Blog

Jan25
2018

You Don’t Have to Suffer for Your Art

By Claire Biggs

A few months ago, I put together a mental health Q&A on my Instagram story. I took questions from friends, coworkers, and people who followed me on social media. And once questions started coming in, I texted friends for outside opinions.

This is what I’m thinking. Is that enough information? Would that be helpful if you had heard it back when you were struggling?

One of the people I reached out to was a former TWLOHA intern. We both have a bipolar diagnosis, and we had talked previously about things like medication, therapy, and coping techniques. I wanted to hear more specifics about her experience before I talked about mine.

Did you get misdiagnosed and prescribed antidepressants too?

Did you spend a lot of money you didn’t have on ridiculous things too?

Two of the text messages she sent back were so hilarious I remember reading them and howling with laughter. I took a screenshot of them and (with her permission) immediately posted them to my Instagram account to promote the story.

You can find that post here, but I’ll copy the texts here so you can see:

“During an antidepressant fueled manic period I was convinced I was gonna be a DJ. I bought all the equipment and software and was brainstorming names. Some stories are funny to look back on, others are not. Sometimes when I don’t think my meds are working I remember what it was like before meds and its verrry obvious they’re working. I don’t think im going to be a DJ now haha.”

If you’re familiar with Instagram, you know that story was gone after 24 hours. That post with the screenshot of her text messages, however, is still up.

At first I told myself I loved it too much to take it down. It was just so damn funny. I didn’t have DJ aspirations like that, but I wasted serious amounts of money on dumber things before I got help. I loved that someone else could look back and laugh about that type of stuff too.

Eventually, I realized that there were other reasons I wanted to leave it up. I found myself coming back to one part in particular:

Sometimes when I don’t think my meds are working I remember what it was like before meds and its verrry obvious they’re working.

What she didn’t know when I reached out to her was that, for months, I had been debating going off of my medication. It wasn’t a constant thing. It was just, in my vulnerable moments, these two questions would occasionally present themselves to me:

Do you even have bipolar disorder?

Don’t you think you were much more creative when you were off them?

The healthy part of my brain sees the first one for what it is: bullshit. I’ve read enough about bipolar disorder to feel confident about my diagnosis. You know who else felt confident about that? The professional who diagnosed me.

But it’s the second question that makes me linger on the first.

Sometime in the summer of 2012, my mania convinced me I had to write a novel in 30 days, my own personal National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), because it’d make the perfect gift for my dad’s birthday. I worked. I wrote. I thought about sleeping but didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t even try. I quit my job. I spent what little money I had left. I wrote some more. I sent my dad the fever dream of a novel.

Looking back, I consider it one of the scariest periods of my life. I was out of control in every sense. I can see that.

What I couldn’t see past for the longest time, however, was those 50,000 words. I had created something. I had written a novel, something I had always wanted to do. Did it matter what it cost me if I did the thing I wanted to do more than anything else in the world?

There’s another reason this second question haunts me.

I am a writer, editor, and consultant. I take on freelance projects and run a business with my best friend. All of my jobs are, in some way, dependent on my creativity. I literally and figuratively cannot afford to stifle my creativity.

It is no small miracle that taking one pill once a day helps me manage an illness that once wrecked my life 6,000 ways to Sunday. And yet…and yet I still caught myself wondering what was real and what was worth it when it came to taking that pill.

That is, I wondered those things up until this November.

My personal NaNoWriMo had taken place over the course of one hot, dangerous summer month back in 2012. The official one, where tens of thousands of people (if not more) attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, takes place every November.

I’ve thought about attempting it every year since 2012. Some years I came close, opening a blank Word document. Other years I tried to put my ego on the line, telling people what I wanted to do ahead of time. Each year I failed.

This past November, however, I won. I crossed the 50,000-word mark with a full day to spare.

Me. I did that. I did that on medication.

Both drafts are about the same length. Both drafts are messy. But one cost me much more than the other.

Now that I’ve finished, I keep going back to look at my friend’s text, and I start to see the truth in my life:

I wasn’t manic. I didn’t fall into a horrible depression after the manic episode.

Sometimes when I don’t think my meds are working I remember what it was like before meds and its verrry obvious they’re working.

I didn’t realize how much I was struggling with all of this until I started working on that Q&A for my Instagram story. Once I paid attention, however, I made it a priority to confront it. It’s part of the reason I reached out to Zan Romanoff so she could talk about how treating her depression didn’t mean compromising her creativity.

