The past 6 weeks I have been looking for a new job. My current position ended unexpectedly, but my employers did give me plenty of time to search for a new position. However, finding time to write with the mental turmoil of job-loss and job-searching has been difficult.
There is a huge trend/stigma/insert-favorite-term-here that the suffering artist produces the best work. For me, the “suffering” writer is a basket case who can’t focus on reading a PB, never mind writing a novel. For me, my anxiety made it much harder to connect with my stories and characters. Even the characters in my depressed, emotional YA novel I avoided. Writing sad made me sad, and writing happy was impossible since I couldn’t find it myself.
My writing hiatus made me recognize that my anxiety was out of control, and I did find help. I’m not afraid or ashamed to say I have a therapist and I went back on my anti-anxiety medication. Many of my friends who are literary/visual/musical artists also struggle with mental illness and have found relief in reaching out. Asking for help doesn’t mean I was suicidal or crazy or so depressed I couldn’t move. For me, my meds help me deal with day-to-day anxiety and make working and enjoying my life easier. It’s like wearing glasses. Sure, I could wander around squinting, never drive, and be unable to read things farther than 2 feet away, but why would I do that if there’s a better solution?
This blog is turning into a plug for mental health awareness and I’m totally okay with that. As artists, we all function on different levels of anxiety and stress. Some stress is important. It keeps us working to make deadlines and push ourselves to be better writers/musicians/visual artists. However, if stress and anxiety is prohibiting you from making good art, something is wrong. For me, I do not know if I will be on my meds for the long-term (side effects are real and annoying and affect day-to-day life) but for this transition it has helped. I’m sleeping and eating again, and I’m writing. I’m still stressed because looking for work isn’t fun no matter who you are, but even if I’m editing a couple chapters a day it’s more than avoiding it all together.
Taking a break is valid and healthy for those of us who have been working a lot and need to not think for a while. Listen to yourself. It’s okay to ask for help from friends, family, doctors, and professionals. Artists don’t need to struggle to make beautiful, meaningful, important art. We can be happy. We should be happy.