Mental illness and the creative mind

From as far back as I can remember I’ve been an artist. Whether I was dancing, painting, writing poetry or taking pictures, creating art has always been a part of my life. Those years of artistic creativity were also frought with an impending darkness that refused to set me free. Though I wasn’t diagnosed until college I knew back when I was a sophomore in high school that I was clinically depressed. Actually let me be honest. I knew that I was sad and I knew that I was frustrated for constantly working on pretending to be happy but the word depression never entered my mind or escaped my lips. After my self-diagnosis I retreated from my friends and shut out my family. Oddly enough this was also a time of great creativity for me. I wrote enough poems to fill two journals. I choreographed a dance to at least one song off of every CD in my music collection (I had over 100 CDs at the time).  I even begin drawing and painting which I believed I was inherently bad at but actually managed to create some beautiful works of art.

So maybe my depression was enhancing my art to a certain degree. Even though the dark spiral would often rob me of any creative progression, the minute the fog lifted I was suddenly swarmed with new project ideas and concepts. At some point I determined that the life of every artist was to always have this ebb and flow of blockages and overflow. I read so many books about talented artists and great thinkers who were also tormented by their mental illness. There were even times when I reveled in my sadness. I would welcome the darkness and allowed myself to go deeper into it believing that when I would come out on the other side, I would strike artistic gold. I spent years working with this system and believing that I was growing as an artist because I had depression as my secret weapon that would always take me to the next plateau. But after a while I began to feel worn down and the things that used to give me joy and pleasure were no longer feeding my soul.

The problem with opening a floodgate is that you can’t stop the rushing waters that will come blasting towards you. All you can do is allow yourself to be thrown around like a rag doll and hope that you remain alive after the rush has subsided. By turning the faucet all the way on with my depression I not only let my creativity flow but I also let all of the sadness, anger and anxiety that had been bottled up inside me flow as well. It would take years before I came up to the surface for air and even longer to realize that it was my own doing that had gotten me to those deep, dark places.

I’m sure you’ve heard that creativity and “crazy” are only separated by a very thin line, if there is even a line at all. We’ve witnessed this recently with Kanye West. I’ve been (and continue to be) a fan of Kanye. I followed his career from the beginning and as he became more and more vocal off the stage (i.e., interrupting Taylor Swift, saying that President George Bush doesn’t care about black people) I still waved my Kanye flag proudly. His music began changing and showcasing a darker more multilayered side of him. I remember listening to Yezus during many car rides and it taking trip number twenty before I could listen to the whole thing and enjoy it.

Then Kanye started talking about fashion and how hard it was for him to break into the industry. Though I wasn’t down with the homeless look that his line seemed to exude I understood his sentiments about being ostracized and marginalized. Videos began popping up day after day of another “crazy” Kanye interview and the public (I included) couldn’t look away. The reactions that I got from family and friends about him were pretty similar. He was loosing it and he needed help. Reporters mocked him and audiences laughed at what they considered to be crazy antics. The shit hit the fan for the public when he went on a long rant at his concert, talking about supporting Trump and bad mouthing Beyonce and Jay-Z. Shortly after that he was in the hospital for exhaustion.

People have all types of theories as to what got Kanye to this point. I have no clue. I’m not Kanye nor am I someone who is close to him. What I do believe is that Kanye is an unbelievable talent with ideas much grander and multi-faceted than we can ever comprehend. That kind of artistry comes with a price, a great weight that the artist has to bear. In order for us to enjoy Gold Digger and Jesus Walks he has to be willing to dive deeper into himself and extract parts that have laid dormant for years. That kind of soul searching and creativity means that the tight rope walker will often slip and fall.


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