Matcha Monday: Mental Health & Creativity
Today’s Matcha Monday is coming out on a Tuesday because I was anxious. This is ironic, considering the topic of today, mental health and creativity.
How does your mental health impact you creatively? Does it fuel your work or prevent you from creating? Does it bring you fulfillment or make you feel as though you are a passenger in your own life?
Over the course of my life, my struggles with my mental health have both held me back from living creatively and also propelled my projects, at different times.
When I was in high school, I experienced my first bout of serious depression. During my sixteenth and seventeenth year of life, I seemed to have slipped under the surface, suddenly and without warning. Sure, there had been anxiety throughout my life, a feeling I couldn’t quite understand or name, and looking back, there was definitely signs it was present. However, it hit me hard when I was a teenager, casting my life in a dark shadow, something I didn’t want to admit to myself or fully understand until much later.
During this time, my creativity flourished. They say when you are depressed you can lose all motivation and drive for the things you love, but this time, writing fiction was my escape. Some of my best writing was produced during this time. I think I was feeling so much and writing was a way to express myself, relieve some of those feelings of hopelessness for the future. I escaped into other worlds I had created when my own wasn't as inviting.
I always wondered why it manifested when it did. I was on the precipice of life, so many new things to come, changes, but also many unknowns. I think those unknowns, the lack of control and a history of mental illness in my family were all contributing factors.
At the time, I didn’t open up to anyone about it, just took it day by day, but others noticed. Depression doesnt disappear overnight, obviously, and I wasn’t talking to a professional (which is extremely important!!) but slowly, over time, things changed.
I graduated, moved away to university, made new friends and met my future husband. I pushed it all down under the surface, but everything bubbles back up at some point.
A few years later, I felt myself slipping again, becoming acutely aware I didn’t experience the same world as others. These feelings held me back from so many things I wanted to experience and create, with the anxiety, fear and crippling self doubt.
This time, my creativity didn’t flourish, it died. I couldn’t write, couldn’t take a photo. I didn’t even want to try. I had big goals for myself and knew I had to be creative in life to be happy, but I couldn’t manage to create.
Who was I afraid of? I kept telling myself I would feel better if I wrote, if I took photos, if I did something, no one had to read it or see it. I was afraid of myself.
This cycle continued and I slowly began to slip through my twenties without accomplishing all the things I set out for myself.
My dream has always been to be an author, but slowly the goal I had for myself for publishing my first book kept moving. 20, then 23, then 25, suddenly hoping to have written one by 30 seemed more realistic.
As time moved on, it became harder. Can you lose your creative talents if you don’t practice them? If I don’t write can my skills disappear? This thought terrified me.
I felt like my twenties were slipping away and nothing was changing, there was nothing I could do. I watched those around me accomplishing so much and I felt as though nothing I did was ever good enough, or as hard as I tried my brain couldn’t accomplish the same.
Comparison truly is the thief of joy.
In the summer of 2020, I began my photography business. It began as a hobby, a chance to meet some new people, safely outdoors, in a city I felt isolated within. Soon, it blossomed. I was meeting so many incredible people, introducing me to a community of other creatives. Photography helped me, it gave me that creative outlet I was missing as writing was still terrifying to me. All the people I met, models, photographers, makeup artists and business owners, all became new friends and brought new light to my life.
When I was twenty eight years old, I finally took a major step. I knew I experienced the world differently than others and began to speak out about it. My partner was always understanding and supportive as he saw my moods shift over the years we had been together.
I decided to make a change for myself and try something new, I was almost thirty and I owed it to myself. Although there were so many good things going on in my life at the time I was slipping back under. Things were getting bad again. This time, however, I sought out something new.
Toward the end of Summer 2022, following several educational and supportive calls with a doctor who I was lucky to connect with, I began on a very low dose of an anti-depressant. I was so nervous to start but wanted to give myself a chance.
I felt the positive effects immediately.
Until that moment, I did not realize how much anxiety I held in my body, over everything. Even this small dose gave me some relief. I was holding conversations easier, sleeping better and moving through my day to day with more ease. I still felt anxious, sad and other emotions at times, but they felt more appropriate for the situations. Anxiety and sadness didn’t rule my day, didn’t infiltrate every moment and simple task, they didn’t throw me up in the air at random times and drag me under hours later for no determined reason.
I’m not pushing medication, but it has made the world of a difference for me over the last eight months.
I’m still an introvert, enjoying my alone time and recharging with a good book. I don’t, however, lock myself away for weeks at a time anymore. I am busy, social and feel as though I am managing my time, relationships and responsibilities.
I am self sabotaging less and creating more. The future seems brighter, more optimistic.
Although I am very open with others about my experience, this is still nerve-racking to post. If sixteen year old Mariah lived today, she would feel a lot less ashamed, alone and confused. She would be thankful that conversations surrounding these topics had become more open and impressed that people were more willing to have them with each other. She would also be proud of all that we had accomplished and everything coming in the future. She would be breathing a sigh of relief with me.
We always talk about self care, but its not always bubble baths and face masks. Its opening up to those around you, having difficult conversations. It's reaching out for help and trying new things, its reflecting not only on the good but also the bad. Sometimes, it feels impossible.
Despite my struggles with my mental health, I have success. I have, despite everything holding me back, started a photography business, had portraits published in magazines, been paid for my writing, found a job in an industry I enjoy. It is possible, but I have found things that have helped me along the way.
How do you take care of yourself? Has your mental health impacted your own creative endeavours?