[[Note: trigger warnings for mental illness, bipolar disorder, medication, and some spoilers for Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette.]]

These days, I call it burning, but for most of my life, I called it flying.

It’s that feeling when you’re wrapped up in a writing project so hard you look up, and half a day has gone by. You haven’t moved, you haven’t drunk or eaten or talked to anyone. You work and work until your knuckles hurt, and there are words flowing out of you, and you can’t stop until it’s all done. Then you look up, realize what time it is, and fall over because the words are done for the day and you’ve been doing it. You’ve been flying.

That’s what writing when you’re me feels like.

Well, a lot of the time. Some days it’s just normal. I get up, I do my morning routine (take my meds, get some grub, boop the cat, check my email, mess around on Facebook) and then it’s off to the word mines. And on those days, they are indeed the word mines. I check an outline, I write notes, I putter around, I get the words going however I can, tugging that little mining cart up the hill towards those far-off paragraphs and… y’know, this analogy has gotten away from me. I digress.

Those are the hard days at the job because that’s what it is – writing, like making any art, is a job. It’s craft and talent and passion rolled up into one ball. It’s doing a thing you worked hard to learn to do the best you can. You’re capturing those weird little ideas rolling around in your head and making them into words, then lines, then paragraphs, and somehow they’re all supposed to reach out to someone who reads them and make their brains go POOF, I LIKE THIS. No pressure or anything, writer, just take the ephemeral and translate it onto a page.  You make it happen as best as you can.

Then, there are the other days. The days when BLEH becomes BANG. The days when something just clicks and comes roaring down the pipe inside my brain and it’s all I can do to get to my computer because it’s ready to go and that’s it. Get out of the way.

fantasy-2934774_1920I call it burning these days because that’s what it feels like: like there’s an idea inside me burning its way out. But when I was younger, I called it flying. What I really meant was controlled falling. Like there was a tornado going on and I would leap off something and ride right through the middle of it, all the way up, chasing words. Because that’s what it felt like for me, rolling on through the manic energy that comes with being bi-polar.

There’s a lot of folks who equate the manic energy of being bi-polar with the creative spark that drives artists to brilliance. They point to so many great artists in history who lived with mental illness and say, “there it is, that energy, that’s what made them great!”

Except for so many artists, mental illness didn’t make them great. It made them ill. And if they weren’t careful, it made them gone.


MV5BY2I3MThmYTctZTU4YS00YWNmLTg4YzktNDY0ZGE5MmQ3Y2Q3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_Hannah Gadsby’s blockbuster comedy special “Nanette” was billed as exactly that: a comedy. She was meant to get up on stage, make some jokes, and entertain us all on Netflix. Instead, Gadsby delivered what I can only call a commencement speech for comedians, a bait and switch that took the audience from laughter to silence and ultimately to a standing ovation. Gadsby, a queer comedian with a career going back over ten years, started her performance with a fairly standard routine, drawing in the laughs. Then she started explaining how jokes worked, about how they increased tension and then broke it into laughter.

Then, she stopped breaking the tension. And just rose it higher and higher by telling the truth.

She spoke to her audience about a lot of things. Her family, and what it was like coming out to them. About violence, about triggering subjects. She broke from the funny parts of her routine a little over halfway through and talked about quitting comedy because she was tired of making people like herself, a lesbian still fighting with some deep shame issues, into a punchline. I watched in spell-bound silence as Hannah Gadsby deconstructed comedy to its most basic building blocks and rebuilt them into a soapbox, a grand forum where she read the audience a monologue of pain and vulnerability, her farewell to wisecracks and the opening of perhaps a new chapter of honest, open speaking in her life. She was out to speak her truth, and by the end, I was in awe.

It was somewhere in the middle where she told people to fuck off when telling artists to “feel” for their art that I felt the ground open up beneath me a little and I cried.

 

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Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh

She talked about Vincent Van Gogh, the artist who suffered during his life from mental illness, self-medicated, was treated by doctors and struggled to succeed despite his obvious impossible talent due to his sickness. She talked about her knowledge of his life, thanks to her art history degree, and how he only sold one painting his entire life – not because he wasn’t recognized by his community as a genius, but because he struggled to even be part of a community due to his illness.

 

And I thought of the flying and the hard days at the word mines. I thought about the days when I heard the tornado in my head and couldn’t make the words get to my fingers. I thought about the frustration, the depression, the difficulties talking to people about what it sounded like inside my skull some days when I could barely pay attention because of the rush of words and ideas.

Hannah Gadsby told people artists don’t have to suffer for their art, and I’ll forever thank her for having the guts to stand up and say that to the world. Because I used to believe it was true.


anxiety-1337383When I was sixteen, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2.

I came from a family that didn’t really get what being bipolar meant. My parents tried to get it, but when I’d do something irresponsible, it was always because I was ‘bad.’ I tried to explain how it was impossible to keep my whirlwind mind straight sometimes. How it was a battle against depression to get up in the morning and go to class. When I flunked in school, I tried to explain why, when I overcharged my credit card on a manic binge, when I cried for days and couldn’t stop. But those were the bad days. And the good days – those were the days I could take on the world, where no one could stop me, where I was manic off my head. I was out of control.

