When it comes to depression and anxiety, there can be a tendency to “feel more deeply,” which can be great for connecting with others. At the same time, there are also sublime experiences or intense experiences of both terror and awe. These are sometimes too much to process, and it’s completely understandable to avoid them. I try to find the beautiful in the grotesque, and the poetry and novel sections I’ve written with the deepest passion have stemmed from pseudo-autobiographical manners of expressing what it’s like to live a divergent life in a way both those like and unlike me can comprehend. I don’t want to say one must suffer to be a good artist, but I do think, at least for me, knowing what certain painful feelings are like helps me be less judgmental, even when I have trouble understanding someone’s motives.
For somebody who struggles with depersonalization, this whole talk about art and identity is a scary thing because where does the self end and art begin? How much can one sacrifice to help others feel less alone, especially those like me, the disabled LGBT people who struggle with finding kinship with not just ~*normal*~ people, but their own communities because some voices rise over others? There isn’t a right or wrong answer. When it comes to social connections as a millennial, ill writer, I’ve compared myself to a sick kitten, the sort the mother refuses to feed and leaves to starve and die. I was this defective kitten, and the mother was society. Then, a friend told me he had a cat named Wiggles who was born with his pupils in the corner of his eyes, so he’d run into things, but everyone loved him.
So, to all the mentally ill creative out there, I’ve this to say, and it’s okay to disagree or not feel ready to believe this because recovery is long and difficult. To my fellow writers, artists, and millennials who struggle with balancing self-worth and society’s expectations of productivity: there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s not that you’re unfit for society; society is unfit for you. We live in a society where any displays of negative emotions are seen as abnormal and therefore must be suppressed and kept hidden. We’ve made deadlines for grief where grieving for over a year because you lost someone who was a piece of you is conceived as an illness that must be chastised and shut down. There is outcry to lessen the stigma, but at the same time, others’ll say we’re unreliable when it comes to telling our own stories. If we don’t have a success story, if we slip and have bad days, we’ve failed and not tried hard enough.
Listen, that’s BS.
I know it’s hard to believe because I still have days where “failure” echoes in my head. I worry over this due to outside pressure, but you’re not a failure if, because of anxiety, depression, or any other disability, you cannot bring yourself to work (“But everyone else your age manages just fine!”), or if you do work and struggle to achieve as much as your peers, you are not lazy. Everyone has different advantages and disadvantages the moment they wake up and prepare for the day. People who do not struggle to leave the bed will not understand, nor should they be expected to as of yet. We’re all, to some degree, conditioned to believe in certain ideals about what being worthy and whole in society means, and this takes years of unlearning. If you’re fine one day and terrible the next, or vice versa, you aren’t fake, and it’s not so simple as “doing what you did” on the good days during the bad ones. If you cry a lot or panic in public (whoo, right there with you!) and people don’t understand, it’s not your fault. We’re raised, most of the time, to learn to show certain emotions and hide others for fear of being “dramatic” and “attention-seeking.”
Am I attention-seeking and theatrical at times? Dude, hell yeah; I have a story to tell, and so do you, and people have to listen! (Okay, maybe not “have to.” The chair and duct tape are optional.) That said, you’re also not a failure if you need time to be comfortable enough speaking up. This too is a wonky process for me; in the past, I’ve stymied plenty of emotions or aspects of my personality for fear of driving others away. Still, we can’t change anything if we conform because of a fear of bothering people. (Again, easier said than done. Anxiety is an interesting beast.)
Is it okay to not be okay, to be suffering? Does this really matter? Who is the grand arbiter of “okay,” and can I sue them? I’m not trying to be inspirational here, though if this inspires someone to be themselves, wonderful. Quite honestly, I’m mad as hell. You know, the millennial rage against the system thing. Just because the system is manipulative and broken and help is hard to find and maintain does not mean you yourself are broken. Others’ lack of empathy is not a reflection of inherent wrongness on your part. You deserve compassion.
If you are a struggling creative, while you owe the world nothing, you do have something to give: you can not only give yourself purpose through writing or however you express yourself, but this art transforms into a vehicle to give empathy to others, to make them feel grounded in the world, and to propel them to contribute their voices and minds.
In the immortal words of Neil Gaiman, “Make good art.” Art is a maddening, obsessive, overwhelming, lifelong treasure, but surely, having stories to tell is better than the absence of them.
Emily Deibler is a dedicated writer, artist, and nerd who explores trauma, grief, abuse, and neurodivergence in her writing. She is currently working on a novel, Dove Keeper, that explores all of these themes. As well as that, she conducts research on reflective writing as a coping strategy and how Devil-centric texts deal with gender identity and sexual orientation. She has worked as a freelance writer and a contributor for The Artifice. She loves taking photos, helping others with their social media or creative writing, eating chocolate, and petting cats. You can find her at EmilyDeibler.com, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Patreon.