I’ve never been here before. Usually, I lay awake at night thinking of a million things I need to do until my brain finally exhausts itself enough to fall asleep. Lately, I’ve been laying awake at night thinking of a millions things I need to do until this little voice cuts through and whispers: why?
I know what doubt feels like. It’s awful but it’s not this. This deep dark thing that feels cold and endless. But it isn’t endless. It comes in waves, knocking the breath from my lungs, and for twenty, thirty, forty minutes I tread water when all I want to do is sink.
I know what it feels like to worry, to be anxious and on edge. I know what it feels like to second guess and not be sure. To be afraid.
I don’t know what it’s like to wrestle with this hopelessness that comes and goes and doesn’t listen to me when I demand that it leave, when I intellectualize it and contextualize it and call it a liar. It doesn’t listen. It stays.
So even though I’ve never been here before I have to figure out how to navigate this new territory. I have to figure out how to create in a space that is constricting and so incredibly cruel. While also battling all of my other fears and anxieties.
I think the first step is coming to terms with the fact that I will never be able to separate my work from my mental illness. There will never be a day when I can just sit down and crank out ten thousand words. There will never be a time when I’m staring at that blank page and won’t hear those vicious voices in my head. I will never approach a project anxiety-free. I will never have that ideal creative experience that is painted for us in media and online.
After coming to terms with my “normal” I have to get honest about the specifics too. If I can’t write 10,000 words a day, how many is reasonable for me? What goals can I set for myself that will be realistic enough and accessible enough for me to feel successful? What kind of creative process can I cultivate to help me build confidence?
When you suffer from mental illness your creative process needs to be as much about building yourself up as building a book or a song or a painting. You cannot pour out more than you put in. Some people can run on empty but not me. And I have to stop pretending that I can…that I could if I just did this or tried that. That is not my brain. That is not my life.
My life, my creative process looks different and that’s okay. But it takes work to be okay with that. Work that I must be as devoted to as my creative work. Work that is just as worth it. Because my health is worth it.
And because when you’re at the bottom of a black hole, trying to summon a flame, to bring a spark to life, that light has to come from somewhere. The more I nurture that place, the more I learn to accept all those bright specks and (especially) all that darkness in between, the more fuel I’ll have to burn. The brighter everything will be.