It’s been a while, and I’m here today to talk about mental health and creativity.
About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. And I was given new meds. And it was amazing. It still is. I feel real, and present, and human now, in a way I haven’t in a very long time. Maybe in a way I haven’t ever—certainly not since I was a small child, at least.
I love feeling this way. And it’s absolutely worth it.
A lot of people talk about how mental illness makes people great artists. A lot of other people talk about how that’s a load of crap, how pain isn’t the price we pay for a creative mind, how all the brilliant, mentally ill artists throughout history could have made even more, even better art if they weren’t held hostage by their own faulty brains.
Mostly I’m with that second group.
I don’t write well because I’m sick. My writing quality hasn’t gone down because I’m less sick now.
But here’s the thing: my writing quantity has. And whatever they tell you in school, quantity and quality are connected. The more things of any quality you produce, the better—we improve with experience, and the more things we make, total, the higher chance we have that some of them will be good.
I’ve found it harder to write since getting proper treatment. I still like to write. But I don’t need to anymore, and that makes all the difference.
I used to get trapped in my stories. It was terrifying, sometimes. A scene would play out in my head. And then it would play out again, and again, an endless loop for hours or days or weeks. And the only way to escape was to write it down.
I remember, once, in a ninth grade science class, a scene popped into my head where one of my characters died. And he kept dying, in the back of my head, dying and dying and dying, until I was crying over nothing in the middle of biology.
Apparently that’s a symptom of OCD. Obsessive thoughts. I used to have a lot of those.
The great tragedy of my imagination is that its contents can only exist in one place. I’ve spent most of my life struggling with a delicate balancing act. The real world is ugly, and hard, and I prefer my stories. But my stories will beat ceaselessly against my brain until they drive me mad. Or until I write them down.
The second the final word hits the page, there’s peace. The story is no longer trapped in my head, fighting to get out. It’s no longer in my head at all, and that world is no longer one I can escape to. I’m alone in my head again, and for a few hours, a few days, it’s great. And then it’s cripplingly lonely. And then a new story comes, and it all starts over. But that old story is something I can never have back, something that will never again feel any more Mine than any other story, by any other author.
I’m better now. The obsessive thoughts don’t come the way they used to. The stories are still there, but they’re not caught in a loop, and they’re not clamoring to get out. I can focus on other things, and pull them forward when I need them, when I’m ready for them.
I can keep them in my head, if I want to. I don’t have to scramble to write them down just for a moment of peace and quiet in my own mind. And that means a lot of my motivation to write is gone. It’s harder to find the time to write when I don’t need to. It’s hard to resist the temptation to just keep the stories inside, safe and close and Mine.
So I haven’t written much in the last year or so. And maybe, mostly, that’s a good thing. It’s because I’m better. It’s because I have the space inside my brain to breathe. But I miss writing things down. Miss sharing them with people. I’ll find my way back. I’ll find a new balance. I just don’t know how much longer it will take.
Be patient with me, please—my brain works in a whole new way, these days, and I’m still learning to navigate.