‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work.
If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.
Words by Michael Finn, as told to Harriet Williamson.
I’m 26 and I work full time for HMCTS as your regular office drone. Although my career lacks creative opportunities, it’s dull and boring enough to afford hours of time thinking about concepts and new ideas that manifest in my spare time. I have a poetry blog read by 100,000 people, and I intend to publish several novels I’m currently working on too (once I hone my writing skills and develop my techniques further).
I currently suffer mentally, and I have from around the age of 16. I am severely depressed, but high-functioning enough to go about my days unstricken for the most part. Periodically, however, that highly functional part of my condition disappears completely, and down the spiral I go. I become reckless and carefree. I simply don’t give heed to anything anymore.
This results in the everyday suicidal thoughts pushing all else aside, taking centre stage in my mind, and have led to multiple attempts of taking my own life, the worst of which was August 2016, when two attempts failed in a 48 hour period thanks to drunken dumb-luck and embarrassing eye-contact with a colleague.
Having tried multiple techniques of managing my illness, I find a few things help me the most: being completely open about it with people I meet online, anonymous or otherwise; embracing it wholly, running with it, and laughing at myself and the depression to make it seem less overbearing and omnipotent. I call depression ‘my lover’ to make it human, for instance, because that’s exactly what it is.
Finally I often sit and think about it—why I feel low, what has possibly brought this about, how did it start—in an attempt to navigate through this maze-like state of mind to the core of the bad thoughts and break the particularly bleak spells. Though this can be bruising, the hard-faced confrontation ultimately works. Listening to gloomy music paradoxically helps me too, as the music and I seem to understand and communicate better when it matches my mood; happy, upbeat music tends to deepen the slumps and makes the m harder to escape.
Depression definitely impacts my creative process. I lose all interest as my mood worsens and I physically can’t write anything when I’m at my lowest, due to blockages and non-existent energy. It’s only when I’m over the worst of it that I can write, and the writings thereafter are about that episode’s sensations, which is cathartic no-end.
The main piece of advice I would give to people is to not run away from your illnesses, tackle them head on. Running only encourages them to chase you, and when you beat your ills face to face, you’ll feel a butt-load lighter and like you’re carved out of wood. Secondly, I fully encourage people to talk about how they feel; talk about your state of mind in all its raw, warts and all detail to whomever you feel can help you most.
Healthful Chat worked wonders for me as my anonymity remained intact and I spoke with people going through the same shit I dealt with. There’s a whole range of chatrooms to go on, and you never get people making a pass on you or dick pics or creeps sidling up to you. If these suggestions don’t work, just experiment until you find something that does. There are cures out there, it’s just a matter of having the resolve to go out and find them.