Arts and CultureNew York

The Mental Struggle of the Artistic Mind

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It’s 5 o’ clock in the morning and I lie wide awake. I glance at the blank screen next to me as I try to rock myself to sleep, concentrating as hard as I can in order to silence the racing thoughts. I have a million ideas per second that seem to come to me in a foreign language. I try to catch them with a net in the vast ocean of my mind but, like the octopus, they find a way to shape-shift and slip away, never making it to the page. This is one of the endless challenges that come with being an open wound; of being an artist. Dwelling in constant sorrow seems to be the standard of living, as does being in awe of the minute things that turn our human existence into masterpieces. This is the mental struggle of the artistic mind; one that has too often brought men to their doom.

I wake up to a bottle of Wellbutrin on my nightstand. Four pills remain and I don’t know if  it’s wise to  refill. I used to feel things so intensely that the words would spill onto the page in perfect order. It’s been a while since this phenomenon has occurred and the pills might be to blame. As artists,  We routinely sacrifice so much of ourselves in pursuit of our craft. There’s no such thing as “too far”. I think of big names like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams…I think of  Vincent Van Gogh and Francesca Woodman, who killed herself  believing she was a failure. In an interview, Ethan Hawke described working with both Hoffman and Williams,  witnessing how their masterful talent completely depleted them. “It doesn’t come for free”, he says. And it doesn’t. As an actress, I did best when depriving myself of love, food, and healthy relationships. Our dependence on other people’s approval in order to exist is the heaviest burden to bear.

There’s no way to know if it’s the struggle that facilitates the art or the other way around. All I know is that the world is overwhelming, whether because of its magnificence or its wickedness and as artists, we dig deep to find both. We’ve seen the ugliest and the prettiest. Sometimes leaving irreparable damage. If not for the trauma of the ugly, for the utter pressure to match the pretty. We sacrifice our bodies, our emotional, financial and interpersonal stability. We take shit pay for countless hours of slaving away at our craft, just for the opportunity to share it with the world. We are mocked. We store experiences that harm us in the archives of our minds in order to have a repertoire, making it impossible to move on from things that no longer serve us. We fear being happy will compromise the quality of our art. We walk through life with open diaries  for everyone to read and cut open our veins and bleed out everything we have.

I have a friend who is a brilliant painter. She deals with feelings of uncontrollable sadness or elation that are good for her creative work, but detrimental to a well-balanced life.  She struggles with anxiety and depression due to the pressure to see outward success as defined by her family and society’s expectations. I knew a successful actor who portrays a very dark character on screen. In order to channel said character, he does lines of cocaine throughout the day, deprives himself of sleep and purposely doesn’t eat. He was nominated for a prestigious award for his performance, but his health has significantly deteriorated.  Similarly, a dancer friend once confessed her perpetual self-loathing due to the pressure to not gain weight, to not injure herself and to not age. Such is her love for her craft that she goes to extreme lengths to prevent those things, though realistically they are all bound to happen. She fears seeking treatment for her eating disorder will compromise her career, so she opts to eat half a grapefruit for breakfast instead.

Even as I sit here writing this, my heart tries to push its way out of my chest. The anxiety and anticipation of what people will think when they read a piece I’ve written, kills me a little every minute that passes. I wait for my editor to tell me what a crap job I’ve done and ask who told me I could write? It’s an exquisite pain that I eat, drink and go to sleep with. I’ve overdone the coffee this morning, and while I got the job done, I now need whiskey to counteract the effects. Sadly, my best ideas come when I am inebriated. Do I choose sobriety or inspiration?  It’s 1 a.m. The war begins.

“‘Ole!’ to you, nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love & stubbornness to keep showing up.”

-Elizabeth Gilbert





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Penelope Hernandez

Penelope Hernandez

Lover of all desserts. Yogi by day, night life connoisseur by night.

1 Comment

  1. Bonxore
    July 4, 2016 at 12:48 pm — Reply

    Sadly this perpetuates the myth that one need be haunted to be a true creative talent. Examples abound of truly free and unbridled creative souls who have touched us all without the need for substances or without a personality disorder. Brilliant works indeed come from tormented people, but there is nothing but glorified anecdotal evidence that link the two. It’s something artists like to tell themselves when life is hard – it has to be this way if I am ever to make truly good work – but it’s a lie and it’s an excuse that lets creative people abuse their own bodies and the people around them all for what they take to be a higher purpose. It is not.

    Mental health and addiction or even mild chemical dependency are real issues we need to pay attention to and we should be compassionate towards those who struggle, but we need to stop equating these things with transcendental talent.

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