On Friendship, Pain, And "Tortured Artists"

. 3 min read

Hey friends,

Without any news on The Play House front to share with you (my editor just told me she won’t be done until May - yikes!), I figured I’d take the next few months to share other aspects of life here. Because, in the end, it’s all interrelated—all these pieces of life with respect to my writing, I mean. So, here’s what’s been going on in the past little while…

Life got pretty stressful a while back. Without going into detail, it was the sort of stress that, in the past, would’ve left me nearly bed ridden for a few weeks. This was the first time I’ve been through anything to that degree and spent a total of 4 days actively grieving. On the 5th day, I woke up realizing I was choosing that grief. And so I told myself, “I choose happiness,” and watched my perspective shift. It sounds forced and weird, I know, and it was. As were the smiles I pushed across my face and the shoulders I rolled back from where they wanted to nestle, hunched in toward my chest. It sounds forced and weird, and it was.

Until it wasn’t.

See, what I experienced around that time is the fact that (1) our bodies actually send signals to our minds that affect how we feel—something I'd heard about but never felt first hand, and (2) that affirmations, first studied by social psychologist Claude Steele in 1988, work similarly. I repeated the phrase, “I choose happiness,” over and over until finally it sank in and rang true.

And there’s something else, something that seems oh so obvious and yet feels new to me. This something is what I didn’t have back when I’d been super stressed in the past. And that is someone who was there for me throughout it all, someone that I felt truly capable of opening up to in full—no filter, purely bare truth. It’s unimaginable to me at this point that I've ever made it through anything rough in life without being able to share it with her, because the massive impact our conversations have had on me has been so healing. Thing is, I’ve always had friends, but I don’t believe I’ve had a friend this close since elementary school. And I see now that I suffered for it. Because no matter how “independent” I think I am, I am still so human with a need for deep connection. We all need that.

So, how does this correlate at all to what we normally talk about here? To the artist’s path? It correlates in the sense that my tendencies toward sensitivity are shared amongst creative types. But more than that, and what I really wanted to touch on, is that I believe that all these notions of the “tortured artist” are detrimental to creatives’ mental health. It gives us an excuse to cling to a way of being that is not good for us, nor necessary to create impactful art. You can argue with me on this—that’d be a fun lil debate. But let me first explain.

I know deep emotion feeds powerful art. But let’s get real, we who create, as said, are naturally more sensitive, more prone to feeling said deep emotion. We will always feel it—even if we have great friends and tools to promote self-care, as mentioned above. And so, being healthy and refusing to stew in melancholy/anger does not mean we will disconnect from our hearts that fuel creativity. We do not need to feel like we can only create if we live in a pit of pain. I firmly believe we create to the best of our ability when we are energized by good mental health, and it is then that we can draw on our emotions, our wounds—we will still have access to them—and use them to write or paint or draw pieces that touch people.

I know even still some of you will disagree. But that's okay. These are my two cents du jour. And disagree or not, I'm sending you all so much love. Appreciate your reading, friends.

xx

Mackenzie