The Peaks and Perils of Being a Mentally Ill Content Creator

While this article may be geared towards my work as a streamer and writer, I hope to make this applicable to whatever your preferred creative form may be. So whether you’re a streamer or writer like myself, Youtuber, musician, artist, cosplayer, crocheter, whatever you may be! I hope you can find some levity and potentially some guidance in these words…

 

Turning Pain into Passion

Four years ago I started to write for a small time indie gaming website called The Game Bolt. It was also about this time when I started to recognize my depression’s resurgence. To cope with this I talked to my editors to see if I could write a series about gaming and mental illness. I began to write the still ongoing series I occasionally tackle called “Trigger Warnings.” I was inspired by the game Neverending Nightmares and its designer’s implementation of depression and OCD into the format of an interactive story. Neverending Nightmares, and ostensibly “Trigger Warnings,” came at a rather inauspicious time in my life when latent, lifelong trauma started to resurface after years of laying dormant. All through my undergraduate career, the rigor and structure of college life helped keep my mind focused away from the horrors I had suffered while growing up. Not to mention I lived in a welcoming theological community that helped lift my spiritual life. And a long romantic engagement helped fill in all the cracks of self-doubt that surfaced. I was living a life of promise.

However, when the years of repressed, unattended emotions starting flooding back, without the consistency of an academic schedule and the trials of adjusting to post-graduate life, my then undiagnosed psychological disorders flooded my ability to function on a day to day basis. One by one, the different areas of my life started to crumble away. In desperation I took to frantically looking for answers. I found a local psychiatry office, scheduled an appointment, and in a few months time was diagnosed.

My diagnosis was Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Severe Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. This diagnosis was both terrifying and relieving at the same time. I now had a name to put to the fever my psyche was experiencing. I now had a jumping on point to where I could learn to eventually combat these struggles. However, my diagnosis came all too late. By then, I had lost everything I knew up until that point. I was so dysfunctionally depressed and anxious I couldn’t handle the stress of work, academia, relationships, anything.

I did, however, have two things that helped keep me grounded above all else. Where ever-changing medication, tenuous friendships, failing relationships, a troubled work history, and most importantly, my own mind had failed me, I had video games and writing. Even in the the most tumultuous of times, my lifelong love for gaming and writing became my center. While the world outside of those moments was hellish and uncertain I felt at peace with creating content.

 

The Unseen Struggles

Somewhere along the line, the crushing realization of having had and lost everything also came with an odd serenity because I knew I could do anything I wanted. (Thanks Chuck!) I looked at my grounding points, my passions, and decided to run with them.

In the Fall of 2016, I started streaming on Twitch just using my Xbox One. I had no camera, a crappy headset, and a fairly limited collection of games. I took to re-hosting the articles I used to write for The Game Bolt and started my own website. I also started to go to conventions to give talks on video games and psychology. Which leads to now when my content creation has become a part time job for me. Between writing in depth articles and streaming four to six nights a week, content creation has become a focal point in my life. While I may not be one of the big fish in the pond, I’m certainly content with how far I’ve come and my wonderful community that is a blessing on my life.

However, there are moments where none of this seems to matter to me. There are days where my depression becomes too big or anxiety too overwhelming and everything I’ve worked so hard to create over the years falls out from underneath me. Which of course, is the very nature of psychological disorders that affect our self-perception and perception of reality, specifically for me with depression, anxiety, and ADD. Each bringing their own set of challenges to the table.

 

-Roadblocks in Content Creation-

Those who experience depression and anxiety in tandem know the struggle of the two playing off of each other. Something comes up you need to deal with. You get too depressed to deal with it. Then you get anxious because you haven’t dealt with it and the problem gets bigger or the dead line gets closer. Which in turn makes you more depressed because it’s “your fault” it hasn’t been dealt with. It is a vicious cycle that feeds on itself. Whenever you’re not creating content, it’s easy to think that it’s “wasted time” and build up anxieties of inconsistency or a lack of content.

Twitch is my main avenue of content creation, but my favorite medium is writing. I often find myself desperately wanting to write articles but I cannot find the time to do so. On my bad days I’m taking time off stream to self-care rather than push myself. So I fall behind and when I come out of my depressive slump I have catching up to do on Twitch with updates, networking, events, and so on. In turn, my articles fall to the side and I worry about whether or not my website is getting enough use or traffic. It’s a never ending cycle of desperately wanting to create and not being able to.

On the Twitch front, I always cancel my streams on days where I can feel myself either slipping into depression or if an overwhelming surge of anxiety means that I need some bed rest to calm down and recollect myself. I do this, not because I want to but because I have to for my own well-being. Again, self-care is important. But it’s easy to get down on myself whenever I decide to cancel a stream. I’m a source of entertainment and of comfort for some people who also suffer from the same disorders I do. So when I don’t stream, it’s easy for anxious and obsessive thoughts to creep into my head of failing my community and failing myself for not doing my duty in creating content.

Suffering from mental illness can serve as a roadblock in creativity. Creativity can be freeing and a good way to channel one’s inner-emotions and thoughts, while paradoxically, it can be stopped dead in its tracks by mental illness. So the very thing that can help you combat mental illness, becomes blocked by it in a frustrating cycle.

