For years I would struggle to stay afloat as wave after wave of hopeless panic hit me square in the chest, sweeping me further away from the shore of reality. Lying in bed, paralysed by every anxious thought my mind could conjure up, I would sweat with fear as each minute passed. Each night felt like a nightmare, one which many people would recognise all too well. Anxiety.
I had always had a passion for writing, ever since primary school. I had a vivid and overly active imagination, and also loved words. When I began to fall into a pattern of crippling anxious thoughts, writing became my salvation. Short stories and poetry became my method of escaping these torturous and sleepless nights. Writing until my vision blurred and my handwriting became nothing more than illegible scribble on creased pages, I created metaphors for the feelings which enveloped me, the things and people who had hurt me. Sometimes I wrote until birds began to chirp outside my bedroom window.
At university, it became harder to keep my anxiety at bay. I was depressed. The moon stopped shining so brightly at night, even with my pen poised. I had to face the fact that my mental health was deteriorating, and I needed to go on medication.
I was optimistic about starting antidepressants. I longed for some semblance of balanced mental health; I craved a “normal” brain living an emotional rollercoaster of dread and sadness every day was unsustainable. So, when I was finally prescribed antidepressants, I walked eagerly to the chemist to fill my script.
For several weeks,I kept a blog detailing my feelings and side effects. I wrote poetry. I marvelled at the way one tiny green pill made existing easier. Anxiety and hopelessness did not fully abide, but I could find a lifeboat and ride it out. Negative thoughts stopped threatening to suffocate me. Antidepressants were my bible.
However, it wasn’t long until I stopped updating my blog and realised that all my old exercise books and beautiful moleskin journals were sitting in my bookcase, gathering dust. This didn’t bother me too much; I was busy enjoying my new-found freedom from my previously omnipresent thoughts of impending doom.
My best friend’s sister had just published an anthology of poetry. Her mother had asked me to compose some poems for a book she was publishing. I was surrounded by opportunity and inspiration to do what I had always wanted to do: write. So why was I unablele to finish a single sentence?
Among a myriad of potential side effects, antidepressants can have a significantimpact on the creativity of the person taking them. Apparently, the doctor had not informed me of this. In fact, I had never even considered that one small pill could stifle the creativity which once defined me. After reading several pseudo-academic opinion pieces on the issue, it became apparent that many literary and visual artists experienced negative effects on their creative juices once starting selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Arguments online by fellow creatives rejected any use of antidepressants, often citing the incredible works produced by famous mentally ill creatives. Imagine if Van Gogh went on antidepressants and didn’t suffer from anxiety and depression and possibly bipolar disorder! Imagine if he didn’t drink yellow paint and mutilate his body and kill himself! How boring would his art have been! Sylvia Plath’s suicide was symbolic! Down with meds!
Am I a writer because of my mental illnesses? Does the chemical imbalance in my brain help me write? Am I only able to write something worth reading with a heavy heart and shaking hands? Well, I’m still trying to work that out. However, for now, I am forcing myself to be a writer who takes antidepressants and occasionally finishes something.