
While my current mental state is far better than in its earlier days, there is also the possibility of a regression to harder times. On top of allowing other people into your life, and talking to other people about what is going on inside your head in order to feel less lonely, it is imperative to also understand how to encourage greater perception. Yes, its fucking hard, because when you are in that mental universe, your brain takes over and button mashes the controller like its a game of Tekken tag in which they need to leave you bloodied and bruised on the floor BUT carefully introducing this new sense of perception early on helps to keep your mind open. It helps you to find new ways of imagining your depression, anxiety, derealisation, whatever it is you suffer with. If you have the ability to hold it up and see it as something different, dress it in something less violent, you immediately remove the majority of its power.
This creative perception shows that there is more to your brain than the negative, and not only allows you to find your thoughts in poems, stories, notes etc but allows you see the world with new eyes, and that is invaluable.