Creative Outlets and the Art of Coping

June 20th, 2017

Some days when that alarm goes off I’ve considered ignoring it. And I usually do about two or three times. And I get that little “voice”, for lack of a better word, in my head saying why bother?  and nobody likes you and you can’t do anything right. I don’t like calling it “a voice.” That makes it sound like it’s some kind of auditory hallucination. Which is not at all the case. It’s more of a “lurking thought”. Anyone who has experienced mild to severe depression knows exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes it feels like another person living in your head trying to take control of your thoughts. A passenger, and an obnoxious as hell backseat driver at that.

You have to find ways to get them to shut the hell up. Some do this with doctor prescribed medication, some self medicate with drugs and alcohol to jettison their passenger, others find outlets. Some of these -self-harm, violence- are not so healthy. Others use various forms of creative expression as a release, and it’s this last method that I have found to be the most effective.

My mind is a perpetual torrent, and it’s exhausting. I’m tired more than I often should be, because some days just keeping it together is enough to take a lot out of me. Any day I haven’t done something creative, I hate myself. These two factors are invariably linked. If I haven’t written something, practiced singing, or worked on a drawing or painting I can’t sleep. I can’t see my day as finished or productive. It makes me feel absolutely worthless. The solution should seem obvious: Do at least one creative thing each day. Blog entry. Short story. Work on a novel. Gig flyer design. A painting. A doodle. A self-portrait. Lyrics. Something. Anything. It is absolutely crucial to my existence.

I’ve self-published a novel, and written two more that will probably never see the outside of the drawer, and have several other projects in the works. I front a punk band called Food for Worms. We play gigs frequently and recorded a full length album. People have often told me, “That’s cool. I wish I could find the time to do that kind of thing.”  A response that has always rubbed me tail to head. “Find the time” makes it sound like it’s something I do because I lack pressing responsibilities, that I’m somehow free of important obligations. It’s not about finding the time. I have to make the time. You don’t find the time to eat, sleep, shit, piss, or breathe. For me these “hobbies” are just as crucial to my existence as any of those other things. It’s not part of my self-actualization. It’s part of my survival, and I stick it closer to the base on my hierarchy of needs. Very much like not sleeping or eating impacts your physical health, so it is with creative outlets and my mental health.

The fallacy, however, is that people think creative outlets expel these dark thoughts. They don't. It’s depression and anxiety, not a demonic possession. A creative outlet works less like an exorcism and more like a coming out party. See, depression never really goes away. It’s not really something you’re cured of, exactly. It’s something you learn to cope with. Expressing it is a way of driving with the top down, venting out the bad air, letting in some sunlight and exposing your annoying little passenger to the world. When you are truly able to put yourself out there, when you are unashamed of it, you take ownership of it. You use it as fuel to create. You are manipulating it and it no longer manipulates you. Then when someone hears your song, reads your story, stares at your visual art and relates to it,well, then you’ve made a connection. They understand and recognize that someone else feels that way too and they feel less alone. Then you see someone else relate to what you’ve created and you connect you are given validation that you aren’t alone either. Because the truth is that no one is really alone. The world is both small and vast simultaneously and there’s not a feeling or experience you can have that isn’t shared by someone else. And those people are all around you. Art, in any form, is about taking that which makes you feel alienated and using it to do the opposite: to connect.

Which brings us to a bit of a conundrum. If a main benefit of art is connection and validation, does something have to be shared to truly be “art”? Are those novels in the drawer “not art” because no one else will read them? Is the painting in the attic “not art” because it’s got a vinyl cover over it? Don’t be ridiculous. Sometimes the benefit is just for yourself. It’s the act  of taking all the twisted shit going on in your head and turning it into something tangible. Something you can see, read, hear, or touch. Even...taste? If we fear most that which we cannot see or hear, then take that power away from it. Take it for yourself. Taking the time to create something is, in and of itself, therapeutic.

So to anyone else wrestling with that dark, gloomy backseat driver I highly encourage you turn it into something you can use. Turn it into art. Even if you suck at it, and chances are you will at first. But eventually, you won’t anymore. I’m not going to claim it’s a cure all. Even some of the world’s most famous creatives have succumbed. But still, it turns the darkest part of yourself into something beautiful and lasting. And that’s not nothing.

P.S.: There is no shame in seeking professional help too. I’ve had my own experiences with that and will share more in a future blog entry.

Also: Here’s a list of suicide hotlines by country. Click the country and it’ll bring up a list of cities.