Author’s Intent, Mental Illness

Recently, an individual I interacted with in the creative community around Atlanta committed suicide. I didn’t know this person as well as several others of our mutual acquaintances, but we always had a cordial relationship and it’s impossible to deny this individual’s impact among friends and colleagues. This is not an isolated case among creative people; while I don’t know the statistics, I am very aware that artists and writers, who view the world from a unique perspective, are more prone to mental disorders, some of which may underlie their creative impulses.

It is a subject I know very well.

When Jimi Hendrix sings “I don’t live today” I never wonder what it is he means. I feel it every day. The mood swings, lack of impulse control, the constant doubts about whether I deserve any of the paltry “gifts” the universe sometimes deigns to impart upon me. These are as familiar to me as is the sun rising in the East every morning. I very frequently feel isolated and removed from those around me as though I’m standing on the sidelines watching a party I can never attend.

Alcoholism runs in my family and I’m no stranger to the impulses that drive it. My father is said to have had quite a drinking problem when he was younger and one of my uncles was in a twelve step program for alcohol. My grandfathers on both sides were heavy drinkers. I have vague memories of my father drinking beer in the backyard of a house where we were living when I was small, and I can recall taking a sip at least once. My mother always swore he never brought any into the house, but he definitely had it on the premises. As a teenager, I was a binge drinker who frequently overindulged and this had significant negative effects on my life. It’s by the slimmest of chances that I didn’t lose at least one job because of it.

Part of the delusion of grandeur is the belief that you’re doing something no one else has ever conceived and therefore no one can possibly understand what you’re trying to accomplish. The flip side is the self doubt that says, “Why bother? Nobody cares about the stupid stories you keep foisting on the public. If they did they’d be beating a path to your door.” Between the two, there’s little room for comfort and relaxation. Sometimes, every second I spend doing something other than writing I feel is wasted effort.

We all have demons, and almost everyone has felt a bit down at times, but those suffering anxiety, depression, or other disorders are sometimes in a constant state of misery. For anyone who has not experienced this, it’s very difficult to verbalize. Telling someone to “cheer up” or “pull yourself together” ignores the fact that no one chooses to feel this way. I can never tell from day to day which version of myself will wake up each morning.

Having a daily routine is helpful as it gives me a roadmap to follow in facing routine challenges. The worst are times when I’m simply sitting around trying not to obsess over what I’m failing to accomplish. Recently, since my employment history has been more sporadic, it has been a constant struggle to keep myself motivated. I generally handle chaos better than idleness. Downtime doesn’t suit me.

History is full of stories about writers and artists exhibiting bad behavior that’s often caused by their attempts to deal with the flood of negative emotions they’re experiencing. There’s the well-known cliche of hard-drinking Southern writers like William Faulkner and Truman Capote and authors Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf killed themselves. Often the most creative people are also the most tormented, be they artists, writers, musicians, or actors.

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