Anxiety can be debilitating and immobilizing, especially for artists. When anxiety strikes it can disconnect us from our desires and passions, which fuel our creativity. Without that fuel, our creative impulses can become chaotic and overwhelming, or worse they can shrivel up and die.
I know a lot about anxiety. After decades of medical misdiagnosis, I was finally diagnosed, a little over a year ago, with bipolar disorder. Anxiety is a primary symptom of my mental illness.
And I’m not talking about a little stress here. No, I suffer from the kind of anxiety that is often extremely debilitating and immobilizing and that keeps me spiraling in nervousness, fear, despair, and even shame.
For me, the worst part of anxiety is how it can keep me from writing and from experiencing and utilizing my creativity.
However, because I’ve struggled with anxiety throughout my writing career, I’ve slowly learned ways to combat its debilitating symptoms and to transform it from a personal liability into a creative asset.
What is Anxiety?
Everyone struggles with anxiety from time to time. When we need or want to do something that makes us nervous, scares us, or is particularly challenging, anxiety is a natural reaction. For instance, if you’re shy, then reading your poetry in public may cause you anxiety. Or if you’re pressed for time on a publication deadline, then anxiety is a natural response.
What characterizes anxiety as a disorder, as opposed to a natural reaction to stress, is its persistence, its intensity, and the way it may be disproportionate to the task at hand. For instance, everyday activities associated with my life and my work can cause me anxiety—going to the grocery store, keeping an appointment, or having to do a spoken word gig I’ve committed to.
Coping with anxiety is especially difficult because it’s actually a very complex emotion. Anxiety is a combination of sadness, fear, and anger.
But in the simplest sense, anxiety is energy—excessive energy, but energy nonetheless.
It’s possible to transform your anxiety from a personal liability into a creative asset. It just requires a bit of diligence and a lot of faith—faith in yourself, your skills, your creativity and your experience as an artist.