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How Mental Health can Influence Creative Work

I first became aware of mental health illnesses when I first started secondary school. During those years, I was suffering from social anxiety and depression, although for a long time I didn’t even realise they were real conditions. I also became aware that I was autistic while in secondary school, which helped me realise why I struggled so much with basic tasks and basic socialising that came so easily to everyone else.

For me, my mental health shaped a lot of my hobbies and who I am today. I don’t believe it defines me, but it has definitely influenced my development. It has also influenced my hobbies: art, photography and writing in different ways.

Everyone has their own methods of coping with difficult situations and feelings. When faced with a situation I couldn’t manage, I would vent through my artwork. This lead to a lot of quite depressing artwork, which I felt ashamed about sharing with others. I got a lot of inspiration from other artists who did similar artwork exploring the theme of mental health, which motivated me to carry on. Slowly but surely, I began sharing my art on Instagram, and started feeling more confident about it.

This is how my mental health influenced my art. How it influenced my photography is different. I used my photography to capture anything that made me smile. Anything that catches my eye, anything that I thought looked nice. Sounds basic and probably what 70% of other photographers do, but for me it was a coping method. It was about finding beauty in a world that felt heavy and bleak.

And then there is my writing. Anyone who has read all of my books so far would recognise a continuous theme of mental health throughout them. They all deal with the subjects of suicide, self harm, depression and abuse, in the background of the stories. My reasoning for this is that 1, it makes it feel a bit more real, which I think makes it easier for a reader to connect with the character. 2, it’s my little part in avoiding falling into the trap of ignoring a taboo subject. So many people ignore the topic of mental health because they think it’s tricky to navigate and explore, so they become ignorant, which is really quite toxic. By far, my third book ‘Imaginary’ is the book most invested into the subject of mental health, and can be quite sensitive for some people.

So, those are the ways I cope with my mental health through my hobbies and careers. However, it doesn’t stop there.

Due to my mental health, it can sometimes be really difficult to even take part in these activities at all. As much as I love writing, drawing and taking photos, some days I lack any motivation and my self esteem is through the floor. I hate every word I type out, I hate my sketches and I can’t seem to get the composition correct on a photo. Some mental health illnesses such as depression can seem to suck the life out of you, for days and weeks on end. Creative subjects already take a lot of energy and effort, so when you lack those, it’s incredibly difficult to push yourself back into it again.

This is the reason why my first book ‘Immunity’ took 2 years to complete. I was writing it while in secondary school, when my mental health first began to spiral downwards a little bit. There were periods of months at a time when I wouldn’t write a single word, and it felt so wrong to just pick it back up after 6 months of ignoring it. Yet once I finally finished that book, it felt amazing and was definitely worth it.

Also, lets think about this logically for a moment. Most creative subjects, such as photography, art and writing, are very difficult to make a living from. Art and photos can be stolen, downloaded for free or just ignored. Not many people are willing to spend money on a picture that looks good these days. As for writing- there’s literally millions of books available, so the chance that you can make a substantial living off of your small collection is incredibly low. This reality puts a lot of people off of trying to make money from their hobbies, which is understandable. And those who continue to try but have no results may fall into low self esteem and habits of depression, which therefore prevents them from pursuing their work.

As a whole, this post was me exploring how mental health and the attitudes towards mental illness influence and change the work of a creative individual. It isn’t addressed as much as it should be, therefore this is my contribution to this topic.

Published by Alexandra Killworth

I'm Alexandra Killworth, YA author, freelance artist and photographer and mental health activist.

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