Friday, June 8, 2018

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

I guess I'm demonstrating how life intrudes upon creative spaces. Because we're going to talk about yet another suicide by a creative icon who, a bunch of people close to her say showed no signs at all that she was in danger. Let's also have a look at the headline that popped up on today's news feed: Suicide rates in the US have increased by 25% since 1999.  That increase is overwhelmingly among people with no known mental illness. Add into this the fact that high creativity types also tend to higher incidences of mood disorders than the population at large, and you have me on my mental well-being soapbox. C'mon up and join me.

Adulting is hard. For some people in these not-so-United States, adulting is getting harder and harder by the day. And if you've never been diagnosed with a mood disorder or mental illness of any kind, knowing you're in danger can be incredibly difficult.

Not wanting to be alive doesn't lend itself to objectivity. It feels as if it came out of the clear blue sky. It can be an awful, shaky, out of control, desperate place to be. Or it can be the ice cold, rational-feeling logic and certainty that this will never end. You will never be normal. That your life, if you keep at it, will be nothing but a long march of sitting by watching everyone else succeed and smile and live while you personify failure and uselessness.

It's a lie. This is broken biology. And it's lying to you. So if you've ever wondered about your mental/emotional well-being, there are a few measures and questions you can track for yourself.

1. Did I feel this way yesterday? If no, when did it start? Did anything happen before it began? Can I trace back to when I started feeling like I might be better off dead? When was that? Did anything happen? (There need not be a reason - but the mental exercise is useful.)
2. How bad is this? Give it a number between 1 and 10. Or use Hyperbole and a Half's scale. But this is important. If you're edging past 7, or if you're sitting at 1 all the time, it's time to call someone. Your MD. One of the Suicide prevention hotlines. The important thing on this one is to do this assessment daily and WRITE IT DOWN. You want to watch your trends. If you're in a bad spell, do an hourly check in - keep a light hand. There's no pressure. Just checking in. Write it down. Walk away. Drink water. Come back an hour later for another check in. Change? Okay. No change? Okay. Walk away. Drink water. Breathe.
3. What success did I have today? Even if it's just 'got out of bed' it's enough.  'Drank water' it's enough.
4. Am I creating? Simple yes/no. This is another trend to track. One of the most telling questions in the mood disorder survey is "Are you no longer participating in activities you once enjoyed?" When someone asks you that question while you aren't convinced you want to be alive, you can't recall ever enjoying anything, so the answer is generally a shrug and "No, that part's okay, I guess." Tracking doesn't lie and it won't let you lie to yourself if you can flip back through your days and see the avalanche of 'no' on this creative question.

The problem with mood disorders and suicidal ideation is that this stuff creeps up on you. A single fire ant stings, but it can't take you down. It's only after the little bastards have crawled up your leg unnoticed and start stinging en mass that you realize you're in serious danger. So it's important to measure. To check in. "Can I survive the fire ants, today? Are they sneaking up on me and getting slowly worse? Or are they steadily bad and I've just gotten numb to them?" Either way. If you're having more bad days than actively good days, it's time to make a call or a text to the number linked above. Or to talk to your doctor as a start.

The world needs you and what you have to create more than ever. And if like me, you're staring at your once beloved project, struggling, wondering why you just can't - check those fire ants, my friend. You're being stung. You don't have to be the one to brush them away on your own. It is safe to ask for help. You'll find it's a great relief to ask for help even before anyone even rises to your aid.

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