OPINION: When I Realized the Dark Side to Creativity Isn’t Always Dark

The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and official policies of Spark Magazine.

by Niti Majethia

Graphics by Esther Shin

“No great genius has ever existed without a strain of madness,”
– Aristotle

The link between creativity and mental illness is a discussion worth having in the fast-paced, relentless world in which we live.

It’s often said that the fashion industry, specifically, is designed to trigger stress, the need to look perfect, fit into society’s narrow standards of beauty, stay up to date with current trends, create content to keep people interested, and portray one’s most embellished self on social media.

Every single day.

It can wear you out.

In any creative industry, the constant, ever-changing, and evolving nature of the job requires you to be present and emotionally available all the time.  A 2014 report published in The Guardian found similar links, stating that “painters, musicians, writers, and dancers were, on average, 25% more likely to carry the gene variants [for depression] than professions judged to be less creative.” Maybe it is because those who are creative feel more deeply and intensely. They view the world more intimately and recognize its bizarre patterns.

So what does this mean for a world full of artists, thinkers, and creators?

Always remember that self-doubt, as a symptom, can be used as a driving force to improve and create even better art. The essential thing about having this doubt is knowing how to use it — to turn it into a tool to better yourself even further.

It’s also important to understand that the fashion industry leaves no place for vulnerability. Because vulnerability, in our society, is considered weak. We often forget that accepting your vulnerable side is the greatest form of strength. And every career, every profession, every day, comes with its own rosebuds and thorns. At the end of the day, it’s about how you turn those thorns into weapons.

This doesn’t have to be just a metaphor.

In real life, these weapons could be healthy coping techniques that help you power through the storm. It could be addressing your deepest, darkest insecurities and trying to understand where they come from and indeed discovering more about how you feel. It could mean understanding what your mind and body need and giving yourself time to take care of yourself.

Every downfall has an upside: it makes you a little wiser by teaching you a little bit more about yourself. And it also helps you experience the world through a different dimension.Niti Majethia contemplates the link between mental health and creatives and how it affects the creation of art and one's understanding of the world and their place within itIt’s always important to try to find the beauty in every dark spot in your life, but it can be dangerous when this is misunderstood and depression is seen as a “boon” to creativity. Romanticizing depression and self-harm is an issue that has always misguided so many young people. Teenagers, especially, need to be taught how to understand and react to mental health issues in a way that they don’t stigmatize them. It’s always wiser to not trivialize terms like “anorexic” by casually throwing them around in every sentence. Rather, only use them if one has been diagnosed by a professional.

For those who feel like they are really suffering, professional help is the most effective way out of this darkness. Because sometimes, no amount of “positive thinking” can help.

And that’s okay.

It’s okay to not be okay.

What the industry, and we, as individuals, need to focus on is normalizing treatment. To make it okay to go see a psychologist as it is to go see a general physician when you have a flu. To make it as normal to talk about how you feel mentally, just the way you do about your physical health. It’s up to each one of us and our attitudes to help break the stigma.

Creating can, of course, also be a form of therapy. I read this somewhere, and it’s one of the most valuable pieces of advice: you don’t have to be really good at something to enjoy it. Sing off key. Dance offbeat. Draw outside the lines. Write the crappiest, silliest poem. As long as what you create makes you smile, it’s all that matters.

It’s impossible to come up with one solid conclusion when it comes to the discussion of creativity and mental illness.

Is being creative making artists more prone to depression? Or is creating art helping artists cope with their depression?

Maybe it’s a bit of both.

But no matter what your mental state is, remember that even mere specs of dust look like glitter when they teem in the sunlight.

Open your heart to all that this world has to offer and absorb all its light — through self-care, recovery, kindness, purpose, hope.

Be that dust.

And it’s okay if sometimes you have to be your own sunlight too.

Don’t be afraid.

This world has so much waiting for you. •

Niti Majethia is a sophomore rhetoric and writing student from Mumbai, India. In her free time, she likes to eat cake and spend time with puppies.

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