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Art and design are supposed to be things which make people happy, but throughout history the most art of just about every genre has been made by people who have been suffering from a range of mental illnesses and have poured it all into their work, either to deal with it or to give it some form of outlet.
Vincent Van Gough created beautiful paintings even though he suffered from crippling psychotic episodes which eventually lead to his death. Isaac Newton laid many of the foundations of mathematics and physics (seen as an art in themselves) even though he suffered from bipolar disorder, and even recently Robin Williams, the iconic actor and comedian, committed suicide after a lifetime of struggling with depression.
I’m not in any way comparing myself to these greats, but I can say that I at least know how they feel. I’ve suffered for many years from anxiety and depression, sometimes better and sometimes worse, and in fact, I started my art and design business as a way of dealing with it. Actually, that’s not strictly 100% true; I needed to escape, and this was the direction I headed in.
In 2013 I was suffering from a particularly bad bout. In fact, I was having a lot of difficulties finding reasons to carry on, and although I REALLY didn’t want to I realised that if I didn’t find something to at least distract me from how I was thinking and feeling then I might not pull out of it this time.
It was around the time of my birthday so I decided I’d buy myself something which would enable me to focus my thoughts on something positive; maybe that would pull me through.
It was at that time that I found a website selling 3D printers. I’d heard of them of course and I’d always been fascinated with them. I’ve been a lifelong fan of technology and gadgets and therefore the idea of creating something almost out of thin air was one which I found particularly alluring.
The printers being sold on the website were hobby printers, nowhere near professional grade, but they were within my price range and I thought, well, why not? So I placed an order, and the next day a huge and heavy box was delivered, containing my very first 3D printer.
From the very first print, a small vase (the design for which was included in the printer’s memory as a test-print), I was hooked. I sat and watched over and over again as objects were created before my very eyes, and although at the time I really had no idea what I was doing I decided that I wasn’t going to just download other people’s designs; I was going to get some CAD software and make my own. So another box duly arrived, this time containing my very first copy of TurboCAD.
I’d never used CAD software before, although I’d spent many years using vector graphics systems like CorelDRAW, Adobe Illustrator and now Graphic on the Mac, so I managed to muddle through. My first design was a simple one, a phone holder for my iPhone, but the feeling when it was finished printing and I could hold it in my hand was a very powerful one.
This was MY design, no one else in the world had made this. All of a sudden, how I was feeling really didn’t hurt that much anymore. Now I knew I’d succeeded in finding an outlet for how I was feeling, and something which could keep me going.
When the time came to look for a new job, I realised that this could be my chance. Rather than another job which, although enjoyable, was just a way to earn money, I decided that I’d take the plunge and go self-employed as a freelance designer.
I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard and it’s taken a little longer than I thought to really start to pick up, but now I realise THIS is what I want to be doing. It’s very long hours, I work usually seven days a week and have to force myself to take days off, but there’s literally no other job in the world I want to be doing.
When I send out an order to a customer, I still get that little thrill that someone out there in the big, wide world likes my work enough to pay me for it, and the nice comments and wonderful reviews I’ve had on my work give me that same boost every single time.
I know that many other people out there, maybe you or someone you know, suffers from some sort of depression or anxiety, or maybe you just find it hard to cope with everyday life. The times we live in are fractious and divided and there seems to be more bad news than good, and maybe you’re reading this and identifying with what I’m relaying to you.
Maybe you’re also thinking of starting your own business, or of taking on projects in your spare time in an effort to give yourself that anchor to hold onto when times get bad. If that’s the case I can only offer you a few pieces of advice which have helped me over the last couple of years.
Firstly, whatever you’re doing, make sure it’s something you really love. That sounds pretty obvious but if you’re going to be doing it then you’re going to need to pour an awful lot of energy into it, so make sure it’s something you really WANT to do.
There will be days when you don’t want to do it, or actually do anything at all, but if you really love what you’re doing you’ll still have that spur to do it at least a little. There will be days when you think ‘why the hell am I doing this?’; well, then make sure you can give yourself a list of reasons in return.
But there’s also something very important which goes along with that, although it may seem a little counter-intuitive; make the time to walk away from it, and do it regularly. The temptation is to throw yourself into what you’re doing and shut yourself away from everyone and everything while you just focus on your work. It’s good to get finished and it’s good to give it all your effort, but don’t run away from the world.
Make sure you get out regularly, even if it’s just making yourself take a day off. Go to the movies or go shopping. Go out with friends and/or family. If what you’re doing is mainly computer-based, and especially if it’s online, make absolutely sure you unplug; the internet is not real life and it’s very very easy to get trapped into that digital world. Come back to this world regularly; I know it hurts but there’s always things and people here which will give you that reason.
There will be days when the Black Dog of Depression still overwhelms you. It still does with me, and on those days I make sure that I find ways to reward myself. It’s like regressing a little to your childhood, when if you were unhappy someone would give you sweets or take you out or just make a fuss of you.
Be that person for yourself; treat yourself to that KFC you’ve been thinking of, or watch that movie you really love and haven’t watched in ages, or just find a light-hearted way to give yourself a bit of love. Despite how you think and feel, you DO deserve it.
I hope that somehow my vague, nonsensical ramblings this time have maybe struck a chord with you and I hope that maybe I’ve helped you a little. All I can say is, however you’re feeling, you’re not alone. Look after yourself, you’re something unique in the universe and don’t let that star go out.
That about wraps it up for this article. As always you’re very welcome to contact me with any questions, suggestions, ideas for articles and so on. Catch you next time!