a journal entry
A few months ago I promised myself never to live the romanticized life of the ‘tortured artist.’ The tortured artist lifestyle seems to focus on remaining tragic because it's thought of as beautiful, not about finding beauty in tragedy. The lifestyle requires we perpetuate a state of melancholia by choice, not because of uncontrollable circumstances. The life causes melancholia to becomes us. I don't want that, I want to be happy. Before denouncing my trauma as my identity, I thought I would only want to write from the perspective of a broken version of myself. I was happy to settle with quiet suffering, grappling at life through the scope of unchecked mental health issues. Settling for tough memories alone as motivation for writing only stunted my growth as a writer. Still, It took years to undo the habit of reducing myself to sad stories. Now I know, and I mean I really know, and understand that there is more. I am not a sad story.
Art is great for healing, I believe that. Creative work is a great way to reconcile with traumatic experiences. I get that, but, mental unrest shouldn't be a prerequisite for creation. And what's an artist supposed to do when they are so overcome with symptoms of mental illness, the ability to create anything disappears? No one is immune from experiencing mental health disorders in their lifetime but the presence of mental illness within creative communities in particular runs rampant.
Theories on what perpetuates the link between mental illness and creative people are abundant. It's been said the creative person’s vulnerability, eccentricities, and desire to isolate themselves can initiate and fuel mental health disorders. The creative person is vulnerable in that we want to experience everything fully, by fully I mean being present in all ways- emotional, mental, and physical availability. Artists tend to remain fully present even when situations become toxic or harmful. Self-preservation becomes an afterthought.
Music for survival.
They candidly spoke about using music as a coping mechanism during and after traumatic experiences. We, consumers of their craft, listened compassionately to the music out of respect for its meaning and the artist behind it.
Pictured above: Kei Slaughter performs at the Mental Health Music Showcase at Three Keys
I wonder how the public's consumption of art affects the artist. After spending countless hours pouring their heart into their craft, let's imagine the creative person finally produces work they are proud of. They become visible in ways they may not have been ready for, their work becomes a subject of criticism. The artist may thrive in the energy focused on them, whether they are met with good reviews or not, they enjoy the convsersations happening as a result of their work. Or the artist, still very much vulnerable, becomes weak under pressure. They might shrink if criticism is too negative or conversly, get anxious if critism goes well. Lots of people are afraid of their success. Success means responsibility, success could trigger the irrational fear that they've already reached their peak.
Add in all other factors: Race, sexual orientation, economic class, and gender. Racism, sexism, and all other phobias' effects on the psyche and emotional health are commonly ignored. Disregarding possible mental health issues isn't a shock when you're too focused on navigating the world while being marginalized because of who you are. It's no wonder why we channel pain as inspiration; at worst it's all we know and at best it's a way to create work that validates people who experience the same things.
How are we supporting the artist after they've been completed consumed by us?
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and New Orleans Musicians Clinic came together for a Mental Health Music Showcase days before the start of Essence Fest. New Orleans Musicians Clinic created an inclusive outreach program for people within creative communities called, You Got This. The program focuses on suicide prevention and connecting people to clinically effective self-care resources.
NAMI and N.O. Musicians Clinic are strengthening the community of artists living with mental health issues with peer-to-peer education programs and events. Artists from the showcase performed original music in a dark venue, dimly lit by small candles on tabletops. The setting was... romantic, intimate, and vulnerable. The musicians were present in body and mind which in turn demanded the attention of the audience. They all spoke candidly about using music as a coping mechanism during and after traumatic experiences. We, consumers of their craft, listened compassionately to the music out of respect for its meaning and the artist behind it. Music for survival. Another trend among the artists was acknowledging the importance of support from their chosen families and bandmates. Creatives who come together to validate each other's experiences with mental illnesses is liberation. They can see a reflection of Self in the success of their peers and show compassion when needed- slowly shedding the feel of isolation and building trust.
I worked hard to release conditions of my mental health as parts that encompass my identity. That's a form of shrinking myself that I promise not to participate in anymore. As I worked through that false belief, I also needed to learn that my best work won't only come from pain. My pain isn't a condition of my artistic talent and success. True creativity, to me, comes from experiencing everything fully- emotional, mental, and physical availability. How can I be fully present while under the fog of OCD, anxiety, and depression? How can I develope as a creative if I only channel melancholy to create? There is always more. Expansion; moving from the tunnel vision of mental illness to the vastness of mental wellness.
Resources for (creative) people who could use some help cultivating mental wellness.
As found on New Orleans Musician Clinic / You Got This
- Crisi Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the US with any type of crisis, at any time
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8225)
- Trans Lifeline Hotline: 877-565-8860
- Trevor Project 24/7 Hotline: Staffed by transgender people to aid transgender people's well-being 866-488-7386
- BeyondNow Suicide Safety Planning Tool: A tool for creating a suicide safety plan, it outlines ways to known and handle warming signs, identifying reasons to live, create a list of compassionate supportive people in your live, professional support, and more. Click here for more information and forlinks to download the apps on iTunes and GooglePlay
National Alliance on Mental Illness - the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization. They educate and advocate for millions of Americans living with mental illnesses. You can also reach them by calling their HelpLine, Mon-Fri 10-6PM EST, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). Click here for an even longer list of their resources and recommendations for more organizations and hotlines for assistance.