Less Creating for Christmas

December 03, 2019

Less Creating for Christmas

In the ascending pressure before Christmas there is a certain part of my bipolar, two-sided, double faceted Creative Mind that yells at me every day. It shouts that I am being lazy, unproductive, and unhelpful. That I am not acheiving my potential, not living my fullest life, not reaching for every star and climbing every mountain and I Bloody Well Should Be. That I should be at all the markets, making new things, decorating thoroughly and not just sticking up a tree and a paper snowflake. That I should be selling, sharing, photographing my artwork in the best light, networking, painting until midnight, falling asleep with ink on my hands, getting products in shops, selling making pushing creating and Not Sitting Down. Every second I rest is a second wasted, an oppurtunity lost, a sale not made, a work of art not created. I am wasting my life and should be ashamed of my lack of productivity.
 
I am thankful that I can also sit back now, and listen to that voice more objectively. I can hear what it says now without actually believing all of it. Productivity, I'd say, isn't the word you actually want. The word you want is Mania. And nope. No thank you.
 
Thankfully there is the second part of that same bipolar, two-sided, double faceted Creative Mind that I'd rather pay more attention to now. This is the part that doesn't value self-imposed exhaustion. This part of my mind is learning. Every day learning. This part of my mind is, in fact, only getting significant air time for the first time this year. This is the year of my correct diagnosis and new medicine. This is the year of me sitting back and looking at my history and whispering whattheactualfuck to myself quietly. This is the year of learning and telling that first, shouty voice to jump into the sea.
There is a very aggressive DO YOUR BEST culture out there right now, fueled by ambition-addicted social media types, that I find really self harming. I think their messages harm even the stable minded, let alone those of us who manage mental illnesses. It is like some sort of Cult of Effort, yelling at us to always do our best, to constantly acheive, to be forever striving and reaching for stars... which is just so unsustainable and exhausting and unrealistic. Like... take some naps please. Sometimes just do what is required of you without bending over backwards to go an extra mile that no one will even acknowledge. Who are you doing all of this work for anyway? I think this exhausting lifestyle of Perpetual Productivity is harmful for everyone, but for those of us who deal with managing mania it is genuinely self-destructive and this Christmas it is testing my emotional mettle.
 
I've been able to create a ridiculously vast and unsustainable amount of artwork (and projects, ideas, plans, businesses, friendships, etc) when I'm manic. In a manic state there is an absolutely all-encompassing & crashing waterfall of electric creativity that pours out of me. An unhealthy, all-consuming, risk filled, unsustainable, unreliable, anxiety and panic filled waterfall. A waterfall that I'm now taking medicine to dry up, and even miss sometimes. This is my first Christmas without a manic episode, and it is unrecognisably weird to me. There is a new little water fountain where that waterfall used to be, and I'm still getting used to it. 
 
I am only now, as a well-established adult, learning the difference between my mania and my wellness. Between the lovely new fountain and the dangerously intense waterfall. I used to think mania was my wellness, that it was me at my best. That means I also considered my manic output as my normal creative ability. If I wasn't doing 40 projects at once and creating things nonstop from dawn til dusk to the point of cross-eyed exhaustion, then I was failing.The relentless cultural messages about constant energy expenditures didn't help.
 
And reading that now, it seems ridiculous. Of COURSE no one can sustain that kind of insane creative output. Of course there must be something more chilled out than that. But when you're in it... when you're living breathing snorting sleeping living and dying with your mental illness day in and day out without reprieve... well, reality is subjective I guess. We see things differently from a calm space if we're lucky enough to get one. And from this calm space, 42 years in the making, I can see that calling those levels of creativity 'unsustainable' is a powerful understatement.
 
And even though I still quietly admire all the Instagram accounts who have all their shit together... the branding, the slick social media, the reliable and regular content, the regular sales, the industry knowledge... I am trying to let myself exist outside that bubble. It just isn't me. It can't be. I don't even want it to be anymore. And I also know it isn't real, and that the people behind those accounts need a lot more days of doing absolutely nothing in their life, ideally without feeling shame about it.
 
Managing my bipolar means doing what I can to avoid & mitigate both mania and depression... like I got a really good 2 for 1 deal on mental illness. Managing my mania appears to go hand in hand with managing my creativity, and keeping things slow, and meaningful. So I am learning to love my creative nature in a different way now, to plod along more and to do less on purpose.
 
So here I am, preparing for Christmas, and having daily conversations with myself to quiet the self-harming thoughts that come from everywhere. I'm making less money, selling less, and none of my platforms are perfect. I stopped doing all in-person events this year to help manage anxiety. I have this website but I'm letting it be built slowly and attentively, which means I haven't busted my ass to stock it full of things and it isn't a shiny powerhouse of artistic consumerism. And all of that must be ok. It is my new reality, and that will be fine. I'm still creating but it isn't harming me anymore. I'm slower. I read more. I walk more. It is all ok, I keep saying. I'm still proud of what I make, I'm thankful for my fountain, and what will be will be.
Creating without panic is freeing and terrifying. I still don't know what I'm doing yet, but I'm giving it a good go. And instead of unrelenting waves of unwellness, I hope this winter will be filled with quiet spaces where possible, with making pretty things in slow & meaningful ways, and with quiet little reassurances that everything will be fine... and in fact it probably already is.