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Mental Illness Does Not Mean Better Art

January 15, 2017

Photo by Kelsey Weaver 

 

A tortured artist immerses himself in his craft. His work is heart-stopping. Undeniably extraordinary. An anomaly from the art by sane creatives.

 

No.

 

The stereotype of the deranged artist has been perpetuated for as long as I can remember. To some extent, there is actual evidence behind it, with many world-renowned artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Vincent Van Gogh, and Sylvia Plath, whose mental disorders have become staple components of their images. But with this acknowledgement of their unhealthy mental state comes the deadly romanticization of mental illness. Poet Raquel Isabelle de Alderete, better known as inkskinned on Tumblr, touches on this subject by describing it as “the glorification of certain symptoms over the ugly realities of the disease.”

 

While there is a correlation to creative occupations and people living with mental illness, there is strong support that mental illness does not have to be present for creativity to exist. By attributing Beethoven’s genius to his depression, we are diminishing the severity and gravity of mental disorders.

 

I used to struggle with anxiety and panic attacks myself. I can tell you from experience, I do not care if my writing is the next Shakespeare. I do not care if mental illness improves my poetry. I would never trade that pain for better artistry.

 

I thought art fed off grief, that true creatives had to suffer. Medication and therapy were for the weak. I wanted to conquer panic attacks on my own. All this skewed perception did was prevent me from seeking the help I desperately needed. In terms of creativity, I was obsessed with writing poems that were completely lifeless, devoid of any and all hope. Writing was the means for materializing my pain.

 

Only now has it become my life passion, my joy and soul.

 

A line in my old poetry reads, “I am tired of feeling insignificant, of cowering at my own shadow drenched in worry.” A line in my more recent poetry reads, “all I want to say to her [my younger self] is ‘Hang on tight, because one day you will feel so full of happiness that those years will seem like a dream.’”

 

Recovery is not a privilege, but a necessary.

 

To those currently suffering with mental illness, your plight is valid. I know “you are not alone” and “you deserve happiness” seem like overworked mantras at this point, but they are so true. You are deserving of all the joy the world has to offer and more. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. This was something I used to think was false. Please, learn from my mistake, and believe it.

 

Just because there have been cases that support the notion that mental illness can aid creativity, that does not mean that mental disorders are okay. That does not alleviate the harsh truth behind schizophrenia or OCD.

 

Let’s destroy this expectation that mental illness accompanies better art. Let’s stop romanticizing the woes of depression. Let’s destigmatize bipolar disorder and take anxiety more seriously. Let’s create an open dialogue and supportive community for those who need it.


I have since overcome my anxiety. And let me tell you, I am not looking back.

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