Learning to Accept My Mental Illness Through Creativity

Learning to Accept My Mental Illness Through Creativity
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Positivity is a characteristic that I naturally possess. I seldom struggle to find the bright side of situations. Although this attribute has saved me innumerous times from acquiring a negative disposition, I have not been completely unscathed by depression and anxiety

My mental illness began early at the age of 8. The trauma of being surrounded by people who believed my disease was imaginary caused a darkness to hang over me. My symptoms of depression and anxiety started with an inability to fall asleep at night, soon followed by occasional, debilitating guilt. I believed I was the cause of my parents’ stress.

By the age of 14, my symptoms had transformed my nights into bouts of tossing and turning. Anxiety liked to follow me to school, where panic attacks ensued every morning for months.

But the fatigue and cloudiness of depression had been a stranger to me since I began integrating antidepressants into my life nine years ago. That is until recently.

During the first month and a half of self-isolation due to the pandemic, my mental health didn’t waver. This led me to believe, naively, that maybe my mental stability was just as strong as I had hoped. Perhaps my positive nature had superhuman strength after all.

As quarantine continued, an addiction to projects and creative outlets began to fester. I was obsessed with finding anything to occupy my brain from the inconceivable reality of the pandemic.

Creativity has been a big aspect of my life since my early childhood. Before I could write, I would spend hours scribbling on paper with my markers. I don’t know who I’d be without some sort of creative outlet. I am happiest when flexing my creative muscles and have been taking advantage of this to keep my depression at bay during these triggering times.

The crafts and hobbies I’ve gravitated toward the most involve little brain power, such as projects that come with a written pattern. For example, for this macramé wall hanging, I purchased a pattern from Etsy and bought the supplies separately.

(Photo by Leah Leilani)

Do-it-yourself projects that involve revamping clothing and accessories always intrigued me. I decided that one way I could achieve this without using too much energy was to embroider some daisies onto my TOMS sneakers. This project only required a slight amount of practice along with the help of a few YouTube and Pinterest tutorials to guide me. 

(Photo by Leah Leilani)

With stories of insurgence and societal distress flooding social media and news stations, my mental health has declined even further. One way I’ve found to escape without taking a complete technological hiatus while still nourishing my creativity is with a Facebook group called “Cabin Fever Creative Community.” There, amateur and professional artists share their artwork during lockdown. It is inspiring to see how people use their skills to occupy their time, much like I do. 

During my days of low energy or resting after whittling away at a project, I am forced to succumb to the depressed mood that has awaited me. As I attempt to fight it, I also try to reassure myself that sometimes not being OK is OK. Being cheerful every minute of every day isn’t attainable for anyone. I also remind myself that accepting my depression doesn’t disrupt or alter my positive personality.

Only weeks ago, creativity was a weapon I used to defend myself from the gloom of depression. It has now taught me to accept my mental illness instead of fighting against it.

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Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.

Leah is a Southern California-based patient writer. She’s been an active member of the muscular dystrophy community since her regional ambassadorship with the MDA beginning at the age of 10 after her diagnosis of a rare neuromuscular disease, mitochondrial myopathy (Mito). Leah advocates for those with disabilities and promotes an understanding of her condition by evoking a positive outlook upon the obstacles she faces. Leah’s work doesn’t just stop at her column: she also doubles as a co-moderator on the MD News Forums. Away from her jobs, Leah is known among family and friends for her artistic creativity and outgoing personality.
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Leah is a Southern California-based patient writer. She’s been an active member of the muscular dystrophy community since her regional ambassadorship with the MDA beginning at the age of 10 after her diagnosis of a rare neuromuscular disease, mitochondrial myopathy (Mito). Leah advocates for those with disabilities and promotes an understanding of her condition by evoking a positive outlook upon the obstacles she faces. Leah’s work doesn’t just stop at her column: she also doubles as a co-moderator on the MD News Forums. Away from her jobs, Leah is known among family and friends for her artistic creativity and outgoing personality.

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2 comments

  1. Pete Barron says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Leah. Your insight into using creativity to chase away depression seems to be something we all do without realizing it. People who live in cultures that don’t have as many “labor saving” devices often report that they have little or no depression. They simply don’t have the time to think about it, they are so busy doing things! Many of us also can relate to the depression of being undiagnosed and being treated like “it’s all in our head”. When doctors can’t figure out what’s going on, a time honored strategy is “blame the patient”!

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