At my first appointment with my new psychiatrist, he said, “you can’t tell me the person sitting in front of me isn’t creative.” The most creative thing I’d done in the previous week was dye my hair red and blue.
I’ve been thinking about creativity, how it makes my world worth living in, and how I’ve lost sight of that over recent years.
What the hell happened?
Well, first my partner left me and I had to minimise all my belongings into a suitcase and a few friends’ spare rooms or basements. And a spreadsheet titled “where my stuff is”. I had no idea where I was going to live or work, so making physical art of any kind was out of the question. But I was still teaching and performing dance, so although I was in a lot of tears at the dance festival the next month, there is photographic evidence that dance brought me moments of joy. And I was still writing every day, mainly mantras and things I was grateful for.
Then after two weeks of fierce hunting, I was offered a job. I’d have to start three hours earlier than I was used to, so I had a friend shave my hair off and started getting up early so that I could write, meditate, and do yoga before work. Another wonderful friend gave me a great deal on a room in her house and let me cry mascara smudges onto her fluffy white bathrobe.
Learning a new job is exhausting. I had to give up teaching after-work yoga. I remember getting home from work on Friday, doing the vacuuming, and having no energy to do anything except sit on the couch and watch bad TV. A workmate commented that surely I went out partying, because I was “young and not pregnant”. I would stay at work late, or come in early, or go to class then back to work, because I couldn’t get the day’s workload done in my allotted hours and the next day’s workload wouldn’t wait. I kept telling myself that it was only until I learnt the job and got up to speed.
Gradually I did less writing and meditation and home practice because I knew I needed sleep. My friends needed their basements and spare rooms back so I did another round of ruthless decluttering. No more fabric stash. No more boxes of bits to be made into other things. No space or time to create physical art. For a year I didn’t post on my blog. For a year I stopped teaching dance.
For a year my creativity fought its way out in taking photos and appreciating the creativity of my family and friends and of the beautiful world I live in. I joined Instagram for photos of my baby nephew and posted pictures of flowers and trees.
For a while I managed to do my work within the assigned hours. There were always changes and additions and nothing felt finished or good enough. After one new piece of weekly work arrived, my indirect manager told me there was nothing I could do about it and exhorted me to do it for the patients. If I called in sick, my direct manager would counter with “I don’t have anyone to cover you”. I started to realise that if I kept catching everything that was thrown at me, I would BE one of the patients.
There was too much work and I could never do everything right and I wasn’t good enough. It should be a simple job and I must just be useless because I couldn’t do it. I was snapping at people I actually liked and who were just trying to do their own jobs. I knew I was hideous to be around. My headache started as I arrived in my office every day. My arms got heavy and it took longer to lift them. I started having to stay late because I couldn’t work as fast. Every time I took time off, something would go wrong. I tried so hard to document my role clearly, but I can’t have done it well enough because it should be simple for someone else to step in, right?
As I wrote the last paragraphs, I could recognise my depression talking.
I started having panic attacks. At work, during my long runs. Often they were accompanied by suicidal urges. Now that I’ve accepted that they were panic attacks, I can look back and see that I was already having them in primary school and many times since.
I left work early one day and went to my doctor, who gave me a medical certificate for a week off. During that week I was advised and supported by friends to contact Te Haika (the mental health crisis team) on account of my suicidal urges. I was fortunate to be seen that week by an excellent psychologist who saw that I was unfit for work and has been monitoring my medication and environment closely. Last week I had a terrible panic attack in his office and he calmly got the equipment to check my blood pressure and pulse. Writing about it, I feel my body remembering. Mental illness is physical.
My dad was with me. When I asked if he’d ever been proud of me, he said yes and gave examples. He put his arm around me and took me for a slow walk in the sun, and held my hand as we crossed the road to where there were pine trees. It reminded me of when he used to take me to the forest to gather pinecones for the fire. I took my shoes off to feel the pine needles and the grass and climbed through an inviting space in one of the trees. I’m crying as I write this.
I’ve started dancing again. My troupe has been invited to some performances, and I’m so happy that they still want to dance and are stepping up to organise practices and costuming and music. On Saturday three of us went on a road trip and played in an adventure playground and explored a mysterious dead end road to the coast.
I started posting on my blog again. People I admire compliment my writing. One of them planted the idea of going back to study creative writing.
I started meditating and teaching yoga again.
A lot of people have voiced appreciation of my openness about my mental health. It’s worth continuing to talk about it for those people. I know there are others who have needed to protect themselves by stepping back, and I respect that too.
I saw a counsellor a while ago, when I was still well enough to be applying for jobs. She recognised that I wasn’t using a lot of my talents at work, and that despite being stressed, I was also bored, and that gave my brain space to create anxiety, because that’s something my brain is good at.
I don’t think I’m spiralling out of control anymore. I think I’m spiralling into balance. I need to make work fit around my needs rather than the other way around. Any ideas are welcome!