The Dark Side of Creativity
I might not have had a lot of time to really dig into any creative projects or make much progress on the ones I'd already started over the past couple of years. But this doesn't mean I forgot about them.
Sad as it sounds, I kind of coped with this desire to create and little to no time to do so via Pinterest. I might not have had time to make something, but I could usually scroll through Pinterest for about five to ten minutes each night and pin some things I thought I'd find useful once I had a bit of time again.
I have boards full to bursting with prompts and pretty stitches or psychology articles and infographics. I have pins of various mythological creatures and stories, all types of herbs, medical knowledge, funny geeky things, and all sorts of other things. Whole sheets of words pinned when I was just starting to have issues with aphasia after decades of not noticing the "spells" due to a lack of speaking in general.
It's an odd mix mash for those who find my public boards, but I have found them a source of useful information and an endless source of inspiration. I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to talk about today, so I started looking through. And I found this image.
"Art attack" may be a phrase I've never used before, but I know this feeling intimately.
Remember me mentioning a diagnosis last year? Well, autism tends to have co-occurring conditions, and I am no exception. I've already been pretty open about being dyslexic for years now, and I just discovered I also have both autism and ADHD in 2019, and most if not all of the anxiety and depression, among other things, I've dealt with as long as I can remember are a result of how these things interact with each other and the modern world.
Art attacks would be one of the more positive ones.
I used to be one of those creators who wait for inspiration to hit to do anything when I was a teen and young adult. It was always so much easier when that burst of motivation hit, but when it did, it would absolutely bury me in ideas every few go rounds. I was self-aware enough to realize I would never remember them all for long, and writing them all down made picking one to focus on several times easier. So I got in the habit of writing down queues of ideas.
This is why there's a work queue to the side here. Currently sitting at 23 books, not counting nonfiction or non-writing projects, it's really way, way longer than what I have here.
Throw in generalized and anticipatory anxiety, a predisposition towards catastrophic thinking, and a heaping helping of perfectionism and self-hatred, and you have a recipe for a human disaster. Or basically, this is how art attacks, while relatively positive in and of themselves, tend to precipitate the worst bouts of depression I have ever experienced. And this cycle is a lot of the reason I avoided seeking diagnosis or even asking for help flat out for literal years because I was sure it was some form of bipolar disorder and feared being prescribed antidepressants after a bad experience with them in the early 2010s.
A lot of motivational speakers like to talk about how everyone has the same number of hours in a week, and you get to choose how you use them. This is true, but things aren't as simple as they like to portray it in their speeches. Above is a rough estimation of how my typical week breaks down.
Of course, mileage will vary. How much sleep a person needs to function well, how long it takes them to manage tasks, and more are often dependent upon genetic and other factors we don't always have control over.
I'm just now beginning to have some clue why I am the way I am with some things. I've had massive difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep since I was about 11, which resulted in a lot of time spent in bed without really leaving a fatigued mental fog. I've almost dreaded any and all social gatherings and, regardless of how much I might have enjoyed them, felt absolutely exhausted afterwards.
I love going to conventions, but it usually takes me three days to a full week to recover afterwards, even without contracting con crud. This takes a week or more longer if I am working in an office versus from home for my day job at the time.
Why? Because interacting with others does not come naturally to me at all. Basically, every interaction, especially with people I do not know well has a lot going on behind the scenes. My sensory filters are buggy, if they exist at all, so focusing on what a person is saying is tricky to begin. Then I'm also double and triple guessing what everything means while simultaneously monitoring my expression, tone, and suppressing or hiding stims while searching through the scripts I've built over the years for what fits the best. All that, even though a huge amount of it is so ingrained it's nearly unconscious, takes a lot of energy.
In the absence of a concrete reason for this, external voices become internalized. Whispers of over sensitive, lazy, selfish, stuck up, and a litany of other adjectives are overheard, and it doesn't take long for that little voice in your head to pick them up and begin to agree. Pretty soon, no matter how hard you try or how far you push yourself, it's never enough. The voice in your head just ridicules you for making up excuses for your laziness and stupidity and failures until your body gives out, and you end up bedridden for days.
I can't tell you how many times I've come for myself over how very long it has taken to get as far as I have on Icarus. I joke about how long it took to finish Right of Succession to hide how ashamed I am it took literal decades and use as armor against those who like to point and laugh over such things. There's a real terror I'll go senile or drop dead before I manage to do even a fifth of what I want to do with my life.
The figures above have caused a number of nights and weekends spent sobbing these last few months over how pointless it seems to even try. I'm just not fast enough to make much headway in the "free" hours I have each week. When you figure in social obligations and continued renovation projects into those hours as well, it becomes clear I can barely hope to do anything but spin my wheels. Then the catastrophic thinking kicks in, and suddenly the only way I can see the future is an endless hall of the same week playing over and over with everyone growing older as the only change.
Seeing yourself twenty years older and with little to nothing to show for it is depressing for anyone. It's downright shattering for someone who has conflated how much they can do and how well they can do it with their self-worth.
The self-hating voice in the back of my head likes to chime in that I wouldn't even need a day job if I wasn't a complete failure as a writer and small business owner. If I knew anything about either one or had any talent or wasn't a lazy whiner, I would be just fine earning a living off writing and soaps. It's just horribly arrogant and selfish to even keep wasting time trying. I should just give up and focus on being the best boring, passionless cog in the corporate machine I can be until I die.
If you've never tried to give up the things that bring you joy in your life, I can tell you, it hurts. Even just the idea feels like taking a hot knife to your own heart. For someone who has understood the world through the lens of characters and stories for their entire life, it feels like ripping your own limbs off and then beating yourself with them.
It will make you want to lie down and die. Then the thought of how selfish that is will feed back into the self-hating cycle, and the whole thing starts again.
I wish I could say I've come to a resolution concerning this latest "art attack," which ironically enough didn't even involve any new ideas. I still feel like I'm doing nothing but spinning my wheels. A big part of me still wonders if I wouldn't be better off in the long run if I did just give it all up and punish myself any time I thought about opening up a document. Another part of me wonders if I'm being a horrible mother and example by "fooling" my kids into believing creative careers are even a viable option instead of trying to steer them more toward more "practical" job choices.
After all, I might have had a chance at doing something viable if I hadn't aimed to be a reporter just as newspapers began to go belly up as an industry. I wouldn't have gotten stuck in an endless cycle of admin, specifically for sales departments, if I hadn't tried to work my way up to the news department in radio just a couple years before those were farmed out as well. But if there's anything more endless than thought spirals, it's a round of "shoulda, coulda, woulda," so let's not go down that road.
Anyway, maybe it's good to admit creativity can have its downsides instead of pretending they don't exist. I know I'm usually much more positive on this blog, but it's been increasingly difficult to look on the bright side these last few years, particularly when it comes to the amount of time creative endeavors take from more practical ones, especially for those of us with limited resources.
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A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and the home-schooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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