For many years, I was consumed by my negativity. I had extreme highs and lows. When I was high, I created things I believed in and I felt confident in my abilities and purpose. When I was low… oh, boy. I would break myself with my vicious words, then crush my pieces under my own boots. I couldn’t get out of bed or off the couch. I would hide in my apartment from the person I wanted to be.
One day, I had a “there has to be a better way” moment. I wanted to pursue creativity with a renewed intention, and I needed a healthier way to deal with my negative voice. I began with the resolution that things had to change. From there…
I talked to my friends
I had no idea where to start in figuring this mess out, so I reached out to people who I felt would understand my goals and what I was going through.
Usually, when my best friend asked how I was doing, I answered, “I’m good!” This time, I explained that I wasn’t doing well. To my surprise, even though we have very different careers and goals, we were experiencing the same emotional and psychological journey. It was so therapeutic for me to know someone felt the same way I did. I felt like I wasn’t crazy. We realized our similar habits of perfectionism, unrealistic goals and expectations, and harsh language with ourselves, caused us to get in our own way. I couldn’t stand for my friend speaking to herself in such a mean way – how could I be doing the same to myself?
I spoke with a fellow writer friend about some of my hang-ups, and she encouraged me to read a book that dramatically changed my understanding of myself as a writer (more about this book later). Another friend connected me with a potential mentor, who I met with and received some awesome advice.
I formed a band of people that got me. They didn’t think what I was doing was dumb or senseless or imaginary. They understood and supported my goals, and”talked shop” with me. I’m glad I opened up about my vulnerabilities and accepted their amazing support.
I gathered some tools
I found support with my friends, but I really needed to figure out how to support myself. To do that, I had to better understand my negative voice. I read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, which the friend I mentioned earlier recommended me. This book helped me understand some of the root causes of my fears, and I finally had the tools to overcome procrastination. I found myself writing more and more. I gave myself permission to take classes and develop my skills to become a better writer and artist.
Unfortunately, I had been poisonously negative for so long, that I was incredibly good at it. I continued to experience mental spirals that would suck the life out of me and leave me whimpering. I had to find a way to stop myself from getting to such a deep, dark place so quickly.
I began an exercise where I would write down my thoughts at my low points and when I felt confident. I hoped to identify the early sounds of my negative and positive voices. Here are a couple of “low point” passages from my journal:
[This is me] Talking myself out of the devolving, unraveling of my motivation.Have some integrity. You are trying to put out a legacy. This exceeds the need for money. Money can come through other means. Do not sacrifice the quality of your art. Do not make art because of money. Make art because you need to. Because you want to. Love yourself. Do not confuse any other life decisions with this affirmation. You have already decided this is your path. This is your path. And it’s your own path. A different path. It’s YOUR path. You can and are doing this. Keep going. Keep moving. Keep going.
Have some faith. Self Doubt has been your best friend for ages. You need to be your own best friend instead. Let Self Doubt go. It’s not a friend to you. It holds you back. Its a poisonous friend… the kind that you think you need but you will be better without, [the kind of friend] that is killing you inside.
Through these exercises, I was able to identify what my negative voice sounds like. When I began to speak to myself with my negative voice, I recognized it and asked myself to stop: “I’m not going down that spiral,” and, “I see what’s happening, and I’m going to stop going any further.” I put my foot down, and I gained so much strength from doing so.
I was kinder to myself
I found it really important to replace my negative voice with something healthier. I let myself know I wasn’t allowed to speak to myself unless I was kind. I was either going to think healthy, nurturing thoughts, or fill my time with things that prevented me from turning on myself.
So I said nicer things to myself (or at least, not so many mean things), and in any of my spare time, rather than sit and brew a concoction of mean thoughts against myself, I read lots and lots of books, and binge-watched my favorite sitcoms over and over again. I did things that made me feel good, even if it might seem like a waste of time to someone else, because I knew it was medicine for me. I love this quote and I highly identify with it:
“It has taken me years to realize that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, in the book Big Magic: The Art of Creative Living
I began to have longer periods of time between my negative spirals, and when I was experienced one, I prevented myself from going to its deepest, darkest, soul-crushingest regions. I stayed too busy to have too many destructive thoughts. I adopted the phrase, “Say something nice, or don’t say anything at all” for my own mental space. I filled myself with a gentler, friendlier voice, and spoke to myself as though I would a friend. I invited myself to be motivated, productive, and creative in my own ways.
I’m better off, and I’m excited!
Ultimately, my negative voice didn’t serve me, because even when I worked, I was so incredibly unhappy. I’ve created just as much, if not more, while reducing my negative voice. This whole process took place over a couple of years, and I’m a work in progress. I’m learning to overcome my negative voice, day by day, and I’m certain new challenges lie ahead. I have good days, great days, and blah days. Sometimes, when I really put myself out there, I still eat myself alive. I was so good at being negative, that if I give myself even the tiniest window, I’ll throw my strongest punches in my direction.
Recently, I had an idea that is a culmination of something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve so excited to work on it. I’m on a creative high. But after each day I spend riding a creative high, I spend the next feeling horrible about myself. I listened to myself yesterday, post-creative high, and this is what I heard: What was I thinking?! I got all excited for nothing. My idea is dumb. I’m dumb. I’m not really creative. (And by the way, creativity is not a career, you idiot!) I suck.
And then I saw the correlation. I was coming down from yesterday’s creative high. I’ve made this association that if I’m not on a creative high, I’m on a low, and low means I’m not doing anything with my life. It means my idea is fizzling out. It means I suck.
But it doesn’t mean that. After a creative high, there will be a lowering or loss of energy – what goes up must come down. I’m returning to my normal state, unwinding from a period of high energy. I had a spectacular day, and I’m having a different kind of day now. It doesn’t mean I’m not working, or my work sucks, or I suck. If there’s any part of me that believes I suck, it’s the part that wants to give up without trying because I’m afraid to fail.
I’m thankful for this realization, and I’m excited to learn more about myself through my creative process.
Previously, I’ve written about the challenge of learning to believe in myself.
I enjoyed reading “Do You Take Yourself Seriously?” By The Cooper Review.
4 thoughts on “Creative highs and lows”
i learned a lot from this post. thanks for sharing ☺
Hi. I love this so much and relate to this completely! I usually call it my boom and bust cycle. What has helped me recently is to turn some things over to habit/routine rather than my own wavering motivation/confidence/inspiration levels. So I post on the blog each Friday, which means Thu and Fri I need to work on that. The rest of the week, I write my book. If I get anxious I just tell myself I am doing it for me, to feel the sense of accomplishment from getting a whole big book completed just once in my life (I have only finished small ones up to now). And I love Big Magic and Liz Gilbert too. Wishing you all the best with your writing xxx
I am in the creative field too and I feel exactly the same that you feel. Thank you for sharing your antidote.
I used to feel the same at times. I have my own crests and troughs (terminology for waves) – highs and lows And my lows and troughs started getting steeper and longer. I had an honest chat with my friend who I thought would be unbiased and non-judgmental. It really helped. I used to feel I am the only one but I came out stronger not numb like other times. That really helped.