The Anxious Creative

Hi, my names Matt and I struggle with anxiety. There we are, I said it, it's out the way.

Photo - Chris Kelly (Gingerjam photography)

Photo - Chris Kelly (Gingerjam photography)

I've been wanting to write this post for a couple of months now, but it's been difficult for me to decide whether to or not. There have been a few reasons for my reluctance to write it: embarrassment, fear of being judged, not wanting to come across as an attention seeker or internet crusader jumping on the mental health bandwagon (is that even a thing?) and finally, is my photography blog the place to talk about it? (I'll answer this question in a bit!)

I was diagnosed with anxiety about 18 months ago now. I was going through a crazy, stressful time in life and it hit me like a steam train, at its worst I literally thought my body was shutting down. I didn't know what was happening and honestly thought I was on my way out. The worst symptom for me was (and still is) the dizziness, often like a dropping sensation or brain fog. I feel like I'm in a bubble disconnected from conversations that are going on around me. I sometimes have to work hard to focus and stay in a conversation. I've had a lot of severe, physical symptoms too: terrible pressure behind my eye socket, bad earache and gland pain in my neck, IBS type problems. I had a few panic attacks, thankfully, safely at home and broke down regularly. I was a mess. Very few people knew what I was going through and I basically stopped going out and putting all my energy into hiding it when I did, just getting by.

For those that think people with anxiety are just attention seeking, or use it as an excuse, I really didn't want to accept it for a long time. I was totally in the 'don't be stupid, I'm a grown man' camp, that thought 'real men' don't suffer with these kind of things. I had big arguments with my doctors. I was convinced they had got everything wrong and that the various clear blood tests, MRI and ultrasound scans were wrong and they'd missed something serious (My father dying of proven hospital negligence did not help in this process). But after various medications that initially tended to make me worse we finally found one that helped and I seem to have it under control to a degree, although I question if the side effects are worse sometimes!

The answer to the question about what does this have to do with my photography blog is that as I have become more accepting of my situation, I have been more open with creatives that I have met. (Strangely I'm better discussing it with strangers than people I have known for years!). It has become apparent that mental health (I still struggle with calling my problem that) is very common amongst this circle and it's got me wondering why people think this is? Do we see things differently? Are our brains wired differently meaning we crave some sort of fantasy? I am hyper critical of my work and I think this is linked to my anxiety. I constantly worry about letting the team down, but the flip side to this is that I'm always looking to improve, I'm never happy with my images and always looking for new techniques.

I now know many people suffering from this invisible illness, all ages, including photographers, models and makeup artists. Whilst I know there are many sufferers outside of the creative world it does seem very common inside it. Its like we all crave some sort of escapism and I find it crazy that people with such low self esteem and worry, find it actually helpful to battle their demons by putting themselves in such a spotlight, especially models! 

Whilst I have no desire to become an internet champion for mental health care and I know there are a lot of people with a lot more severe problems than me. If I can raise awareness of this illness and perhaps help one person, then I think this post, however self indulgent it seems, was worth it. Apart from the curiosity about why it affects the creative mind so much, part of me wants to let people know that I'm a 46 year old man, a husband and a father of three kids and it hit me hard, really hard. It can affect anybody, any age, sex or race. It's real, very real and it's quite simply, it's horrible. We need to start talking about it to stop the stigma. Especially men. It feels like a weakness, but you're allowed to feel weak sometimes. You wouldn't be embarrassed of a broken leg, or bruised arm so why an injured brain. Men need to open up. If you feel low, run down then go and speak to somebody, anybody. I know talking helped me massively and I have a small group of friends (you know who you are) who got me through some really dark times. I can never thank them enough.

I honestly hope this post is taken exactly the way it was intended, not for attention or sympathy, I'm ok now and on the up, but firstly to raise a little awareness in my own little way, especially for older men that feel they need to be role models and strong for their families and two to see what peoples thoughts are on the question of the connection between mental health and creativity.