Depression and the Black creative: What happens when your passion becomes your prison?
In this article I want to discuss something that is rarely talked about. The mental state of the black creative. But first let us start with some statistics:
13.4 percent of the U.S. population identifies as black or African American, of those over 16% reported having a mental illness within the past year. That is over 7 million people. (Census.gov/quick facts/fact/table)
Of that 7 million how many do you think are creatives or participate in the entertainment industry at some capacity??? I am willing to bet A LOT!
As you may know being Black in America isn’t a cake walk and if you aren’t aware of this, research just about any topic based on black oppression and systemic racism and you will soon learn just how much strife is given to one race because of their skin color. Having to deal with societal issues, demographic and economic issues is heavy enough and if you are blessed to find a gateway that gives you peace of mind, you would live in that…right? Whether that bit of utopia is sports, music, writing, painting, coding, etc. It is an outlet that takes away the strain of your reality. But what happensif your utopia became a dystopia? Being a creative is hard enough but add on to that being black, having this unrealistic expectation put on you and your work, trying to capture that expectation and still being unapologetic about who you are and wanting to express your triumphs and perils to the world so that your story doesn’t go untold.
Most creatives credit their skills to how and where they grew up. You may hear songwriters claim that they pullinspiration from personal situations and when they write it becomes their way of dealing with that situation. For example, Jay-z’s “444” album gave the listener a glance into a lot of intimate and personal moments within his marriage. The same could be said about most of Taylor Swift’s catalogue, her relationships have been highly scrutinized, and she talks in detail about most of them through her music. So, in a way using your creativity to deal with your strife’s can be therapeutic but what about the moments it starts to feel like a burden, and you feel burnt out?There are times where you can pour so much of yourself into a creative process that there is nothing left.
How is it that we can create worlds that people can use to escape reality but in turn we are trapped between finding the balance within our own life and artistry? Ever since quarantine, we have been forced to deal with some horrible truths about ourselves and our perception of what being a creative is. As of late there have been claims and accusations of discriminatory behavior behind the scenes of some well-known productions and it has shown us that even through our efforts as black artists to have our work displayed we still struggle to get our ideas heard. We create stories to tell the world and still must deal with not being respected because of the color of our skin. It is stressful to say the least, to walk on a set or in a studio or classroom and be met with disdain or skepticism. Then to go back home and WANT to create more work that will probably be combed over or maliciously attackedbut we still share and show up because of the determination and this need to want to be the difference. That is the worst prison you could ever be trapped in.
You can go on just about any social media outlet andsee most creatives label their constant no sleep, no rest work cycle as a “Hustle” or “Grind”. What once was our “way to escape reality” becomes the number one trigger to causing stress. The sad part about that is…no one wants to admit it. Everyone is okay with complaining about how they must rehearse, learn the lines, learn the notes, write the song, sign the contract, etc. Sometimes you DON'T want to rehearse or perform, sometimes you just want to sit on the couch and binge watch your favorite show…and that is okay. There is no reward at the end of the tunnel of constant depression and self-sabotage. If you are aware that your mood isn’t where it once was when you started your creative process, work towards getting better. If you do not enjoy creating as much as you use to and it has started to feel more like a chore, make room for rest. When we avoid our mental stability during any creative journey, we are ultimately doing a major disservice to the work we claim to love and to ourselves. It pays to rest and recharge, your mind and work will thank you for it. I have found a few ways to affirm myself and deal with how I approach a potential overload of work, you can use these ways as well.
If your depression is deeper than what you read heretoday, please call your local depression hotline and speak with a professional.
About the Author: Germôna Sharp