Emma Thornton, WordSpace Blog Editor, shares her thoughts about creativity and mental health.
I think this week is fundamental.
I was first exposed to mental illness in High School. I was in the emo crowd and we were all slightly weird, mopey and wore black, a ‘sure sign’ of depression. We listened to all the music that conservative American parents claimed was making their children commit suicide and we revelled in its ‘depressing’ nature.
In my final year of High School, I was exposed to the real thing. A friend got depression and was taken out of school. That made it very real.
Since then I have had two close friends go through depression before my eyes and another suffer increasingly prevalent anxiety. I have witnessed the destruction of mental illnesses on the arms and in the faces of people I know, am friends with, have worked with.
After being first exposed to depression and other mental illnesses, I endeavoured to understand them as much as possible, knowing that “you’ll be fine” is not enough. Is never enough.
One of my close friends with depression lived with me about a year ago. A lot of the time I would just send her supportive quotes and blogs, and convince her that getting out of bed was literally the hardest thing to do sometimes, regardless of mental illness, so if she got up at all that day, even to eat or pee, she was doing good.
It wasn’t easy to see her sad, and the worst part was when I couldn’t be there for her or she was putting herself down. It’s hard, as a friend, to see someone you love think they’re utter shit. All I could do was to try and convince her she wasn’t, to try to help fight her demon with her.
I think sometimes it helped her to know that I knew it was only one part of her head being a dick to her, that rationally she knew she was okay. But the demon voice definitely shouts louder than Mediation and Rationale, so often she felt like nothing.
In my search to understand what mental illnesses made you feel, I came across an enormous amount of support, and I came to understand that it is too easy to unintentionally feed the feelings.
As with everything in life, especially for me, it is easier to just let something that seems inevitable happen, rather than attempt to stop it.
It is the fight that is so hard. It is easier to stay under the covers of the illness, letting it take over everything you do, to let the demon weighing you down continue to do so, and tell you you’re not good enough.
The hardest part is telling that demon to leave. And the second hardest part is telling someone, not just that you have a mental illness, but how bad it really is, and how truly worthless it makes you feel.
But good comes out of recovery. As does a singularly indomitable strength of will.
One friend’s depression was caused by not being able to tell anyone he was gay, worried that no one would accept him. His depression made him come out to his parents, and now he’s about to graduate with an M.Sc in Physics, a loving boyfriend of two years and parents who adore them both.
Another friend is still in NHS therapy for her anxiety, but she’s almost fully recovered from having anorexia, and though she still complains about having meat on her bones, she’s finally healthy, happy and in a committed relationship.
Another friend with depression and anorexia is training for the marathon next year after running half marathons this year and last and moved to France to teach for a year abroad last year.
Most pertinently, I have a friend with depression who writes an occasional blog about it and posts useful stats and well researched articles to his Facebook page about it. He decided to write a long post about his depression a couple of years ago, and writes a lot generally as a way of coping with it.
One of the foremost depression charities is called ‘To Write Love On Her Arms’, using writing as an outlet for self-harm. (I would consider reading the story of the founding of the charity, it’s kinda beautiful*).
Writing has long been an outlet for people who are scared and lonely, or stuck in their own heads.
Writing is uncontrollable once it’s learned. It’s something we all do, and if we call ourselves authors or poets, it’s something we berate ourselves for not doing.
People write about trauma to cope with life. It’s called expressive writing by psychologists, and it’s suggested to help some mental illnesses. Most people don’t write books to cure depression, they write simple, short notes to themselves every day, journaling how the day has gone and how they felt.
Expressing oneself in writing helps to get it off your chest without ever having to admit it to someone else. Writing down your feelings avoids the interaction you have to have with someone else when you tell them how you feel. It cuts out the middle man and allows you to talk to something expressively, rather than a wall, which might look strange.
What scares me is that, while writing this, more and more people I’ve loved who’ve suffered mental illness came into my mind.
On a final note, I just want to tell anyone reading this what I have told those loved ones, that you are not alone. As much as the dark creeps up on you, you are loved, you are wanted, and someone will always care.
The people I know with depression, anxiety, anorexia, bi-polar, addiction and everything else are getting the help they need from people who care. Whether it be the NHS, loved ones, private care, drugs, whatever, they have reached out, and they have been answered. Some of the people I know can even eat chocolate cake again without feeling guilty.
My promise is that you will be heard. Write. Shout. Wave. Someone will hear. And someone will help.
** In times of trouble I like to refer to one of the greatest pieces of writing ever: Sam’s Speech from The Two Towers (film)
“In the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer”
This speech ends with the phrase, “there’s some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” And there is. There truly is.