Art, Mental illness

~tortured artist feelings~

11 September, 2012

Illustration with purple clouds and the text “I’m so sad. What do I do with all this sad?” written in orange and surrounded by rain/ tears.


I’m really fed up with the tortured artist trope. People have said it about me since I was a teenager, and while it’s true that I am kind of a bit artistic and also depressed as fuck, the latter does not positively affect the former. If this were the case I’d be a lot further along in my artistic practice and career.

My craziness has affected me to the point where I can’t leave the house most of the time, let alone go to ~cultural events~ and network with local art people. Making connections is incredibly difficult for me. It’s not that I’m shy, I actually really resent being called shy, it’s that I am overcome with panic whenever I try to do certain social/ professional things. When I say panic, I don’t mean butterflies in my stomach. I sweat. I don’t perspire. Sweat rolls down my face, I get flustered, I forget how to form words and I get disoriented and dizzy. People don’t tend to react favourably towards a leaking, bumbling mess, and so I end up compounding panic with the fear of looking ridiculous. And so on and so forth. I only found out there was a name for this a few years ago, and it’s called Social Anxiety Disorder.

So I don’t go to art events, I don’t hang around with arty types, and I rarely get to immerse myself in discussion and critique. It’s frustrating. Every few months I descend into despair over my worth as a person who creates things, in addition to my worth as a human; but it’s balanced out by hypermanic episodes of frenzied sketching and creating. So it’s ok I guess. My psychiatrist says I might have Bipolar 2. I was put on Lamictal (lamotrigine) and for the first time I felt almost balanced, but now I am experiencing very familiar depths and all creating has halted.

This is my life since 15 and from now on, and that’s very difficult to come to terms with. I don’t wish to receive advice when I talk about my health (I want to emphasise that mental health IS health), I just think it’s important to talk about it instead of feeling ashamed. I try to talk about it, but it’s a struggle, because people’s responses pretty much always fall into one of the following:
* unsolicited advice (try this diet! meds don’t work!)
* redundant platitudes (chin up! be positive! it could be worse!)
* conversation terminated awkwardly (and usually the relationship)

So don’t do that. Thanks.

Illustration with text “Jam sandwich club” surrounded by jam splatters, a jam sandwich, jam donut, jar of jam and jam on a crumpet. A faint piece of bread is in the background.

What I am trying to do is be gentle with myself. I have started to learn ACT techniques, and it’s challenging remembering them but I’ve made a start. I wrote a list of steps I want to take towards sorting some of my drawing feelings out, and that made me feel less hopeless about my creative situation. My plan is to focus on research as well as technique, and to draw every day. Even if it’s simple.

So that’s what I’ve done for the last few days. I hope I can keep it up. These vector illustrations aren’t super slick or fully rendered but they’re something.

Illustration with two roughly cut out photos of manatees that look like they’re about to embrace with “Manatee hugs” above them.


People seem to like this one. You can download it to use as a desktop picture if you like!

You Might Also Like

  • http://twitter.com/katemilkshakes Kate Arrowsmith

    What kind of response do you hope for, if not those three? Oftentimes people will say that stuff because they think it’s helpful, not because they’re being a douchebag. (I say oftentimes, not all times, because sometimes people ARE just douchebags).

  • Ria

    You are trying to understand yourself and are taking steps to help yourself. That is awesome and all that really matters. :)

  • PoppyByfield

    I would like to tell you how your openness about mental health prompted me to seek out therapy for the first time. Because of that it was decided that my own mental illness isn’t just panic disorder with agoraphobia, but PTSD. Finally knowing exactly what is wrong & being able to seek the proper treatment has helped me in so many ways. I was terrified of therapy & the stigma attached to it, but your candidness about your own issues made me realize that it isn’t embarrassing or a big deal to seek help (as I had previously thought). You continually lay your struggles out for everyone to see & it helped me find a way to help myself, just wanted to send you a thanks.

  • http://wordnerddiary.blogspot.com Amie

    I think Disqus ate my original comment, but sorry if there are two now.

    I just wanted to say thank you for sharing things like this. I’ve been dealing with PTSD, anxiety and depression for a while and reading other peoples stories has been a huge part of my being able to deal with those things.

    On a happier note, I love your ‘jam sandwich club’ illustration and totally want it hanging in my kitchen in a fancy frame.

  • http://twitter.com/Moxeyface Moxey

    My partner has depression and I think the advice you gave at the end of your post is really worth-while. From my perspective it was really hard to understand his moods and I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just snap out of it. I have since learned that it is very difficult just stop feeling what you’re feelin’! I feel that people are not educated enough to deal with those who have mental health issues, people can sometimes just freeze up and slowly get their butt out of the awkward, scary situation of dealing with someone who is ‘different’.

    i’m not giving you advice or anything but I think it is good you are focusing on drawing, besides your illustrations are awesome and I always like seeing new stuff (from a purely selfish point of view)

  • Morgan Black

    As redundant as it is over the internet, *hugs*. This post really struck a chord with me. I have Social Anxiety Disorder too and I’ve been home, alone, for pretty much 99% of the time for years now. When I’m in a really bad patch, I don’t get any artwork done. I don’t understand how anyone thinks that you can create while you are depressed, fuck, I can barely drag myself to the bathroom. It’s the pits.

    No advice, just empathy. I totally understand where you are coming from, and it’s so very hard. Every time I leave the house it’s as though I’m about to cross a pit of lava, filled with lava-sharks, surrounded by lava-tigers, BAREFOOT. Every. Freaking. Time. It’s hellish, and it takes a lot of strength to even get by day-to-day dealing with that sort of shit. SO yes, major hugs for you!

    Morgue x

  • Caity

    Natalie, all I can offer is sympathy. I’m in a similar boat, dealing with just coming down from a period a mania and now in the depths of a depressive phase. I do actually have a definite diagnosis of Bipolar, but does that help much? (Sort of, I get the right medication and see a really good psychiatrist…) I understand how frustrating social anxiety disorder is because I have that too, and sometimes I get trapped at home for weeks at a time…the sweats and the feelings that I’m not worth knowing are horrible. ACT has helped,I’ve been working on that for the last few years with my psychologist, and all I can offer is the well-worn phrases that it will get better again, it does get better eventually, hang in there… and I really like your drawings. I read your blog and often think how brave you are and admire your sewing, and wish you all the best,

  • http://blog.themerchgirl.net Creatrix Tiara

    Would you, or anyone else I suppose, be up for sharing what works for you, for those of us in the same boat?

  • Tameka Campbell

    I completely understand, I have not been diagnosed with that but I have aspbergers sydrome which has the same symptoms plus some.

  • @Traveleish

    Thank you for posting this.

  • Pingback: Fashion Blogging Culture: Demanding Substance Over Style | À l'allure garçonnière()

  • Ann

    Thank you for such an honest blog. I’m sure you are reaching many with the same issues…like me!

    I have a question if the Lamictal has helped with your sweating. I have this problem and it alone makes me want to stay home. It can be so embarrassing. I hope this comment gets through to you as I’ve tried so many things. My daughter is Bipolar II and I’ve always wondered if I was too.