The Dark Path

It’s 5 in the morning. I pull my car over, and enter the gas station. The woman behind the counter looks at me in terror. I’m not surprised, for my face is painted black, with hints of colour everywhere. Hair wild in a messy updo, walking in a comfortable outfit that some might call the ‘hobo-look’.

‘Don’t worry!’ I say instantly. ‘It’s make-up. I’m just here to buy some breakfast.’
She laughs, but I can hear I scared her.
‘I already saw you on camera,’ she says. ‘No face. I thought I saw a ghost!’ 
I smile and talk with her a little before I get the food I want. It felt good to speak. After I say goodbye, I hang out in my car for a bit.

I pull up my phone, and check out my latest statistics. Twenty likes on my newest blogpost, 400 views on the YouTube video, one comment. I browse to my other videos. Same story. Many views, a respectable amount of likes but barely any comments. Mail. My Gmail inbox is filled with people who want me to promote their products in my videos, and a YouTube Network wants me to join them.

I start my engine and drive home. When I get there, it’s 6 in the morning. While I connect my camera to my computer, to see the result of the latest videos I shot, I check my statistics again. 50.000 views the last 30 days. Fifteen comments. Who are these people who watch my videos? I feel like I know nothing about them.

On Twitter, I see one other person that is still awake. Or maybe they’ve just woken up? No idea. I stare at the quote that person tweeted, which is about life, and the meaning of it. Another tweet suddenly appears in my timeline; someone just got home from a party, and wants to sleep ‘forever’.
When was the last time I went to a party, not counting the ones I had to film? I search my memory for dance tunes followed by a blurry morning, but can’t find any. It must have been 2 years since I did something social like that. In fact, when was the last time I actually spoke to a person, not counting my direct family? I did just speak to the lady at the gas station, so that’s one.

My brain feels really tired, but I try to think. I realise it must have been at least 6 weeks. And again, it was for work, so it wasn’t a social situation I decided to be in merely for the fun of it. When was the last time I actually saw my friends? Going through their Facebook profiles, I see many smiles and all the cool stuff they’ve done lately. Six months, I think. I see a picture of a girl kissing a guy. She’s got a boyfriend now? Hm. Maybe it’s been a year..

My calendar tells me it’s only a few weeks until Carnaval; a Limburgish event during which I see many of my friends, according to tradition. One day I spend in my hometown Beek, and the others in Maastricht; normally. However, this year, some of my closests friends have to work during the “Maastricht days”. I wonder if it’s socially acceptable to reach out to the ones I’ve not seen for long tim, and ask if I can join them. Carnaval is the only social thing that will happen for me anytime soon, and I really want to see the people I’ve missed so much. I feel shame in my body when I think of asking them. I’ve not been good with staying in touch the last few years, due to a variety of reasons. But, to be honest: they haven’t been either. Probably for the same reasons. Reasons that are not about another person, but about our lives shaking on their grounds, and distracting us.

Even though I know this, I feel really uncomfortable asking, and my brain for some reasons lingers in the thought that they wouldn’t want me there. I can tell my mind has been affected by the lack of social situations I’ve been in the last few years, and that it’s drawing conclusions that aren’t healthy or a reflection of what the reality really is like.

It’s a very strange thing: being able to reason with your mind, and knowing what you should feel, but in the end not being able to convince your mind to actually feel (or think) it. I’m trying to make sense of the person I am, but I feel lost. What happened to that 18-year-old, that went to parties every week, had friends over for dinner, and went tripping to wherever here soul wanted to go? The funny part is that for most creative people, all these bad feelings are actually what inspires them in their work.

I guess I missed the path to the social kingdom, and instead, walked the dark path of creativity. Because that’s what I’ve been doing; following my creative flow, especially the last few months, after I decided to quit commercial photography, and focus on my filmgoals. Not having to meet clients anymore killed the last social liana I was swinging from, but in return I now have time to follow my creativity wherever it goes. And creative flows don’t often go to raves or dinner parties. The creative flow wakes up whenever it feels like it, and as an artist, you have to submit to it to be able to create. Sometimes, this is in the darkness of the night, and you end up going to your studio, even though you have to be up at 9 in the morning again.

In former days, artists would actually meet the people who viewed their work in person: in galleries, museums, stores, etc. These days, we mainly share our work online. People showcase and/or sell it via the internet; personal interaction with buyers or viewers is rare. The result is that many artists have a very small social circle, and online communication becomes very important for them. It will probably not surprise you that many artist are highly active in online art communities, and many of them have more online friends than ‘real-life’ friends (although those online friends definitely are real friends, and we do meet them if the opportunity presents itself). I have ‘online’ friends from all over the world, and some of those I have met. Unfortunately, it’s hard to meet them, so I rarely ever see them.

It’s 8 when I see I have a message from one of those friends on Facebook.

“I’m drunk.” he says.
“Creative flow?” I reply, knowing many of my artist friends like to drink while inspired (including myself).
“Yeah.. I just don’t get why she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. I’ve been thinking about it all morning, writing now lol.”
“At least you get something out of it. I’ve been shooting all morning due to the chaos.”

I’m referring to the reasons as to why I was in my studio. Miscommunication, loneliness and shame were my inspiration.

“Still nothing then?’ he asks.
“Obviously not. I need to go out more and see people to distract my mind, the clouds are getting too dark.” I answer.
“Go out and shoot people.”
“LOL. I quit commercial, remember?” I say. “I just need to see friends, but I don’t know how to get back in touch. It feels really weird to do, and I feel as if nobody really gives a shit anyway, even though I know that’s ridiculous to think.”
“I wish I could hug you now,” my friend replies.
“Yeah, me too.”

It’s peculiar to think that someone who has over 50.000 views a month on youtube, barely has any interaction with people, but it’s the truth. Everything I wrote in this blog so far is a memory from almost a year ago. After the conversation with my online friend, I decided to make a change. I decided to pursue activities outside of work more, and try to get back in the social game. It really wasn’t easy, and proved to be very challenging. I’m still battling with it every day. With everybody using text as main form of communication, it’s hard to improve your social life and figure out what people mean, especially if you want to escape text written communication. And what if you suddenly do message people, and want to interact? Most people don’t know how to feel about that, and think you have other reasons than just wanting to be social and have a good time. Now, a year later, my YouTube views a month have almost doubled, and my videos are getting a wee bit more interaction. So there’s that.

Still, it’s not uncommon to have a video with over 20.000 views, and only 4 people who commented on it. I have to figure out if people enjoy my videos through likes and views. People have become numbers for me, something that can make me really sad at times.

Not to mention, the interaction I do get online isn’t always nice either.

The reason why I’m writing this blog is because on october 10, it’s World Mental Health Day. I’ve decided to dedicate some blogs about mental health, written from someone working in the creative field. Being a creative means you often work alone, and are less social. These two things can cause depression.

Apparently, Creativity is often part of a mental illness, with writers particularly susceptible, according to a study of more than a million people. Another new study claims to find genetic link between creativity and mental illness. Results imply creative people are 25% more likely to carry genes that raise risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. But others argue the evidence is flimsy.

Regardless of what science says, all I know is that among my creative friends, depression is an issue, including in myself. There’s a huge taboo behind it, which is why I believe it’s important to talk about it. Through blogging I want to give you a point of view from someone who’s experienced depression for over a decade (and works as a creative). How do our lives look? What do we think? And especially, which thought patterns feed our depressions?

I hope I will help to open up a discussion about this issue. And a discussion we need, because depression can lead to a road you never can never leave again once you take it: suicide. And really, who wants to take that path, if you can change your direction and pick another one to walk?