Mental Health and Creativity: When Your Shadows are Scared of the Light
We like to talk about these kinds of dualities as objective, opposing faces on the coins that fill up the change purse of our human experience.
One or the other; light or dark. Cut and dry.
For some reason, we humans like to insist on simplifying everything to ‘yes or no’ answers rather than weaving through gritty, nuanced, personal truths. I’m not sure why — when has over-simplicity ever made for an interesting story?
I know I have a hard time with limiting these dualities to being only one or the other (i.e. light is good; dark is bad) because I don’t see darkness, for example, as being inherently bad or evil.
Not even in the case of my own darkness.
My anxiety and depression have been lifelong partners. I was in denial of the severity of my depression until I got to university, but I did meet with my first therapist when I was 11. Since then, I’ve explored all kinds of combined therapy and treatment options. And now, more often than not, I feel fairly solid in my ability to manage myself through any future episodes of mental upheaval.
That’s something I’m very proud of. Because if you’d have asked me ten years ago—while I was curled up in a ball of near-constant weeping despair on the floor in my living room—whether I’d make it this far, my answer would have been much different than it is today.
A Dark Horse of a Different Colour
Although I’d say that the anxiety part of it is more like frenetic neon on the colour chart, I like to equate my mental illness with darkness. And I’ve really gotten intimate with that darkness over these past two decades.
But again — the darkness isn’t something I look on with aversion or derision. Now that I understand how to navigate them better, I find comfort in my shadows. (I’m also allergic to the sun, so I’ve always leaned more into the night.)
Over time, I have even learned to break and harness my darkness, and run it to my advantage. My erotic writing tends to glamourize the gritty, blackened underbelly of complex (often illicit) trysts for that reason.
I love exploring the shadows of tension and confusion the shroud convoluted relationships; the animalistic needs of the primordial beast who lives somewhere in us; the complexities of not only engaging in masochistic play with emotionally distant partners, but choosing to do so; people who aren’t much more than ghastly spectres even when they’re literally inside you.
Not because that’s how I am in real life. Not anymore, anyways—though I’ve has skirted these spaces in the past when I was far less stable, today it’s actually quite the opposite.
But today, I’ve been struggling, particularly with my writing because the warm, reliable embrace of the darkness that has always been there for me to lean into for my creative outlet is… missing.
In its stead, I’m surrounded by more light than I’ve ever known. And while that is beautiful and I’m so filled with gratitude for it, I’m still trying to figure out how to process it all. Because this light is intimidating. I still don’t quite recognize the face in the mirror under these glaring lamps that have reduced the shadows I’ve grown so used to looking at, that I then played up with intent. This light has complicated my relationships with sex and art as I knew them. And as a professional erotica editor and writer, this has, in turn, complicated how I’ve gotten used to earning my paycheque. And though change is crucial to evolution, it’s also… scary.
Now, I absolutely do not subscribe to the idea that we need to be damaged to create good art. The notion that artists must endure suffering in order to make anything worthy of an audience is absurd and problematic.
But after several years of producing a lot of what I consider to be some of my best works thus far in the wake of some truly horrific lows, I also see how that misconception could come about.
Being a full-time erotic professional makes separating my sexuality from the rest of me for the sake of this analysis even more of a challenge. It’s like my sexual nature has found itself in a polyamorous relationship with my darkness, my creativity, and my professional ambition, and I can’t quite distinguish one from the other in the orgiastic pile of limbs anymore.
I am grateful to have found a path to mental stability, really. I don’t want to disparage my relatively healthy state of mind. But in reaching this state of contentment, I’ve also found myself mired in a prolonged state of creative drought and sexual dormancy. With so many moving parts, the adjustment to having all of these parts line up so they might move together again for this newest iteration of myself has been more challenging than I ever would have expected…
Though I’ve still got a raging case of sex writer’s cockblock, my long symbolic winter of sexual hibernation has passed and it seems I’ve, uh… woken up.
Since the turn of the new year, I’ve had a trio of really lovely experiences with three really lovely humans, the likes of whom I either would never have met or wouldn’t have allowed to get close to me when I was at odds with my psychological wellbeing. Each lover is totally unique from the others, but all came to me in magical, almost serendipitous ways that would hve been impossible without the light. And they all helped remind me of how nice it can be when things aren’t spurred on by and/or swimming in darkness; when they’re light and luminous and just… nice.
Which to most, I’m sure, sounds like a good thing. And it is. But after dwelling so long in the familiar discomfort of my sombre, solitary cave, I’m finding all this lightness a little blinding…
Furthermore, I keep wanting to write about these experiences. It feels like I should. It feels like I should document these milestones; these triumphs. For they are victories in their own right.
But I can’t. Every time I sit down, the words turn to mush on the page. It’s like I haven’t been able to write about them because I simply don’t know yet how to paint with such a light colour palette. Furthermore, though the nastier shadows are more elusive than they once were, the underlying fear of unworthiness never really goes away. What if when I look too closely at these precious moments too closely, they just disappear… into a cloud of sparkly white dust?
No, there’s nothing rational about that line of thinking. I said I’d gotten a lot better at managing my mental anguish; not that I’d thwarted it completely.
I acknowledge that I need to find the balance between highlights and shadows that works best for the shape of my face today rather than dwell on the colours that used to be more readily available to me. I know that it will come with practice and patience. I suppose it’s taking a moment to adjust my eyes to how bright the future is right now…
At least I look bangin’ in sunglasses.