Making Your Mental Illness Work for You

By Danielle Leard

I am my own margin. I find that my body and my mind are never in sync, with my foot on the soft pedal of a piano but my passion driving me to hit the keys as loud as I can. This brain of mine has conducted an orchestra with only dissonant arpeggios, with potential on the brink of fulfillment and harmony unachievable in this century.  Simply put, my soul and my soul case are on different pages, and therefore I am hindered in my ability to create, even if I want to.

This struggle I attribute to my depression. If my mental illness is something I bring up a lot, that’s because it never goes away. It lingers, infecting my will to do anything and everything. 

Including what some would consider my passions. A study by five scholars in the psychological field was conducted in 2003 regarding the “lost productive work time among US workers with depression.” Though there were a lot of results, one of the more prominent figures was that of the actual productive time lost: an average of 1.89 hours per week.1

To say that my depression doesn’t strongly impact what and how I tackle my daily to-dos is a lie. And I’m reminded of it every day. But I’m not alone in this, as evident in the aforementioned study. The visual accompaniments you see here portray aspects of passion, taken on film. Love and art (though not separate pieces). The photos are dimmed and grainy. Hard to see; hard to understand. This is the lens through which I have been seeing life.

I asked a few members on the Lithium team how they turn this mentality on its head, and make their mental illnesses drive them forward.

I have expressed my experience with mental illness and how it affects me and those around me through film and photography, my passions- The photo set I'm making for Lithium this month shows just that. It makes me feel happier about my work because I know it is authentic and from my personal experience.”

“Mental illness has hindered me from following my passion because when my depression was at its strongest, it almost projected itself to me like a voice inside my head. The voice kept telling me that 'I wasn't good enough', 'I wasn't pretty enough', 'I wasn't intelligent enough'. It started off slow, but over time it seized this power over me that I couldn't control, and I ended up succumbing to its words. Everything that I ever loved and knew seemed like a haze to me, and there was always a heavy feeling in my chest that weighed me down. I felt emotionally and physically drained of energy, and the things I loved to do every day became chores... I sought comfort from the voice inside my head, thinking of it as my friend. I shut off my real friends and family because of this, and, as a result, I lost the desire to go forth with my passion (which was basically anything related to art, film, and photography).”

“Having OCD is a relentless and time consuming monster. It might take me five minutes just to write a word the 'right' way. It doesn't necessarily hinder me from wanting to write or wanting to create, but I would say my disorder discourages me. I have no doubt my work ethic would be better if I didn't have it! I am very adamant about not letting depression get to me, though - I've been in this place of feeling held back and as though there was nothing I could do, and that's a really awful and demeaning way to live. I have found that staying busy and forcing myself to create just a bit each day is the best way for me to fight it.”

I have always, always, always poured my whole self into whatever works I create. I become my artwork. I started a painting titled Conflicting Thoughts two weeks ago, and it truly represents how I feel dealing with bipolar disorder. I discovered last April that I have bipolar disorder, and it has been such an enormous thing to conquer and to handle on my own. So, I’ve been creating more art. Releasing my feelings into the art. My paintings and poetry fully represent who I am. They mean the world to me.”

Mental illness is hard to deal with, and it can often feel like it never goes away. But it doesn’t have to for us to be able to create beautiful things. It can be a source of inspiration; catharsis at its best. It takes a turn of mentality, but as we see in everyday life, you can truly make your mental illness work for you.

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