Her interview helped me realize something important. Yes, my work is tied to my creativity. You know what else it’s tied to? My productivity. I can’t compromise that on the chance that I’d produce more work when I’m manic because it wouldn’t be worth the resulting depression.

If you’re thinking about getting off of medications that are working for you for a similar reason or because of a lie stigma is telling you, please think back. Go back to a time when you were struggling, before you found something that helped you manage your illness. Remember that you have a diagnosis and that your diagnosis informs your treatment.

I can’t tell you how many times I wrestled with that question: “Did it matter what it cost me if I did the thing I wanted to do more than anything else in the world?”

The answer is yes. Yes, it does matter. Yes, the costs can be too high.

You don’t have to suffer for your art. You don’t have to prioritize your creativity over your health. You don’t have to destroy your life because of a lie stigma wants you to believe.

Your health matters more than what you might create when you’re unhealthy. What’s more: Staying healthy means you have more chances to create better things.

When I need this reminder, I go back to that Instagram post and tell myself, “I don’t want to be a DJ now.”

What I want to be is healthy. What I want to be is a writer who is capable of producing good, consistent work. What I want to be is the healthiest version of myself.

And I can be. Just like you can be too.  

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Comments (7)

  1. Gail Porter

    This is my therapy site. I too love to write mostly in a poetic script. I did destroy much of my writing that I felt would be harmful for my kids to one day find. Writing helped me when I didn’t know there was medication that could. I now realize that I struggled for most of my life never really knowing why. I was a runner five miles a day sometimes ten miles. I guess it kept me balanceed in between all the mania. Until I did the unthinkable started using to keep me in shape I was a closet junkie I guess. I was not safe I was as low as low could go. Then the affair keeping up my respectful personality. Loved by all someone told me the room lights up when I walk in. Working two jobs managing a household going to school full time nights. We were losing everything we worked so hard for our home our business my sanity. (Comment removed due to nature of content.) All along I was seeing a therapist trying to get myself on an even path. We sold everything our car our home my loyalty. I didn’t think I could make it I just couldn’t be me any more. The affair was the only thing that made me feel safe it was less than a year but those arms came around me and I felt still comforted and I loved the me that I was. It all came tumbling down I was at the absolute lowest I could possibly be. Thank God for my kids because they kept me from leaving this life they deserved better. But I was their mommy they depended on me. Most would never think I was going through a difficult time I kept up an image but it was almost impossible to keep it going. We were broke no home no dignity no pride. We went to live with my parents for a year to get back on our feet. I found the best help emotionally and medically. I did my own research we went to counseling which was not easy to find the right balance especially when you don’t have insurance and you have to take what’s available out there. A little from here a little from there my research brought me to a door that opened up a positive secure way of life. It was not easy to say the least. I still have my days and that’s why this web sight is so valuable. I’m 60 my kids are grown and wonderful productive caring people. I couldn’t be prouder! I’m still married yes we somehow held it all together. This is now going forward but I’m realizing how unstable I really was. I’m lucky for every person in my life that didn’t give up on me when I did. It’s been like a tornado and I wasted enough time I take nothing for granted I love unconditionally I don’t pass judgement on others. I’m a better person I’m stable.

    Reply  |  
    1. Becky

      Gail,

      We are so glad you received the help you needed and no doubt deserved. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Thank you for continuing to live for yourself and your children, they are fortunate to have such a caring and strong mother alongside them. You are an inspiration to us.

      With Hope,
      TWLOHA

      Reply  |  
  2. Amanda Terrio

    I needed this!

    Reply  |  
  3. kash

    i wish i was brave enough to get a diagnosis or even just some sort of therapy but every time i even get close i make some excuse then life spirals out of control and its all too late

    Reply  |  
    1. Becky

      Please don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help! A diagnosis or even just talking to someone will ultimately help you to treat what’s going on. Please do not feel weak for asking for help either.

      We hope you’ll visit our Find Help page: twloha.com/find-help

      You can always email our team at info@twloha.com if you would like some encouragement and support! We’re here.

      Reply  |  
  4. Taylor

    This was incredibly needed for me right now. Thank you.

    Reply  |  
  5. Ladonna

    Thank you so much. That hit home for me. Also felt nice to know I’m not the only one feeling that way about my creativity. For now, for me, the lithium is worth it

    Reply  |  
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