How Artists Can Be Resilient Against Mental Health Adversity

About the Guest Author:

This article is written for Orange Walls Blog by Canadian blogger, Ariette Hung. She is currently working towards a Master’s Degree in Clinical Counselling. She cares deeply about mental health literacy, promoting resilience and growth, and instilling hope in others in times of adversity such as mental health struggles. When she isn’t studying, you can find her at her blog, ariettehung.com, where she blogs about saving money, side hustle ideas, entrepreneurship, and how to run a profitable blog.


As a creative person, you have likely been labelled many things over the course of your life. Such labels hold positive and negative connotations: Wild. Creative. Passionate. Artist. Whimsical. Eccentric. Animated. Outlandish. Sensitive. Unique. Weird. Erratic. Imaginative. Individualistic. Admirable. Confident. Talented. Dreamy. Ethereal. Odd.

You see the world with visionary eyes. You welcome life lessons, love, and even transitions into your life because to you, these elements inspire you to create art.

Truth is, you’re wired a little differently than some of the people around you, and maybe that’s something that you wrestle with because you are simultaneously wanting to embrace this part of you that’s individualistic and artistic, but there’s a part of you that wishes that you could be and feel normal — whatever that is, anyways.

And along with your artistic hopes, dreams, and talent, you also harbour your own internal battle: Your ever-prevalent, unwelcome, mental health issues.

One day, you are inspired to write that play, make that short film, or write that book. I am going to do this, you tell yourself. Feverishly, you write down your ideas in a notebook. You smile, because you are having a good day and you feel motivated. You plan to start tomorrow. But then, you wake up with dread. A pit of anxiety in your stomach. And your mind screams at you, “Who are you to be doing x, y, z? You’re a fraud. You’re going to fail. No one will like what you create.” And as such, the ugly beast inside rears its head. It’s your inner critic. Truth is, your own worst enemy is yourself.

In today’s guest post, I am honoured to be writing about one of the topics that I am passionate about: Mental health literacy and resiliency, and its particular intersection with how developing mental health literacy can tangentially happen, for an artist.

As a writer myself, I recognize that no single creative individual out there is the same, and so, no wisdom given can ever be generalized as cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all. So, as a precautionary disclaimer to the insights and advisory comments that I am about to give out: I am not a licenced professional (yet) in the mental health field. However, I am receiving my education in clinical counselling from a psychotherapy perspective, and have had enough real-life encounters with people experiencing deep anxiety attacks, suicidal episodes, ADHD management issues, and bipolar days to say that I can offer some insight based on what I’ve seen and how I can suggest aid.

So, without further ado, here are some curated “general” advice that I will give:

Keep your eyes on your why and remind yourself of it on bad days.

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For those with deep depression, I understand that some days just straight up, for lack of better words, suck. You can barely get out of bed. You feel unmotivated. Defeated. Possibly even questioning if there’s a purpose to all that you’re doing.

But you have so much talent in you, and your irrational thoughts are not true. I know it feels terrible right now, but you need to keep your eyes on your why. Let that be the reason you get out of bed and work on your projects, today. Let it be why you create.

Your why is your personal reason(s) or motive(s) for doing what you do. If you write, it may be because writing makes you feel alive. If you create documentaries, it may be because you are endlessly enamoured by people and you want to make their individual narratives come alive in film to tell a collective thematic story. If you are a painter, it may be that it makes you feel truly alive, because true living is in fully vibrant colours.

 

Whatever medium of art you create, and whatever kind of artist you are, it doesn’t matter: Define your why and know why you love what you love to do. Write it down, so you are reminded of your why on the days that you are not feeling great. And create, even if you don’t feel like it. Because just like physical fitness, exercising your creativity is also a discipline — and similar to how taking care of your body can boost your physical health, taking care of your creative processes can help your mental health.

 

So the next time your inner worst critic comes out or when depressive thoughts are really bringing you down, recognize what’s happening and debunk it with reason.

 

All irrational schemas can be corrected.

 

Stay organized with project managers.

 

If you identify as feeling disorganized, dismayed, or overwhelmed by your projects and timelines (maybe you want to write a book or a play), break your project down.

 

For me, as a blogger, having a content calendar (or an editorial calendar) is essential so that I stay on top of the blog posts that need to be published on my blog and other outside projects that I may be taking on, such as collaborations with other creatives.

 

If you love tech systems like me, I recommend Trello to all creatives.

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It’s sort of like a virtual cue cards system where you can create “stacks” of projects, and within them, break stacks down into progress piles and write details onto each note.

 

Trello is very visual and can be colour coordinated, which makes it my favourite!

 

If using a physical notebook is more your speed, I highly encourage taking up Bullet Journaling because it’s therapeutic to draw and write out your timelines, track your progress, and mark how projects are doing in a physically tangible and visual way.

 

Take care of your mental health (implement self-care and hustle for your health).

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It’s okay to not be okay. Know your coping mechanisms. Create a plan of care (POC).

 

Beyond self-care practices, have self-compassion.

 

Self-care is action, self-compassion is an attitude.

 

Take mental health days when you need to. Be honest with your loved ones so that they can better support you and know what’s going on in your life. Find things that bring your calm and peace: It can be running. It can be reading. It can be drinking herbal tea. And no, none of these things are going to make your mental health go away, but it will make you feel better. And of course, know yourself. Read up as much as you can on your own mental health illness (from credible sources, of course) and understand it.

 

If it’s within your financial means, find a counselling centre nearby to you and make a plan to visit whenever you need to. It can be every month, quarterly, bi-weekly, or even weekly if needed. It’s healthy to talk things out with a therapist. Just find a good one.

 

If you need something for free, call your local distress line. It’s free and anonymous.

 

Don’t let your mental health just be. You’d sleep or take cold medicine when you have a common cold, correct? Or you’ll go to a doctor if you’re feeling really crummy? In the same way that your physical health matters, your mental health very much matters.

 

At the end of the day, mental health matters because your brain is the most important organism in your body because it controls all parts of your body. Even more important than yes, your heart. It controls your memories. Your muscle movement. Your ability to know how to walk and drive on “autopilot” after learning it. Your overall functioning.

 

So, don’t neglect your mental health: Your brain needs you and your art needs you to be fighting for it. Fight the good fight, my friend. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it, and the art that you produce today, this week, this month, this year… Worth it.

 

If there’s any take away from this, please know that you are important and your mental health is important. You are talented, capable, and wonderful. Do amazing things.

 

With creativity and kindness,

Ariette

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