The link between creativity and mental health

SSix months after the pandemic, I haven’t written a word. When I finally got back to that page, in September 2020, it no longer had the clarity and purpose needed for the essays and stories I was used to writing. Instead, my thoughts, feelings, and pen meander and explore; I wrote in a stream of often unfocused, sometimes frantic thoughts and emotions that, to my surprise, began to take on a different form: poetry.

My last two and a half years have been a drive: episodes of depression, diagnoses of anxiety disorders, some panic attacks… and also the process of recovery, rejuvenation and re-emergence in a happier and more balanced place. Through it all, poetry has come closer and closer to the center of my life. And, it seems I’m not alone in finding it as an outlet for the time being.

During the lockdown, poetry writing and reading is on the rise. According to CNN, a popular poetry site,, has seen a historic spike in traffic, garnering 1 million pageviews—a 25% increase—from January to October 2021, following the recitation. by Young National Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman at the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

“What often happens after periods of decline, destruction, and chaos is rebuilding and renaissance—a period of new inventions in thought, in art,” former US Poet Prize winner Joy Harjo speak America today in February 2021. “It’s something that usually emerges from the rubble. You see small trees like after a fire…sprung from coals.”

My Own Tree Grows From Charcoal is a recently published book of mine, The funny thing about a panic attack. It explores how depression, anxiety, and grief intersect with creativity, joy, and love. As I celebrate the release of my book and reflect on my journey to bringing it to life, I wondered about the relationship between my mental health challenges and my creativity.

I wondered about the relationship between my mental health challenges and my creativity—am I creative, at least in part, because Am I living with anxiety and depression?

Am I creative, at least in part, because Am I living with anxiety and depression? Do I somehow rely on my efforts to create art? And how do I effectively deal with my mental health issues affecting my writing, for better or for worse?

Possible link between creativity and mental health

There may be a link between creativity and people with anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, says Jessica Ketner, IMFT, a marriage and family therapist based in Columbus, Ohio. major depression and PTSD. She focuses on common symptoms of some of those mental health conditions. For example, the tendency to ruminate or become overly focused on a feeling or memory can “provide a unique way of seeing the world that, if presented creatively, can show intensity, a , a beauty that’s captivating, moving, and fun to experience,” she says. “Also, a racing or wandering mind can be an opportunity for a flurry of ideas. that can be conveyed in creative ways.”

Even so, Ketner cautions against treating anxiety or depression as some sort of claim or benefit to creative output. Romanticizing mental health struggles or reinforcing stereotypes about a “tortured artist” or “crazy genius,” she says, can be very dangerous, especially if they don’t encourage encourages a person seeking mental health care to “stay in a creative place.”

Researchers as well as the general public have long speculated about the relationship between mental illness and creativity, yet several commonly cited studies suggest the link between the two has been falsified. criticized on the grounds that they use small samples, use inconsistent methods, and rely heavily on anecdotal accounts. Still, the idea of ​​”crazy genius” remains pervasive and deeply ingrained in mainstream culture, and many point to brilliant, tragic figures like Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath or Emily Dickinson as evidence. . Adriana Garcia, LMFT, a therapist, art therapist, and illustrator based in Santa Monica, California, says the view is that good art is positively correlated with problem artists. Mental health issues are wrong.

How writing poetry, in particular, can act as a mental health exercise

In my experience, anxiety and depression promote the exact opposite of creativity: incessant, intrusive thoughts and existential fear, respectively. Exhaustion and despair negated all my hopes of writing a poem, you know, not to mention my ability to lead a healthy, functional life.

If I’m drowning in depression or struggling in the raging waters of anxiety, I need an army to pull me out: patience and support from friends and family; lots of therapy; and months lying on the floor zoned to Office, followed by slowly returning to healthy eating, exercise, and relaxation habits. In my darkest hours, poetry alone is not enough to rescue me—if I can even muster any output—but writing does wonders for my daily mental health. help me get out of the depths of depression and calm the constant buzz of anxiety.

“Finding a creative outlet can be a wonderful and meaningful way to express, release, process, or communicate your emotions as a complement to a healthy lifestyle and conditioning,” says Ketner. mental health treatment. “Many people find so much healing available to them through expressive writing, visual arts, playing or composing music, dance, and other creative pursuits.”

Research demonstrates a positive correlation between how creative activities can benefit mental and emotional health. A study focusing on the link between creativity and mental health corroborated these findings and made an important addition: When creativity was viewed as a coping strategy, it was associated with mental health benefits, but when creativity was seen as a defining characteristic of a person, there was a negative association with mental health.

Because I’m the type of person who enjoys writing poetry, I might as well be the type to be prone to anxiety and depression. At the same time, writing poetry helps me deal with anxiety and depression.

In other words, since I’m the type of person who enjoys writing poetry, I might as well be the type to be prone to anxiety and depression. At the same time, writing poetry helps me deal with anxiety and depression. While I sometimes find it difficult to find joy in my life, I often create joy on the page. Sometimes I use writing to get rid of the pain; other times, to draw it closer, as a means of coping or cleansing, or as a way to see my struggles in a different light. Even as my poems delve into my darkest moments, the writing process replaces anxiety with positive energy and a sense of playfulness. These themes manifest in both the process and the product of my work.

In my poem “Deep Sea Donuts”, the speaker dreamily “finds a way/so as not to wake up”; he wishes the waves “swallow me / into nothingness.” Ultimately, however, he discovers the sensory pleasures—in particular, breakfast—that make life worth living, when he wakes up and realizes:

that i don’t like

salt water in my coffee

and they don’t

bear claws

At the bottom of the sea

“When all gray covers the sun and gravity is a train and I am a penny on the track” in my poem “Brent”, the speaker turns to his writing, to create the characters. objects, world-building, and find solace in (even a sideline) escape: “It’s an incremental fantasy in which everything is exactly the same/except everyone hovers off the ground from three to five inches”

In “Notepads,” the speaker escapes fear and despair to find closeness and connection:

and i was scared

I’m going to do something bad to myself so I’ll call you and you’ll come

and we want

Make grilled cheese or just sit on the kitchen floor and breathe

and i guess

that’s what it means to need someone

In my poem “The Funny Thing About a Panic Attack,” the speaker thinks he is about to die, so his roommate calls the paramedics, who are muscular and hanged. , to what looks like “April, May and June of the following calendar year. At the end of the poem, the speaker and his roommate ponder, finding humor in each other’s traumatic experience:

Then you ask your roommate if she has time to get dressed before they arrive or if she’s just wearing that Backstreet Boys nightgown and she says, “Yeah, I put on sweatpants and god damn it. , that’s the best act I’ve gotten in a while” and you laugh and she laughs because both of you really, really need it to be funny.

Finally, at the end of the book, when the speaker reaches a stable point in “I Wish You Superblooms,” he thinks of others who may be struggling and sends strength through the page:

This is the morning you rise as your own horseman

by noon you are exponential, lucky with power

to lift your finger and move the decimal point of the day

all roads to the right

Yes, my creativity thrives on imagination, sometimes frenzied thinking, along with deep, intense, often painful emotions. My writing also requires a sense of lightness, flight, balance and comfort. It is that duality that has made me who I am, as a poet and a person, and has allowed me to deal with depression, anxiety, and grief in my writing—and in my life. my life—with humor, heart, and a sense of awe in spite of it.

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