When creativity becomes hell on earth
When you are hurled rapidly and often not so gently into the world of creativity, it can sometimes feel as though you are going crazy. Perhaps this is why so many artists are perceived as being ‘crazy’ or eccentric, or fall to substance abuse.
In Day Two of exploring creativity, this is perhaps more vulnerable than I would normally be comfortable with. But I think the discussion is important. At the beginning of my creative journey, I fell in the midst of the storm of depression. We had a lot going on, and I was unable to cope. It wasn't the creative journey that brought it about. But it came at a time I was facing some inner demons. I sought guidance. I think strong people can do that and admit that.
Creativity brings with it the need to be vulnerable. And at times, it can be frightening, letting go of all the ‘normal’ things you held to be true. Like a paid job. Sometimes, the paid job lets us go; it’s a way of helping steer you on the right track. Likely, you were already unhappy, and this will have reflected in your work performance.
Jung once said that if we could see inside ourselves, we would go mad. He explains that those who have seen deeply inside themselves, in the modern age, are perceived as having a mental health issue. Well, that's a lot of artists, who need to dig deep in order to create. But you don’t need to have a mental health issue to be creative, and you don’t need to be creative to have a mental health issue. However, it’s a jibe that some who are creatively blocked might make. And one you need to be aware of, from both sides of the fence.
Now, fortunately, I have parked the black dog in the kennel, although anyone who has had depression (mine was in 2009) knows that it lurks, waiting to tug at the chain and escape from time to time. But even mentioning mental health seems to bring with it judgement. And, discussion. Today, Ernie Sigley (an Australian presenter) announced he is suffering from dementia, a traumatic disease for the family and the sufferer. There seems to be sympathy for that. But if an otherwise successful person announces they are not okay, or someone wants to simply pull them down, they attack their mental health. Not with compassion, but disgust.
These are what Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) calls poisonous playmates. They manipulate conversations to be about them, and of course, your perceived failures.
In actual fact, you are recovering, or may even be recovered, when these jibes start. They may come out in other ways. They might say you are self-promoting, if you have written that book or many books. But, your recovery, as pointed out by Julia Cameron, is likely to simply be threatening them. They frankly find it disturbing. And no amount of justification or self-defence is going to make them say or see it any differently.
Sharkti Gawain wrote:
“Every time you don’t follow your inner guidance, you feel a loss of energy, loss of power, a sense of spiritual deadness.”
This is true, and this is when you may feel you are ‘losing’ it, or overwhelmed. Guiding yourself back to your creative purpose is essential.
Julia Cameron urges you to protect your newly emerging artist. This will sound like mumbo jumbo to anyone who is either creatively blocked or not the least bit interested in self-expression. By self-nurturing ourselves and shutting out the cries of others, we strengthen. The cries will be different for all of us, but one of the common ones is along the lines of selfishness. (In my case, it has been called self-promoting.) This is what Julia calls a red flag. They are a poisonous playmate and you need to get the hell out of their company! Get on that bike and peddle fast!
Squandering your time is another way people try to pull you from your path. Be strong. Know that their fears are what are coming up, and they are using them as planks to trip you. The faster you progress, the harsher they might become, and often, they are shot from those closest to you.
Being vulnerable and honest with myself has been the hardest part of my creative journey. The work I have created is part of that process, and it is there where I focus my inner strength and peace.
Julia Cameron also describes crazy makers. These people will set others against you and triangulate those they deal with. They stir up negative energies in order to feed off your energy and maintain their position of power. They will talk about you to others, or feed back comments others may have made regarding you. Then, when called out on it, they simply blame someone or something else. Taking full responsibility is almost impossible for them.
“Crazymakers are often blocked creative themselves. Afraid to effectively tap into their own creativity, they are loath to allow that same creativity in others. It makes them jealous. It makes them threatened. It makes them dramatic – at your expense…”
So this is why today, I decided to talk about mental health from a creative’s perspective. People will jibe, jostle and jump at you, as you successfully transition to being the person who you were born to be. It is about the journey and not the results. It is about willingness to grow. And it is about sometimes, wearing your heart on your sleeve, even if some may make a mockery of you, and it's about stepping into your own self.
You are not going crazy. You might be feeling more vulnerable one day to the next. You might cry more, feel more sensitive, get frustrated, angry, sad. Last time I checked, they were all human emotions, and unless you are feeling particularly exposed and frightened, part of the journey.
When creativity becomes hell on earth, you can persevere, or you can decide if it is worth the pain. Elizabeth Gilbert recounts a story in her book, Big Magic, of a renowned writer telling a struggling writer to give up. Not to push through. But, that after giving up for a year or so, should life be too painful without it, then they have no choice but to persevere.
I have found on my creative journey that there have been moments so painful, that I have wanted to throw in the towel. These have been balanced with moments so joyful, I cannot imagine life without that creative part of my soul driving my car. I’ve been confused by the actions and words of others, and I have questioned my right to be creative.
Sometimes, creativity seems like hell on earth. And like me yesterday, coming to the ‘ah-ha’ moment that creativity is the essence of all we do, even getting fit, here is realisation number two. We owe it to nobody else but ourselves. Nobody has the right to judge you, your mental health, your afflictions, your journey. They will. And you can shy away, pop the pencils back in the box, and skulk back to your previous life.
Or, you can stand strong, weather the storm others may create, take on board anything of value, and dismiss the rest. I’ve come to not bother with being particular about what I take on board, by the way. If I chuck something out that could have been useful, it will find its way back with the lesson, if it’s a lesson needing learning.
So, realisation #2? When creativity becomes hell on earth, it is always due to either what someone has said or done to you (so you think you are bat crazy in hell), or your perception of what others think of you. And neither is any of your business!
Big Magic, is sub-titled, ‘Creative living beyond fear’ for good reason. Balanced with Julia Cameron’s work, it is clear that it is fear we need to sweep away, push through, face, punch it like a damned punching bag if you need to. Others will contribute to your fear. Just like at some point, you may have contributed to others’.
In Elizabeth’s words:
“Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.”
It can be hell on earth, and it can be paradise. No matter what place you are in right now, know that the flux of passion and pouting, love and hatred for all you do and are, the good and bad, will cycle on, regardless.
But it is you who is in control of the pedals. And that, my creative friends, is a fine place to be. In charge. And right on, on your creative journey.
Ride on, precious ones. Ride on.
* If any of this content has caused you concerns about your own level of mental health, please speak to someone. Life Line Australia's number is 13 11 14. If you are thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis help is available.No one needs to face their problems alone.