Depression Doesn’t Make You an Artist

I read an article a week or so ago about mental health, creativity, and treatment. I’m not going to mention where the article was posted or anything about the article specifically because it is without a doubt one of the worst, disgusting, and harmful pieces of writing I’ve ever seen on the internet. Now you might say Amanda, there is a lot of terrible things on the internet, why is this one more horrible than the rest of it?

The intention of this article is the reason I would put it up there with the worst of the worst. In it the writer claims that it was better for her friend to have committed suicide than be on medication, because she wasn’t able to be her true creative self. I’m going to write that again. Someone thought, wrote down, and posted on the internet that someone killing themselves was better than their friend living a ‘lesser’ medicated life.

I don’t know what’s scarier, the fact that she thought she was being insightful or innovating, or a person struggling might use this as justification to not try therapy or medication. I can only speak for myself and my mental health journey, but I can say with 100% certainty that my writing was absolutely awful before I started a therapy regime supplemented with medication. Insanely terrible. I could barely write in coherent sentences, and if I did manage to write something not awful I had no confidence to let anyone read it. I wasn’t living up to my true self. I wasn’t living up to my creative potential. Honestly, I wasn’t really living.

After I started managing my depression and anxiety I’ve had people tell me that I had changed and my different self was not as good as the ‘old me.’ Apparently I was a better friend and a better person when I constantly grappled with chronic loneliness, anxiety, and depression. My medication and therapy has helped me find who I really was, not a depressed version of myself. And for some reason people have a hard time when people they know with mental health issues struggle toward being their better selves. It probably does look like we’ve changed, but really it’s just a matter of rediscovering who we are without depression or anxiety completely controlling our lives.

Romanticizing mental health problems as a way to being a great artist is dangerous, unhealthy, and extremely untrue. I was an unproductive writer who occasionally wrote sad, terrible poems in a journal I was never going to share. Now I’m writing a book, writing on this blog, and writing for Geeks Out. I’m a much happier and content person, and my writing benefits from that. A person who is struggling to be happy or stay alive isn’t automatically better at their craft. And even if they were for some reason? A person’s life is far more important than their art. A person shouldn’t feel like they need to sacrifice themselves to create something for the world.

Our lives are more important than our art. Our better lives help us create better art. This is what we need to be telling our friends and family. Struggling doesn’t make you a better artist, writer, composer, or anything else.

Our friends’ lives have no less value when they are trying to get better.

Stop Killing Fictional Queer Women

Dear Straight Writers,

The title really says it all. Stop. Killing. Female. Queers. In. Your. Stories. It’s lazy and overdone. Women who are attracted to women are extremely tired of seeing the death trope in books, TV shows, and movies. You aren’t allowed to be hailed as “groundbreaking” when you included a lesbian couple to only string people along – only for it to end in death. Killing a queer character isn’t shocking or edgy. It’s boring, contrite, and damaging.

‘The 100’ became a show in which my girlfriend and I became extremely excited to watch. It felt like it was too good to be true- a well thought out sci-fi/ dystopic story where two ladies are in love with each other. The show actually explores the relationship in a deep and meaningful way, and neither character is persecuted for their sexuality. It was fantastic. It was beautiful. It was downright amazing. We finally felt like were getting a taste of what straight people experience on a regular basis: two people in love with each other without judgment or persecution.

Then… this past Thursday’s episode aired. It felt like someone had dangled happiness, hope, and equality in front of our faces for a couple of years… pushing us to support the show and keep the ratings up, just to have it so lazily stripped away. Clark and Lexa were finally able to be together at least for a shot while – then Lexa is killed. Not in a badass warrior way, in a dumb manner that made it obvious that no one on the show thought that there was another way to write out, or temporarily write out, a lesbian character.

It’s irresponsible to create a world where queer girls and women feel like they can dive into happiness and hope, and then crush us inside of it. We don’t get happy stories. I can count on one hand long lasting, positive TV representation in the last few years; two of these shows are cartoons. We rely on positive narratives to validate our identities in a world that usually refuses to see us. It’s awful that we have to hunt for quality, positive material to consume.

I really don’t know what I think is worse – the void where quality lesbian content should reside, or the cesspool where ‘ground-breaking’ writers throw another edgy story about lesbians dying? Do you realize how this narrative is so abhorrently toxic? Queer girls and women have had to grow up watching and reading  people tell us that our kind of love and our kind of story isn’t worth putting thought into. And if some thought has been put into it,they tell us that our identity will almost certainly lead to heartache and/or death.  It’s not that these stories exist, many heart wrenching heterosexual stories get the same treatement. But they also get the thrillers and mysteries, cut romantic comedies, stories where they are accepted and no one questions who they are, what they do, or who they love. If you are having trouble thinking of creative things your lesbian characters can do besides die, check out this article on Autostraddle. It gives you many jumping off points. If people are saying that Ryan Murphy’s representation of lesbians is better than yours I hate to tell you that you are doing something wrong.

I’m simultaneously tired and enraged. The moment people start patting your back for inclusion and equality is the moment you have a responsibility to the queer fandom it supports. You could argue that this isn’t fair. One show has to bear the burden to fairly represent queer ladies without the death trope? In a perfect world where I can ride around on a unicorn there would be plenty of positive queer content for me to choose from. So if a gay lady dies in one show it wouldn’t be soul-crushing. Unfortunately for all of us we don’t to get to live in this world. We live in a world where straight people get to dictate how I’m represented if I’m represented at all.

Straight writers, if you are unable to think outside the lesbian death-trope box, just stop writing about us. You are doing more harm than good. Please take the time to understand that our stories our more than tragic endings. Please give us the chance to be seen for who we are and what we are made of. If you aren’t willing to do that, kindly step aside and let queer writers express themselves in a way that reflects our many multifaceted and diverse narratives. Let us tell stories in which no one is persecuted, killed, or tragically dies of cancer.

We are more that your lazy and short-sighted narratives. It’s time to step out of the heteronormative box and let us tell the stories ourselves.