Thursday, 9 May 2013

Art and Insanity

It's become this thing to associate artists with mental illnesses. Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, Ernest Hemmingway (just to name a few) are all writers who committed suicide. Heck, there's even a wikipedia page on the link between creativity and mental illness.

Mental illness is something I think about often, since I suffer from quite a few different problems: anxiety, depression, and OCD. Who knows what other illnesses I might be harbouring in that brain of mine.

As much as I hate to say it, as a result of this connection between art and insanity, it makes me think of death in a very personal manner. Not in a "I think about killing myself" way (although, when the depression gets really bad, I suppose I can't help but think like that), but it makes me think of how torturous the life of an artist must be, that the mind breaks in such a way.


It's taken me two months to write this post. Sometimes, I delete every single word, because I worry it's too personal, and nobody wants to hear me whining about how sucky my life is. It's so difficult to put my thoughts down, to create something I feel happy with. I haven't written anything in ages. I find myself empty and lost when I try to conjure up some words. I feel like a failure when I can't produce perfection.


I've been skipping school a lot lately. I know I said I'd cut back on skipping classes, but these past few weeks, when I wake up, I just can't get out of bed. I dread facing the day ahead of me. The mere thought of being surrounded by hundreds of people in the city haunts me. So I just hide in my bed and wait for the feeling to pass.

It never does.

My doctor upped my antidepressant dose. It used to be 75mg, but my anxiety had begun to manifest in the form of stomach pains every time I ate, so now my meds are at 150mg. The side effects are annoying. I feel buzzed sometimes, as if my brain isn't really my brain. I space out sometimes. If I take my meds without any food, then I get so nauseous that I feel like I could throw up, but instead of throwing up, I sneeze.

I've been trying so hard to find a therapist, but it's near impossible to find affordable mental health care. And I need someone suited for my needs. My last therapist was great, but she flat out told me that she doesn't know how to deal with anxiety that manifests as OCD. How am I supposed to get better if the government basically doesn't want me to?


My passion for anything has diminished. I don't find absolute joy in writing anymore. I can't even lose myself in a book, and forget about the world around me, and my problems. I don't hang out with my friends because a part of me, the depressed part of me, tells me that I probably won't have any fun, that I'll be too busy worrying about everything to have fun.


I'm slowly punishing my body for having anxiety. I have a form of OCD called dermatillomania, which is essentially a compulsion to pick at the skin. As a result, my arms, shoulders, face and scalp are covered in sores and scabs. I have near-premanent semi-circles under my nails, of blood that's dried from red to brown to black.
I can't wear clothes that show my upper arms or back, because I'm terrified of people seeing the scars and the sores. I'm terrified of what they'll think of me. And it just makes me pick more and more.
On cold days, the scars on my wrists are so purple against my ghost-pale skin. It makes them so much more visible. I used to be so terrified that people would see them. One of my friends freaked out when she saw them. It made me feel like I'd done something bad. But it's so hard to hide them. I can't wear jumpers and long sleeved-shirts forever. I wish someone would just tell me that having these scars isn't such a big deal, and that I'm not weak for wanting to cut.


The nails on my left hand are warped from the way I chew and pick at them. I don't often pick with my right hand, nor do I chew on that hand, so the nails are long and strong. Healthy.


For uni, I had to write about a body part, and I wrote about my skin. I wrote about the hate I have for my dermatillomania, for the anxiety that makes me pick. It was the hardest thing I'd ever had to write. This is just as hard.


It's so hard to talk to people about this, simply because for the most part, they don't understand it. I've had so many people tell me to get over it, that I'm just overreacting, that I just need to cheer up, as if it were as simple as that. It just results in me feeling even more broken, because if it's that easy for other people, then why am I struggling so hard? Why can't I just snap my fingers and magically be happy again?

I guess this is why this post exists: so I can get things off my chest before I explode and do something irrational and stupid and possibly dangerous. This is very much a cry for attention and a cry for help. I do in fact want people to reach out to me. I mean, who doesn't?

It's nice to feel wanted and loved every once in a while.


I feel like I am a worthless human being right now. Because writing is the only thing I feel like I'm good at, the only thing I live for. But if I can't write, if I'm too mentally broken to write, where does that leave me?


  1. *hugs*

    Unfortunately, that's the best I can offer. I can deal with my own problems okay, but aren't good with other people's. Sorry about my awkward.

    Wishing you all the best. *hugs*

    1. Thank you, lovely. Your awkward is still really helpful. :)

  2. Oh hon :( I'm so sorry that you're going through this. I've struggled with anxiety and depression as well and know how retched it is. Not being able to write. Not writing well. When that is all you want is not a small thing.

    I believe diet plays a key role in our moods and a book that really helped me is The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. It addresses how to actually (and naturally) fix the chemical imbalances in our brains. Of course talk to your doctor before doing anything :)

    I really hope this breaks for you soon, hon. I know for me sometimes it was just a matter of riding out the storm and sometimes that storm was really long.

