You may have noticed that it has been more than a little quiet on here over the last few months – I’ve had significant gaps in content on here before of course, the site is an excellent gauge it seems for my various ups and downs in life. At the moment I’m in one of those ‘down’ moments, actually that’s somewhat of an understatement in regards to how I have been feeling of late.
I’ve had generalised anxiety for quite a few years now. It’s not something you want to advertise about yourself particularly, though I’ve been fortunate enough that I haven’t generally let it affect me during my work day. It builds from me constructing elaborate negative outcomes quickly, often to benign triggers. For example, if my boss writes me an email and says he needs to talk to me about something on Monday, I am apt to spend the entire weekend obsessing over the meaning, unable to enjoy anything, and convinced that I’m getting fired, I will lose everything and will be out on the street. Sometimes it’s a slow burn over a week over little things that are even connected, until those little things grow and grow as my mind and emotions construct some horrible scenario out of totally ridiculous tendrils that have no basis in reality.
The black dog of mental health is not an uncommon companion to those of a creative disposition it seems, and if you read the news of late, there have been a few celebrity victims that have made the headlines. Working in a creative industry frequently means long hours, stressful projects and frantic working environments – this all exacerbates latent mental health conditions, and in creative environments these conditions are purported to be more common than anywhere else.
On average, people working in creative industries are 25% more likely to carry the gene variants [for depression] than professions that are judged to be’ less’ creative.
In some respects, anxiety at some levels can prove beneficial to the working creative. The self-criticism inherent with it can, for example, encourage rigorous thinking. Unfortunately that sort of detailed self-reflection can often tip over into a state of perfectionism in which actually doing something can prove impossible. Like its frequent partner in crime depression, anxiety can strangle both a creative impulse and the person themselves on a very fundamental level.
And that’s where I’m am at this moment in time. I feel ridiculous and embarrassed about it in equal measure. It feels like the ultimate ‘first world’ ailment, something I can indulge in because I have the luxury of living in a part of the world where I don’t have to worry about going hungry, being killed in a war or living in squalor. Guilt plays a large part in perpetuating the cycle of damage. I’m naturally pretty introverted as it – an anxious introverted persona doesn’t make for a lot of laughs when going through an episode. I think the guilt is the hardest thing for me to deal with, the guilt of how it affects the people around me. My friends don’t deserve having to deal with me like this, my workmates, My parents now in their 70s certainly don’t and most significant other definitely shouldn’t have to put up with it. It’s embarrassing that as a 48 year old man I can’t deal properly and rationally with the same sort of things in life that everyone else can and have to daily. I ruminate on this often, I close in on myself, hoping my withdrawal will mitigate the hurt and frustration I feel I am causing, this just seems to perpetuate the cycle of my own worry unfortunately.
So how does this relate to Facing Sideways? I started the site (over 10 years ago now!) for a number of reasons. To begin with, I wanted to promote the enormous pool of talented graphic designers living in South Australia. I didn’t think they were being sufficiently recognised, not just on a national level, but internationally as well. Whenever I do travel overseas and speak to international designers, they are always amazed at the amount of inspirational work that I show them, being produced on the other side of the world in a place that they have (invariably) never heard of before. The site is also a means by which I can tackle my naturally introverted nature, to get me out in the world a little bit more and to practice my writing which I enjoy. It’s been a great way for me to introduce myself to some of my design idols both local and internationally. I never cease to be amazed by the kindness of the creatives I have been in contact with – whether it be the time they have given to meet with me, to answer interview questions, or just some kind words about the site or an article I have posted. It has been very good therapy for me.
It also comes with it’s stresses, like much of anything you pour your heart into. I feel guilty over perhaps not posting as much as I should, that perhaps the site is not as flashy or ‘designed’ as it should be, that I’ve offended anyone maybe with a flippant comment or by not including them in my “Designers Who Are Better Than Me’ section. I never intended for the site to be a millstone around my neck. I’ve always taken the attitude that ‘it is what it is’ and that I have enough stress triggers in my life to not add the blog into the equation. It’s not as if the site is popular enough that there are legions of disappointed designers waiting months for me to post again.
It is all brought upon me by myself alone. I have too many ideas, too many things I want to accomplish, unfortunately I’ve never quite had the ability or the patience to match all those ambitions and that’s usually when things come crashing down. That’s when the frustrations begins, the sullenness, the irritability, the withdrawal and then eventually the dam bursts and I take I take it out on those closest to me, to my abiding shame.
What’s scaring me somewhat at the moment, what feels different this time in particular is the feeling of having no desire to do those things that I love the most. Even in my darkest moods previously I’ve been able to draw some enthusiasm for my love love of any practice of design, no matter what I’ve thought of my ability. Of late I have just been feeling that it is pointless, destructive even – have I let my interests turn into unhealthy obsessions for perfection to the detriment of the things that really matter in my personal life? Is this really, finally the road to ruin I’ve stressed over most of my adult life, where I lose everything and everybody that matters to me?
And that unfortunately is how an anxious mind works – I know it’s pathetic and ridiculous and frustrating, but that’s what I’ve been battling the past few weeks and been dealing with at various points in my life. The worst part of all, maybe even worse than the guilt, is the loneliness, the feeling that no one else is like me, the feeling that I’m broken and that I may never be right. Believing that I am not capable of coping with life, because things always seem to go wrong. I always screw it up.
Of course, the reality is that there are a lot of people like me, dealing with anxiety disorders or depression or other kinds of mental health problems. As measured by years lost to disease, mental health issues are the most important cause of disability
worldwide, accounting for a third of years lost to disease in adults.
I’ve always been resistant to talk about it too much – as I’ve mentioned above there’s a good deal of embarrassment associated with it and I’ve sure as hell never wanted to advertise the fact and have people think I’m unreliable. It’s still an uncomfortable topic to broach, only 41 per cent of people with mental health problems get professional help, that’s a frightening statistics. Things are changing though, it’s unfortunate that the deaths of a couple of high profile individuals has been the impetus to see more stories about the issues in the news. Hopefully it may have been the wake up the some people needed to get the help they need.
And that’s what I’m doing – I don’t want to go on about the various techniques, books and professional help I’ve sought – there’s plenty information on the inter-webs to help you out in that regard. Often help will come from places and people you don’t expect it which has been my experience. There’s no magic panacea that will universally fix things in the same way for everyone, and cliche as it sounds, you can only fix you, you are no one is responsibility other than your own.
Also, please let me say, that this isn’t the end of Facing Sideways. I have some interesting interviews and articles to go up when I am more able to do so. The site may change physically or even thematically – or maybe not at all over the coming months, but it will still be around.
And thank you for this indulgence on my part – I’ve broken my cardinal rule of this site by posting very, very much about me in the most indulgent manner possible, but maybe that’s just another thing that needs to change. Thanks for reading, and be good to yourself.