Sam van Zweden




The Other Side

It’s over, and I’ve taken my week to fall in a heap. Yes, I am unreasonably hopeful that the one week is all it takes. Let’s not talk about other possibilities at this point.

In the last week, I handed in my manuscript and ‘contextual essay’ (for all intents and purposes, an exegesis). I partied reasonably hard that night. The following day I worked, and came home and vomited myself silly – I was knocked down for the remainder of the week with gastro. It was quite an unhappy week. Last night I panicked, because I felt myself falling into a very familiar hole. That place I find myself when a big milestone is passed, and I have to ask myself, “What now?”

Today, however, I came across two articles that really spoke to me, and which have helped me pull myself a little bit out of that hole.

Karen Andrews at Miscellaneous Mum posted her talk from the weekend’s Offset Arts Festival. In it, she talks about her very personal reasons for blogging, and how blogging acted as a distraction during recovery from a breakdown. Karen goes on to talk about how her continued blogging journey has been backed by passion – she kept going, and that’s how she discovered her voice. Karen’s successes (many and varied) have come because she has kept going – she loves what she’s doing, and that’s the motivator.

Another article about reading and writing in relation to emotional healing was posted at The Wheeler Centre website. In an interview with the beautiful Melinda Harvey, she talks about the relationship between reading and healing. For Melinda, at a certain point literature is useless to that process – I’m really struck by the bravery of refuting that idea of literature as a lifeline in times of crisis. At another point, however, reading and writing becomes instrumental in making sense of things – a sentiment I can certainly relate to, having just handed in 10,000 words of a memoir about my mother’s mental illness. Likewise, Melinda talks about how much of a mind-bending change it was for her to think of herself writing a memoir. It’s an uncomfortable kind of negotiation, thinking of yourself as a memoirist when it’s something you’d never considered previously.

Both Karen and Melinda’s words really touched me today, when I’m finding myself at a bit of a cross-roads. I don’t exactly know where life takes me to from here. But I am standing on the other side of a very big milestone, and for today at least, I have pulled myself out of a dark spot thanks to these ladies.

Darkness and Addictions

It’s a well-known historical fact – creative people, writers particularly, are really good at addictions.

Amphetamines, prescription drugs, opium, alcohol.

Life have compiled a whole album of “Famous Literary Drunks Or Addicts” – there are some surprising addictions up there such as Louisa May Alcott’s addiction to opium, though typhoid-related-fever is a decent excuse.

I can’t say I was surprised by this. I know addiction and creativity go hand-in-hand. Many creative people seem to have that “something-to-get-away-from” in common. Perhaps this is why so many of us find ourselves in reading, and deal with ourselves better in writing. Or drinking. Or substance abuse. They’re all just ways to crawl away from the dark places.

Over the last weekend at the Emerging Writers’ Festival,  on a panel titled “Going To A Dark Place”, writer Joel Magarey talked about his OCD. I left that room really encouraged by the fact that this man has written a book that deals so candidly with something that’s so stigmatised and crippling. To look your demons in the face like that, and not be afraid to put it out there, is amazing. It should also be noted that the OCD is not all Joel’s book is about. It doesn’t take over.

Lisa Dempster’s “Neon Pilgrim” confronts her depression. Henry Rollins’ “Black Coffee Blues” talks about depression, making it dark but essentially toothless. Even J.K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” has dealt with depression in her children’s books, and she is not ashamed to tell people.

The list of writers with depression or other mental illness is endless, but mostly we never find out about it. And when we do it’s an “Oh. Who’d have known?” situation. It’s certainly more okay to put these kind of things out there now, but I don’t think we should underestimate the strength of people who do.

I’m constantly chased by anxiety. And when I hide in the toilets now there’s that poster on the back of the door staring at me, letting me know that “Anxiety Is Paralysing” (thanks Lady, I get it!) and I curse that bitch while I try to breathe like I have normally sized lungs.

I think the key to dealing with the “dark” parts of ourselves is to accept them. Work around them.

Turn the darkness into something productive.

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