Ponderings,  Writing

The Tortured Artist: Is it all in your head?

When Robin Williams killed himself, the world catapulted his death above any other headline that day. Seconds after I learned, the evening news cut in to make the announcement.

Suddenly, the world exploded with mental illness news. Everyone knew someone who suffered. Social media posts talked about the prevalence of mental illness, the severity of depression, and the tragedy of a mind that sees no solution but to end one’s life.

People on both sides of the issue reared their opinions for all to read. Some wrote about how nothing was bad enough to take one’s own life. Or how suicide is the ultimate selfish act. They spouted anger, hatred, judgments.

Others offered support and stories of those who had committed similar atrocities. For about a week, everyone talked, posted or texted about it.

Soon, the world of social media returned to complaints, daily activity reports, clickbaits, children’s photos and ice bucket challenges.

Despite the world returning to a sense of normalcy, the underlying truth behind suicide stepped into the shadows to jump out at those susceptible to mental anguish: creatives. Our household teems with creativity in various forms, like prose and poetry writing, photography, music composition and performance, acting, filmmaking, fine art, screenwriting, painting and drawing, multi-instrumentalism… well, you get the gist. Our minds dwell in our crafts, our arts. We think differently. We feel driven by a force greater than us. We feel incomplete if we’re not pursuing our passions.

Because of this often-unrealistic drive, we are more susceptible to depression, anxiety, mental anguish, and an overall sense of failure. At one time or another, we have all battled those depressive demons that cause us to question all we believe.

After Robin Williams committed suicide, one concerned friend posed the question, “Do you worry about your sons? I understood what she meant, about the emotional trials of the creatives. I am often concerned about all the young people in my life who are creatives. They feel crises deeply. They detour quickly to states of desperation. I have even battled such thoughts.

Frank Barron, a University of California-Berkley scholar, psychologist, author, poet and teacher, whose work explored the creative mind and made him famous, said, “The creative person is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive, a lot madder and a lot saner, than the average person.”

The mind is our most powerful tool. In our minds, we control emotions and reactions to the outside world. Our minds also allow depression, anxiety, pessimism, hatred, perceptions.

In the past few months, I’ve studied the power of our brains. What I’ve realized is the basis of happy-thought platforms: If you focus on negative, you will experience negative; if you focus on positive, positive will enter your life.

The transformation of my mind started when I heard Dana Wilde at a direct-sales conference. She is the author of Train Your Brain and creator of the The Mind Aware platform. In her mental exercise to a room of about 800 women, she instructed us to close our eyes and focus on a moment when we felt we had failed. She guided us to touch the emotions attached to that feeling. She had us think about that for a minute.

Next, with some women in tears, others’ faces contorted in anguish, she started the next part: Think of a time or place when you were happy. Get in touch with that emotion. Embrace it. Faces smiled. Some giggled.

After a few minutes, she asked us to open our eyes and think about the two different physical, emotional and mental reactions we had. And then she dropped the bomb.

“Nothing changed but your thoughts.”

A-ha moments rippled through the rows. Women cheered. Could it be so simple?

This thought manipulation is much like the one explored in The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. In a very simplified synopsis, this book and movie reveals the connection between your mind and the universe. If you focus on negative, you will manifest negative in your life. If you think positive thoughts, you will draw positive experiences from the universe.

While this concept took a bit for me to understand, I decided to give it a try. I often tell my husband, “No one wants to read what I write,” so, on my way to work one day, I decided to instead say, “Everyone wants to read what I write.”

It was a simple thought.

Imagine my shock when later that same day, out of nowhere, perhaps from the universe, someone contacted me and wanted me as a writer. How crazy is that? I know it sounds unbelievable, but it happened just that way.

Have you ever noticed that you can hear a song once, or even the first notes of a song, and it dwells and festers in your head? When you’re depressed, you listen to depressing music, and then you get more depressed? Or you hear an upbeat song like “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams, and you catch yourself grooving to its bouncy tune and message. Music can direct your moods, because it gets in your head.

While all this was germinating in my brain, I happened to think about some advice I had been carrying around with me for years, but hadn’t really made the connection. The words came from The New Testament.

Romans 12:2 (NIV) reads, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” And Philippians 4:8 states, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

Here’s what it all means: You are what you think. You become what lives in your head.
Embrace your creative side and let that acceptance thrive in your mind, rather than giving self-doubts, fears and disappointments permission to squat in your brain space and, subsequently, redecorate the neighborhood.

Robin Williams had battled those negative encroachments for a long time, and they won.

We don’t have to be tortured artists. We can thrive. If you aren’t a creative, this still applies to you.

We all could benefit from reigning in the grouchy, negative voice between our ears and pulling in positive from the universe. If we do this, we would never have to mourn the loss of a talented creative at his own hands again.

We might even be able to silence our own demons and find happiness.


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