-The White Hot Thought-

With today’s polarized social landscape and the often vitriolic nature of the internet it is all too easy to be subjected to unwanted criticism, abuse, and disparagement. The hope of a content creator is that people will connect with their work. However, it is just as easy for someone to spread negativity from childishly trolling all the way to down out right attacking someone. It goes without saying that this sort of behavior can affect anyone but focusing on the realm of mental illnesses, these sorts of interactions can potentially turn nuclear.

One common trait of psychological disorders is self-deprecation and self-doubt fueled by the thought patterns and general psychology and biology of those suffering from mental illness. So when someone comes along on the ether of the internet and makes a negative comment it can be damning as it burrows its way into a creator’s thoughts. These harmful words can be all consuming and can affect a creator outside of their content and even into their daily life.

On good days, I can take in the either negative comments or constructive criticisms with ease. Pushing off trollish behavior for its naive and misguided aims, while taking criticism and concerns about my content as a way to improve myself are part of the process. However, during bad days where I’ve slumped into the mire of depression or anxiety, all it takes is a single comment to start breeding self-doubt. Whatever the interaction may be, it will stay with me long after I’ve ended stream. Long after I’ve made a post. And so when I’m no longer in the realm of internet space, whether I’m at my job, running errands, or trying to relax in my own home, the thought bleeds into my psyche and further offsets my emotions.

The impersonal nature of the internet allows for people to view one’s content with an impersonal eye, as though there isn’t a person pouring their time and passion into their work. It can be hard to not take comments, however unassuming, seriously.

 

-Disingenuously Honest-

Mental illness can also affect the way a content creator views or performs their work. There are moments where all of the positivity and goodwill of a creator’s community doesn’t register. The quality and care put into a piece of content seems like it’s not enough. The negative thought patterns of someone who suffers from mental illness takes away all the effort they’ve put into their work. It presents a weird disconnect where followers, viewers, and fans see the same work they have always loved and appreciated. All the while, the content creator can be completely dissatisfied with their work because it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a place of care. They may view their work as disingenuous despite how much love and passion is going into their product. It can produce a hollow feeling that is discouraging when trying to keep the creative juices flowing.

While internal struggle can often breed our best, most revealing work at times, it can also stunt creativity. Some of my best articles and more emotional streams have come out of trying to create content on a bad day. The work served as a way to expel my inner-turmoil and to further connect with my fans. Then there are days where I sit down to write articles or set up to do a full stream and it’s a placid, draining experience. The result is a product I am not at all satisfied with.

But consistency is key to growth. So what is a content creator to do without without falling into the aforementioned roadblocks?

 

Managing the Stress

There are numerous ways to combat the frustrations of mental health affecting content creation. Between self-care and effective work habits, content creation while under the duress of mental illness can not only be manageable but a boon.

It is imperative to practice healthy self-care practices when combating one’s own mental illness. That notion of self-care can and should also be applied to content creation. It helps to notice when you need a break from different aspects of your life. If content creation is something you can take a step back from, it’s important to do so. I mentioned earlier that consistency is extremely important in content creation. While true, you cannot put out consistent content if you are not well enough to do so. It’s a matter of adjusting your perception of “I’m losing ground” to “I’m doing this to pay off for better mental health and therefore better content.” Just the same as you would take off work for being sick, taking off content creation to treat your mental health is key to producing good content.

Routine is also incredibly effective. It helps to manipulate your time, effort, environment and any other aspects of and around your content creation in whatever ways you can. Setting up realistic times to draw, stream, edit, write, and so on helps take away from the anxiety of irregular content. Learning to balance content creation with other aspects of your life can help to prevent burnout. It helps to make sure you are tackling content without the stressors of everyday life encroaching on that mental space.

But if there’s any one thing that can truly help, it’s the connections made through content creation.

 

The Candle in the Dark

The very essence of content creation is to make something that is important or dear to you in hopes of connecting to an audience. It’s that very connection that can be the absolute best thing to break through the dissonance mental health can cause on content creation.

I’ve been a writer for four years and a streamer for a year and a half. In that time my growth has been somewhat slow but it has been the little connections along the way that break through the gloom of my inhibitions. The moments where someone takes the time and effort to express how they’ve either enjoyed my work or have been helped by it are why I started creating in the first place. My hope was always to help better people’s lives through gaming and to look at video games as something more than simple entertainment. It’s easy to lose sight of that when weeks and months go by and my efforts start to run together with no real breaks or substantial success. But genuine interactions from followers are a reinvigorating experience that justifies all the down times.

It can be hard to internalize the sentiments of others when mental illness bogs down one’s faculties. Again, nature of the beast, as it were. Yet the reality is that content creation, whatever yours may be, is something other people enjoy. People look to content creators to find companionship in whatever that activity is and in reaching out to you, it’s only affirming that fact. So let your community be the thing that boosts you. While a single comment, a bad performance, or stagnancy can be damning, a community can be uplifting in the best of ways. That following is something to cherish as a remember that you’re not in this alone and that your content matters.

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