Depression Didn’t Reveal My Creativity, but Getting Help Did

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Taylor Romine

Journalist, classic rock aficionado, and feminist theory fanatic.

When I was 19, I was diagnosed with several mental illnesses, most notably major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. My therapist and I determined that I had depression and anxiety since I was a kid, and that it got worse with age and trauma. Although this was not news to me, it was a relief that the constant pain I had wasn’t imagined. Western society circulates a common myth around mental illness: that the pain creates beautiful art, and to treat (e.g., taking medication) the illness would be to deprive the world of this potential deep, meaningful art. There are plenty of articles explaining how this thinking is ultimately a romanticized view of mental health. I, on the other hand, would like to present you with my story, and how treating and taking medication helped unleash the creative intelligence that was buried for so many years.

Growing up, I was never considered to be particularly gifted. I needed additional classes, special tutoring, and lengthy, repetitive explanations of the topics I was learning. I was always a concern, a late bloomer, or some other unflattering phase to say “your kid isn’t that smart.” I knew that’s what people thought of me, and it reflected in my class work. I was afraid of turning in work because I didn’t know how to do it, and sometimes it was better to just not do the work than go through the grueling process of failing every problem. I felt incompetent, and thought this is how I would be for the rest of my life.

I often concealed or ignored the symptoms of my depression, thinking that this pain was a normal part of life. It got worse with age. It also reflected in my surrounding life – I was quiet, didn’t participate in activities, and my grades were mediocre. No one knew the storm that was brewing inside of me. I went to extraordinary lengths to keep myself alive, but for others, it was hardly noticeable. Underneath this passive façade, I constantly read and listened to music, one of the few ways I could cope with my depression. Both forms provided a space for me to have emotions while maintaining my outward appearance. But this remained unknown to most, and there were few opportunities for my teachers or peers to see this passion.

When I finished high school, I realized I didn’t have enough money to go to a four-year university, and my seemingly lackluster abilities had no chance of mustering up a scholarship. I enrolled in community college with a deep sense of failure. Where I grew up, if you went to community college, it meant that you were going nowhere in life. My friends had left for various reasons and I could only see my boyfriend once a week at most. I used school as my solace, and I fought hard against my mental health to perform well. For the first time, it showed. I got A’s across the board and was even recommended to join the honors program. I was the shining beacon of nerd that I’d been looking for. But this glimmer of hope was drowned out by the war being fought in my brain.

About a year later, after a sudden but serious illness, I decided I couldn’t take it any longer. If I waited any longer I was going to kill myself. So I went to a therapist, got a psychiatrist, and started the long journey of helping myself. When I finally got the right medication for me, it was life-changing. It was like a gust of wind blew through me and pushed out all the fog. The coping skills that I taught myself years ago finally worked like a charm. It didn’t take all the effort in my body to complete simple tasks. Most of all, my brain wasn’t weighed down anymore. My intelligence showed in a way that surprised me, and left many of my teachers in awe. This was not a one-fix solution to my mental health, but it was a new era for a seemingly different me. I ended up transferring to UC Berkeley, double majoring in Media Studies and Gender & Women’s Studies. I am considered an intelligent person by those around me, a concept that a younger version of me would never believe.

It wasn’t just the medication that miraculously took care of my mental health. Taking the time, effort, and bravery did. I still struggle with my mental health, but I now know the incredible strength I have, and that every minute I put into myself is worth it. Although some people who are in the throes of mental illness create beautiful work, this isn’t the only way. Your depression doesn’t make you feel deeper, think more creatively, or reach a part of you that is inaccessible otherwise. Those parts of you exist already. And while my experience is just one story, suffering for an ideal is not worth leaving yourself in deathly pain.