One year ago I made a decision to write a memoir. For many years I have thought about the idea. I have been encouraged by friends and professors who I admire. Last year I met with a writer who, after I explained my creative desires to, told me it was time to stop standing at the edge of the cliff and jump off it. A year later, I realize that I jumped, but not before tying a rope around my waist so that I could climb back up, taking two big steps back after reaching the edge again.
Or at least that is how it feels.
I am a master at being hard on myself. I know I’m not alone in this skill but I have spent a lot of my time perfecting it. The voice in my head tells me I’m stupid, useless, who am I kidding trying to do something creative, something so valueless – I don’t value myself so how can I value what I create. I struggle with anxiety and depression that burns up my energy, blowing smoke into the wind. There are long stretches were my mind is full of pot holes. Reading books is a chore, constructing sentences laborious. Self-doubt becomes the breath that can’t leave my chest, curled shoulders, the chewed pieces of my lower lip, the valley along my brow, the eye lids that won’t stay open.
I’ve given in to these feelings. I don’t write or read a word for weeks, sometimes months. I feel like a fraud for even claiming to want to be a writer. I tell myself that real writers write. Real writers rise above these feelings that drag me down. Real artists create. I can’t seem to defeat these demons, so who am I kidding. Real writers use the darkness as fuel.
I have struggled with the idea that artists require the darkness of mental illness to be creative. I romanticize the tragedy of the tormented, yet brilliant artist. An odd hope remains that my own darkness might turn itself into something amazing. But the fact is, waning mental health is a stumbling block to creativity. I don’t want or need this barrier that makes constructive thought nearly impossible. Unfortunately, this has been my experience on and off for the last year and a half.
Maybe I am a failure for not fully following through on a decision I made a year ago. Maybe one year doesn’t make or break a creative project. Maybe other writers are stronger than I am. Maybe comparing where I am to where others are isn’t helpful. Maybe there is power in finding stability away from the edge. May I need a running start for my next jump. I’m trying to find the balance between being scared shitless about exposing myself creatively and knowing how to be kind to myself in my darker, more confused moments. Maybe my strength of character isn’t based on ignoring my mental health.