  3. I'm so sorry to hear that you're going through this, Jess. I know that no one experiences mental illness in quite the same way, but as someone who's had their share of it, I wish I could give you a hug right now.

    I've had chronic depression and anxiety since I was about 13. I'm 29 now. So I just realised the other day that I've been depressed for more years than I haven't. That was a hard thought to swallow, even though I guess I've always known it somewhere in the back of my mind.

    As I get older - it's not really that things get easier; they don't, sometimes they are just as hard as they ever were - but I know my depression better. I know now what to expect, and I can take some small measures to batten down the hatches, so to speak, and try to ride it out. I think I have accepted that my depression and I will live in some kind of symbiosis on a permanent basis.

    The reason I'm saying this is that while I may not be able to help in a tangible way, I just want you to know that you're not alone. Please know that there are people who can empathise, even if they don't fully understand.

    The relationship between creativity and mental illness is one that frustrates and intrigues me too. Sometimes I wonder if I would give up my creative urge to get better. And I've had experiences with types of medication that did that - totally numbed my creative drive. It's a complicated thing and all I can really do is strive for some kind of balance.

    Medication is a tricky thing - don't be afraid to ask questions, or ask for alternatives if you feel something isn't working. I also recently had to change and up my meds, and I hated it. HATED it. I felt like such a failure. But in the long run - adjusting was horrible - I can see it helping now.

    I wish there was something more I could say to help. Please know that I'm thinking of you. Please take care of yourself. Please know that you are worthwhile and unique and precious. That might sound trite - but it's true.

    You're so brave to write this. Really. I have so much respect for your speaking about this.

    I really hope that you find some peace of mind soon.

    Rey xo

  4. *Another hug.*

    I'm someone who freezes up when I think no-one can understand what is happening but I think it's good to reach out so I also want to let you know that I'm thinking of you too.

    Creativity will always be a part of you but I've learnt that it's not the only thing that can define a person - you are more than what you think you can do (or not do). You are unique - made from the elements of stars (and it's always good to quote Doctor Who ;).

    Thank you for your blog. It doesn't matter if you take long breaks from blogging (or going on extended semi-permanent hiatuses like me), this is your space to breathe and there are people who care about you.

  5. Hey Jess,

    I had a waking dream this morning where I was at a busy train station and you bumped into me, we said hello awkwardly, and then you had to rush off to catch a train that was departing. Had a weird feeling in my gut when I woke up. I make a habit of following up on people that make dream appearances. Noticed the lack of Facebook, did a sneaky google to arrive here.

    Did you know you're a good writer? I remember reading some of the stuff you sent me, genuinely pleased you switched to a writing degree. We've all got our talents, and I think for a lot of the best artists, their talent can almost become somewhat inseparable from their identity. I think there is both strength and weakness in this. Having a guitar in my hands is almost like a second home to me, indescribably comforting no matter where I am, yet at the same time I feel uneasy when its away from me for too long. I can imagine it might be somewhat similar to you and being able to write. For what its worth, I don't think people are worthless when they're separated from their talents. I think it creates the illusion of being worthless, through feeling separated from a part of their identity. But creativity is always a part of the identity of someone like you, whether or not there is any output. Just because you're unable to write at the moment, it doesn't mean you aren't a writer. You're always a writer.

    I'm very sorry for what you're going through with your anxiety. You're a trooper. I can promise you whatever you're so anxious about is frivolous and probably shouldn't even apply to a cool person like you, but I'm sure that would have no real impact. Here's something someone told me once though, which helped me when I had anxiety that became overwhelming; and may or may not be helpful for you. They said that I should stop seeing it as an opponent, an enemy to be ridden of. That anxiety is just a friendly part of you, cautious about you being hurt in some way, but tragically overbearingly friendly and overbearingly cautious. It can be embraced, acknowledged, thanked for caring, and then discarded. It often overreacts because it was designed for life-or-death situations in the ancient past, not for modern day-to-day situations. Often, anxiety itself is the worst you will feel. Put in the situation you are anxious about, you will often not be any worse off. Knowing that has let me be brave on many occasions.

    I will tell you straight up that having the scars you have is no big deal. I did not even notice them until you mentioned them, and even then, they were very discrete, difficult to pay attention to, and not the least bit repelling in the slightest. You're not weak for wanting to self-harm either. Becoming magically happy isn't instantaneous, unfortunately, its a process. I believe in you though. Dude, from memory, you've got everything a totally brilliant person needs in my book - Creative, talented, emotionally intelligent, kind, easy to talk to, and easy to look at, too.

    This is oddly out of the blue, and normally I would not have written anything. But you mentioned that it was a cry for attention, help and for people to reach out to you. Consider this all three. Please take care, I hope you can manage to stop skipping classes soon!