I always think of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark” when I use that phrase, “walking out of the dark”.
I’m a horror writer. This means I have very dark content in my works. To write it, I have to come up with it and pretty much be submerged in that world for however long it takes for me to create the story I’m trying to tell. Some works of mine are darker than others (I personally think my three darkest works are 1) The Glassman 2) Kinetics 3) The Harlequin) and by that, I mean I sincerely have to take a break and/or work on something happier afterwards. Otherwise, I’m tossed into a dark-minded funk, and given my history of disorders, that can be a potentially fatal thing.
I tend to think of going into the darker recesses of your mind as akin to going into a pool fully clothed – It’s super easy to get in, it’s immensely hard to get out. It’s not tough (for me) to enter into that pool. Just stride right in. Getting out, though? The clothes are laden with water and soaking wet, it’s like wearing sopping lead encased around you. If you’re really good at it, you can pull yourself out that pool on your own under your own strength – which you had to put work in to get. If there is a ladder, you can make a valiant effort to climb out yourself since there is a dedicated route out. But there are times you’re simply going to need help from another person on land to help pull you out.
As I usually say regularly on this blog, I’m around the music industry a lot, particularly the Rock part. This means I’m literally surrounded with artists who are known for having dark or dark-adjacent lyrics:
Linkin Park – “Suicide lyrics all over the place, life is suffering and my head won’t quiet”
P.O.D. (my top favorite band) – “I hear voices and can God make them stop?”
Korn – “Life is not as pretty as the world likes to make it seem, it’s actually quite ugly”
Drowning Pool – “Life is a misery and everyone wants me to pretend to be happy – for their sake”
Evanescence – “Everyone wants me to be what they think I should be, I wish I just could just be me”
By the way, these are all music acts I adore and love. If you give me peppy “Life is awesome, happiness is a choice!”*, I’m going to despise it because, welp, real life isn’t always that great and smiles hardly fix anything. Nihilistic? Ma’haps. Accurate? Yes.
Inb4 “What are you, goth?”: I’m fairly punk goth (and, at times, gothic lolita). My favorite literary era is actually dark romanticist so, yup, you wouldn’t be wrong. Back to the topic:
In this very short sample list of music acts I listen to, there’s a lot of, well, depression and woe to go around. And a couple dead people – as well as a few alive ones who certainly aren’t pushing up daisies … but not from a lack of trying.
Ever since Chester of Linkin Park passed, there has been more talk about mental health and the importance of it in the music industry. Even some venues have signs now with QR codes backstage for someone to scan if they want to talk to someone about what is going on in their head so they can get some mental aid while on tour. Plain ol’ talk therapy with someone they can trust who won’t ferret their secrets out to TMZ or Instagram, all on the privacy of their phone. It’s wasn’t just Chester’s passing who kicked this off, there was a triplet of self-made deaths (I’m being cautious in my wording here because, frankly, I’m talking about mutual friends. I didn’t know Chester but I know many who knew him, as well as others with his end). There was Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots and Chris Cornell. The deaths were fairly close to each other in timing and that made quite a few in the Rock industry upset because it was just getting to be too much.
It is incredibly easy to go into the dark parts of your brain, as an artist, and pull something out that others may consider art. Especially if you were already leaning into that direction to begin with. Doing that in and of itself isn’t bad – it’s when you can’t get out, that’s when it can get pretty bad, if not deadly.
To pause for a brief bit, there is a thing I learned back in my play theory course in college, the 10 creativity myths by Keith Sawyer. Of the ten, two are the deadliest: The mental illness myth (“must be mentally ill to create) and the drug myth (“must be on something to create”). Only 20% of the 10 myths but wracks up 80% of the bodies, in other words.
I’m harshly against drugs – I don’t even drink – so I don’t have that one to worry about (but I have seen it lots, it is a) a myth indeed, you are creative because of you and b) it really robs people of life, either by making them a slave to the addiction, the walking dead, or the literal dead … and it eventually robs them of their art) but the mental illness one I definitely believed a lot growing up. Why? Because it was commonly touted a lot in pop media. Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allen Poe, anyone? I knew I had disorders but I rather “be crazy and creative instead of sane and uncreative like everyone around me”.
Fun fact discovered by Dr. Sawyer (and eventually me): in reality, when you’re in the throes of mental illness, you’re at your least creative – because your brain is re-routing that creativity into self-harming behaviors and/or you’re simply too out of it to even create anything. You can’t write a poem while trying to put your head in the oven. You can’t bang out a song when all your brain is figuring out how tall a building you need to spring off of. You lose energy, you lose passion, you lose time. No one I know in the creative fields stayed in self-destructive modes and lasted for a very long time with zero repercussions, ranging from vociferous band arguments, hospital interventions to a decrease in art and an increase of worry from others. Something always gave and it was never fun or pretty.
I learned from the music folks I’m around – and therapy – how to navigate that. That I don’t have to wallow in the dark because while it can be comforting at times, it’s really deadly when left unchecked and unnoticed. It isn’t perfect but it’s better than prior.
Besides, it is really difficult to get out that pool.
It takes time to learn how to do it and how to do it safely. A lot of my music friends had to learn how to do it themselves to some degree because they noticed the old saying of “live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse” is, welp, a load of bullsh*t when you’re standing over a tombstone of someone gone too soon. Sounds great when you’re trying to separate some kid from their money in the name of pretend nihilism and selfish hedonism, sound overwhelmingly offensive when you actually know people who are dead because that saying had been the mantra for the music industry for decades.
As a writer of dark works and horror, it’s important to know how to walk yourself out of the dark. Learn how to take a break and look at comforting things, even if the comforting thing is a little macabre, something to help be a ladder to get you out of the dark. Develop healthy coping mechanisms, not ones that will eventually rob you of your art and perhaps your life.
Nothing is wrong with writing messed up stories where they’re all wicked and gory (says the goth horror writer) but you can’t really do much with them if you don’t figure a way to get out of that pool and walk out of the dark.
You don’t necessarily have to walk into the pretty, happy-shiny light but it is important to not simply drown in the deep just because that’s where the art comes from.
*Gotta love the game “We Happy Few”
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