It’s 10th October and that means one thing – World Mental Health Day. Last year, I essentially “came out” to my family about my own struggles with depression. It took me a long time to come to terms with the mood swings, the inexplicable low periods, the periods of anxiety and especially the SAD. Now I’ve fully embraced and acknowledged it,
One thing I hadn’t considered until recently was how often writing has allowed me to deal with those slumps. Now I’m aware of it, I’m noticing it more in others. Thirdly, it’s become apparent to me that in the years of my life where I haven’t engaged with creative aspects of my life, I’ve felt diminished. In some cases, I’ve become outright miserable – a mere shell of myself. I didn’t know it at the time but I realise now I was essentially denying part of who I am.
I’ve seen this in others. Almost daily on Twitter, I see people I’ve become acquainted with this year going through the same thing. “I’ve been frustrated, angry, short fused” and “I feel lost and confused, purposeless.” We wrap ourselves up in work and deny ourselves the most basic of leisure. But why do we do this to ourselves?
Neoliberalism Conditions us to Value Only Productivity
This is something I touched on in two videos in July. The first was my interview with Kaitlyn Pibernik in the middle of the month. The second was a week later on my own Instagram channel. It was a stream of consciousness video I ad-libbed while waiting to give blood (see below). Here, I expanded on my thoughts on the problems of our current approach to capitalism.
I truly believe that neoliberalism treats people as a disposable resource, a resource for plunder, to chew up and spit out. It discourages pursuit of internal happiness in favour of the supremacy of wealth acquisition at all costs. We value the economy more than we value life and all this became immediately obvious in the UK and the US the moment it became obvious this pandemic was no ordinary flu season.
We’ve all been conditioned to feel guilty about writing, photography, and art unless we have a solid guarantee that it will pay the bills or even make us rich. We’re seeing this again in how the creative industries are treated as lesser than other industries, even those (like fishing) which appear to have a bulletproof cage around them which must be saved also at all costs. And we’ve fallen for it. We’ve fallen for the guilt and shame; we’ve fallen for the productivity trap, the value of hard work (which is never enough) and the self-flagellation for not being successful enough, enough of the time.
Anyway, I will move onto the next point before I go full rant.
We Don’t Value Art for the Sake of Itself
We don’t as a society, even now we’ve all been through a lockdown in which we’ve all needed and even craved the fruits of creative work, value the importance of imagination. Throughout my life I’ve been told variously “there’s no money in writing” and “it won’t pay the bills”. As a man from a working class background, I know all too well the words “that won’t pay enough to support a wife and kids.” And so we learn that creativity is a selfish waste of time. Multiply that by millions and as a society, we pour scorn on the one thing we all need from the toil and stresses of our jobs – distraction and escapism.
Some cave art is 44,000 years old; this makes art older than urban settlement, older than farming, and certainly older than the stock market. It may or may not indicate self-awareness (some evidence suggests many animal species design art and play games) but that’s outside the scope of this article. My point is that intelligent beings need creativity. Even if we ourselves are not creative, we all need the creativity of others to unwind. We all take it for granted. We mock those in the creative industries for not “working in a proper job” yet most of us watch film and TV, read books and magazines, look at photos and art, listen to music and talk radio, and play with games and toys on a daily basis.
This World Mental Health Day, Let’s Value Our Creativity for the Sake of our Mental Health
The pandemic has brought us all into a new awareness – the understanding that we are not purely our tax contribution. We are not purely our job. We are not the drudge, the cold, wet October commute on clogged roads going to a job we hate.
I’ve known people with severe depression at the very bottom of that pit, out of spoons, with the black dog at their throat, find a way out of it through art, writing, photography and other creative pursuits. Not just during this pandemic, but other times too. I’ve been there myself and I’ve finally embraced what I am – a writer first, second and third. If freelance writing ever becomes unviable and I must re-enter the workforce, I will never stop other forms of writing. I make this promise to myself, here and now.
I give you permission this World Mental Health Day to get creative. Do all the things that make you happy and don’t worry about whether it will ever make you rich. You do yourself a massive disservice in denying yourself and denying that part of you.