by Elizabeth Cregan
What happens when you leave? Am I still myself if I’m not sinking? Are you a part of me, like some childhood friend that I can’t leave yet?
I wrote these words a few days ago as I worked to finish a song I was writing about—or, more accurately, a song I was writing to—my own struggles with mental health. When you break your leg, there’s no question of whether or not healing is the correct path to pursue; of course it is—you have nothing to gain from remaining in your injured state. And yet, as I progressed on my own journey of healing, of finally taking medication for my depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, there was this question that kept getting caught in my chest: is this going to change me? And more specifically: is mental health a hindrance to creativity? Am I still going to be able to create?
And honestly, writing it out, this seems just as outlandish as the broken leg example. Of course this is the path I should be pursuing; I have never felt a more intense feeling of relief than I have these past seven months of being on medication. A constant pressure has been relieved, and for that I am immensely grateful (especially to the friends, family, and professionals who helped me get to this point—big shoutout to y’all). And yet, there is this persistent question of what drives creativity, and of whether or not I’m somehow corrupting this drive.
For so many years, I wrote to find relief; words found their home on a page instead of playing their usual role of congesting my mind and keeping me up at night. So much work that I am extremely proud of came from a place of confusion and frustration—a place of necessity: writing as a means of survival. So what happens now if I’m not needing this escape as urgently as before? Does good poetry emerge exclusively from mental anguish? Is there a pattern of martyring troubled artists? I’m finding myself at a very peculiar crossroads at which I finally feel healthy, and yet the one thing that has kept me sane throughout all the years of muddled thoughts suddenly feels very at-risk. And that’s terrifying.
There seems to be a fetishization of mental illness in the art and music world, as though when supplemented with these biological chemical imbalances, our work is marked as “deeper” or “more complex.” And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is an irrational conflict playing out in my head. But maybe, some of you feel this same discomfort, these same growing pains, pain of shedding a skin that was so objectively harmful. I am happy in this body. I am happy with this mind. But it is not the mind I grew up with, and so maybe that is where my hesitation lies.
I’m still warming up to this new way of thinking, a thought process that, for the first time in years, doesn’t rhythmically repeat the words “Kill yourself.” A thought process that doesn’t demand ticks and rituals as currency for peace of mind. This new mind is still a stranger, but I know that it’s a good one.
So why does this question keep infiltrating this new (and improved!) headspace? In short: I have no fucking clue.
There’s a dimension of guilt to this question of creativity; I know this isn’t the most pressing issue of our times. And I know that my access to mental health services and the subsequently prescribed treatments is only made possible by my privilege. Like for real, y’all—taking care of your brain is an infuriatingly sizable financial burden, and I am beyond grateful it is one my family and I are able to bear. This is a whoooole other issue. Another time, another blog post, perhaps.
But back to the point of this particular post: I’m not trying to glamorize mental illness, or say that I ever take my progress for granted. This is just a funky dilemma that keeps popping into my head when I realize I haven’t written for a while or when I mistake this newfound peace for complacency or lack of inspiration. I guess I’m just looking for a few resounding I-get-that’s, for some affirmation that I’m not the first to feel this fear.
Because it feels so absurd to worry, but I do.
I worry about what fixing might break.