‘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 Dane Cobain, as told to Harriet Williamson.
My name’s Dane Cobain and I’m a published author and freelance writer. I spend every waking moment either writing or thinking about writing, and it’s awesome to be able to make a living from it as my own boss.
I write a little bit of everything, and I have fiction, non-fiction and poetry out – as well as a horror screenplay. I don’t think I work in a particular genre, although I’ve been labelled as a horror writer before, and I quite often write about technology and the effect it has on us as a society. I’ve been writing since I was about sixteen – so at least ten years and maybe a little longer.
I suffer from anxiety and depression. The depression kicked in during my teens and the anxiety started in my early twenties. I tend to be quite open about it and try to provide comments like this where possible in the hope that they might help other people.
I take Citalopram at the moment and took it for quite a while in the past. I tried Amitriptyline once but it didn’t work so well for me.
Anxiety/depression have less of an effect now than they used to, but part of the reason for that is that I’m now self-employed. I found that full-time employment tended to exacerbate them both, and it was often difficult to talk to bosses etc. about what I was feeling. For some reason, it’s not as accepted to take days off for mental health issues as it is to for physical health.
I think that anxiety and depression still have an impact on my life, particularly in how I go about my day to day business. I don’t like leaving the house much, for example. And I tend to feel safer/better when I’m able to follow my productivity routine and to get some writing done.
To stay well, I tend to use a whole range of little tricks. For example, if I start to feel stressed then I play guitar and sing to vent some steam. If I feel a panic attack coming on, I do some colouring in as it takes my mind off things. I usually tend to feel better if I keep myself as busy as possible.
I think my mental health does inspire creativity, in a way. The two are definitely closely linked. If I’m feeling down about my writing skills then it can lead me to feel depressed, and a big deadline can make me anxious. But it also gives me fuel that I can write about – for example, I’ve written poems about anxiety and given characters a little bit of anxiety here and there.
I think you have to remember that your mental health doesn’t define you. You should never be ashamed of it. Ultimately, you have to put your mental wellbeing first, and it’s more important than your career. But that’s not always easy to remember.
I actually find that my mental health conditions often either inspire my writing or at the very least writing can take my mind off things. I usually find that if I keep as busy as I can, the anxiety doesn’t settle in as much because my mind is too busy.
When that doesn’t work, I’ve found that colouring in works pretty well – and so does sticking a comedy on, especially when it’s something that you’ve seen plenty of times before. The depression is a little harder to deal with – you just have to sort of do your best to overcome it, and I often go to sleep if it’s particularly bad.
The good thing about writing and being creative is that it’s often not something that you turn on and off – you can usually force yourself to keep writing. It just might not be particularly good.