Anxiety and creativity as a refuge

Last week I was off work with stress and anxiety. I’m back in now, but it was a bit of a shock to crash out with a panic attack on a not particularly difficult Monday morning, and find myself unable to return for a few days after that. While I’ve struggled anxiety for quite a long, I don’t normally find myself needing to take time off work with it, but that’s how things go sometimes, isn’t it?

During my time off I was feeling really tired and had that kind of brain fog that makes it a bit difficult to think things through properly. From a creative point of view, I wasn’t been able to write much either, which is my normal creative weapon of choice. When my mental health slips this way my instinct is to retreat into making pictures. I find something therapeutic in the physical activity involved in drawing, cutting paper and working out which other materials may work for that particular design.

There are a few theories about around why creative activities are helpful to mental health, including (not an exhaustive list);
1. That it provides a nice distraction from difficult feelings or circumstances
2. That it may provide a route into a state of ‘Flow’. This is a psychological term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and which describes a positive state of mind where a person is fully involved in and focused on a particular activity (for more information you can read his book on the subject here (affiliate link)).
3. A route for self expression or catharsis, allowing people to express, and more clearly understand their own feelings or thoughts on a difficult situation.

Over time I have probably found all three of these aspects of creativity helpful to my own mental health, and am grateful that it is something I feel able to do. One of the benefits of building some form of creative practice into my everyday life is that when things feel a bit difficult, I have something productive to withdraw into, like this last week.

And I made a picture of a cat that I’m pleased with too.

Thank you you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

On building a complicated relationship with gratitude

I wanted to write a quick post about something that has been troubling me for a few days. I was watching a YouTube video the other day that I thought was on personal finance but turned out to be on ‘manifesting wealth’ using the law of attraction philosophy popularised by the book The Secret (have not read it, and I don’t plan to). In this video, (which I cannot find the link to and don’t want to promote anyway) a very attractive wealthy looking woman explained that you needed to behave gratefully and respectfully towards the universe if you wanted to be successful in life. The Universe is basically an authoritarian Victorian patriarch handing out sweeties to the most pious and well behaved among us. Apparently.

For some reason this just really annoyed me. Most of the people I know who are successful have got there through differing combinations of luck, various forms of privilege, and hard graft. Many of them (but not all!) are very grateful for their success, but it was, for most of them, the work that got them there. I think the universe, in it’s infinite beauty and chaos, (and working on the unlikely assumption that it has some form of unifying consciousness) has better things to do that to check in which my savings rate and make adjustments according to my gratitude. I just don’t think it cares. It has better things to do. Like build planets and ignite stars. To scatter about the raw materials of life itself.

Having worked in both psychology and mental health I have also been aware for some time of positive psychology idea that keeping track of the things you are grateful for may help ameliorate symptoms of anxiety and depression. This was also something I was uncomfortable with because when you have anxiety or depression that is disruptive of your ability to do or enjoy things, I think you legitimately have a something to be really pissed off about. Telling people in that situation to sit and count their blessings feels patronising and a failure to grasp the severity of the situation.

That said, since the beginning of January I have actually been making more of an effort to take stock of the things I am grateful for. Things like having a boyfriend who cooks me lovely vegan food when I am sick, or being able to swim outside in the silvery UK sea. I can afford to reduce my hours at work in order to indulge my creative parts, when most people cannot. I have been having fertility treatment for about 5 months now (which is kind of rough) and I have just found out that I have access to more options than I expected on the NHS, and I am grateful for that too. And you know, I have been feeling kind of better lately….