Art & illness

The image of the struggling artist has become instilled in popular culture; we idolise the artist who faces financial troubles, addiction or mental illness, or a combination of all three. We associate Hemingway with drink , we label early celebrity deaths as the 27 Club, and we overshare in a bid to be believed. We perpetuate, and so believe, we must struggle to find the words or the will to create.

In the past, my hardest episodes of mental illness have led to the best pieces I’ve ever written — validated by a presence on social media, the influx of comments and likes. And the longest periods of stagnancy are tied to medication and, currently, sobriety. A firm and fixed belief resides within me that without pain, there is nothing to write. Recovery has only returned silence or a jumble of words and images I can no longer find a home for. I feel mediocre.

But in this insecurity and with the clarity which can come with sobriety and antidepressants which work, I am beginning to question this belief. I realise I have been beholden to trauma; I’ve allowed it to define both myself and my writing. The line which separates Kristiana from the poem’s speaker has become too faint — a rough line in the sand too close to the incoming tide. And I have a choice. I can either continue a cycle of healing and losing. Or I can write about the very things which feel empty.

I have cried so much about joy — about wishing to feel a sense of belonging in moments of happiness. I have wanted joy to be for me and now, as I’m beginning to find this, I am quick to criticise the lack of productivity in these moments, rather than appreciate the well of creativity it truly leaves me with. And I’ve finally stumbled upon what it is. It is the struggling artist; the possibility I might be a sell out if I don’t always document harsh realities and inner turmoil; the algorithms which have taught me happiness doesn’t soar but pain does; the truth that if I learn to write again as I heal, I am finally committing to myself.

In shedding my struggling skin, I finally admit I am ready to move forward and I am ready to forgive myself. I hope I will find the poems for this.