I went to a therapist when my school suggested it to my parents. The therapist took one look at my behavior and referred me to a psychiatrist, a loud and overbearing man who listened to me talk a mile a minute for fifteen minutes, heard my symptoms, and pulled out a giant prescription pad. I started taking the drugs he gave me but received no explanation about what being bipolar really meant. He never explained what behaviors were unusual, or what could be attributed to the illness, or any coping skills or resources to better understand my situation. He gave me pills and saw me every two weeks. I knew almost nothing about what was going on with me but was even enough to realize I needed more information.

So? I went online.

Because my family didn’t know much about bipolar disorder and my doctor wasn’t telling, I learned a lot from the internet. Those were the wild and wooly early days of the internet, when it was the 90’s and everyone was in AOL chat rooms and the world was a wacky, wacky place. It was on the internet I found a community of roleplayers that eventually led me to the career I have today. It was also where I got a LOT of bad advice about mental illness.

I read a lot of stories about people being overmedicated or given the wrong medication. I heard stories about people being committed by their families if they didn’t hide what was wrong with them. But I especially came across the same story over and over from people who had been medicated. “If you go on the drugs,” they said, “the creative drive goes away. You’ll lose that spark inside you. If you want to be an artist, stay away from medication. It’ll kill your art.”

I didn’t believe it. I was taught doctors were to be trusted. And besides, I knew I needed help. So I took the drugs the doctor gave me and fell into the worst confluence of events you could imagine. Because the medication the doctor gave me DID kill my creativity. It also made me sleep too much, have no emotions whatsoever, destroyed my memory, and made me gain tons of weight. And every time I brought this up to my doctor, his answer was to add another pill to balance out the others or up my dose.

mental-health-1420801_1920I didn’t realize it until later, but I had a bad doctor. What I did know was at the height of this medicine dance, I’d spend my days sleeping, or staring at a television, and feeling nothing at all. I couldn’t even cry. But maybe worst of all, I struggled to create. I couldn’t find that spark inside me like I used to, that flying feeling that gave me inspiration. In the moments when I could feel something, it was the overwhelming terror of going back into that stupor once again.

This went on from the time I was seventeen, when I was so messed up I dropped out of high school, until I was nearly 19. In between, I struggled to get my GED so I could at least get into college and proceeded to flunk there too due to the medication’s impossible weight on my mind. I went through so many ridiculous emotional issues I can’t describe, but all of it was through a curtain of medication so thick I can barely pull up memories from that time.

The times my emotions would push through was during what I discovered later were hypomanic phases, mood swings so strong they butted through the haze and made me wildly unstable. All the while I struggled to get my life in order, and every time I did, it was under a fog of badly managed medication, or through the adrenaline of mania so strong I could barely function. I didn’t understand I was badly medicated, of course. All I knew was everything was falling to pieces, all the time, and I couldn’t feel a solid, real emotion long enough to care.

So in 2002, in one of those moments of emotional lucidity, I made a decision to stop taking my meds. I suddenly thought: the internet is right, this is a horrible, horrible mistake. I trusted my experience and my terror and I stopped taking my meds.

And well, to quote one of my heroines from the time, Buffy:

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What followed were ten years of the roughest, rockiest, unbelievably manic, altogether difficult experiences of my life. I had bouts of going back on medication, but would always stop for one reason or another. I’d make excuses but each time it was the same thing: I convinced myself I didn’t feel right on the medication. That I couldn’t feel that creative spark I so relied on as part of my life. I was afraid of going back to that medically-induced haze I’d been in before. I hid from it and kept riding the tornado, every day. And like any tornado, my instability left chaos and destruction in its wake.

I can’t say I regret those ten years. They taught me a lot. I regret a lot of the horrible decisions I made, the people I hurt, the situations I got into where I got ripped up myself. I have memories I’ll never forget, instances of realizing too late I’d gotten into something because of my mania that led ultimately to disaster.

But I remember the creative highs. The way I could just fly like the wind and produce 12,000 words in a night. How I could map out entire novels, series of books, all the things in the world I thought I could create. I wrote papers, read whole book series, stayed up for days on end, played role-playing games from morning until night, and never, ever saw anything wrong with where I was in life. Because I was living that artists life and I thought, hey, this is me. This is who I am.

I know now the truth: that was the illness talking. The living high on life, throwing caution to the wind, tornado voice? Is the manic voice. And unless tempered with medication and coping mechanisms can lead to disaster.

From 2002 until 2012 I remained largely unmedicated. And those ten years are, in hindsight, an unspoken cautionary tale of someone not flying, but falling without recognizing the drop in altitude. A tale of someone on a corkscrew through rough weather, catching fire all the way down.


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I went to grad school in 2012 and thank god for so many reasons that I did. It’s not even my education I laud when I think of those years, but a single day in November 2012. I’d only been in classes for two months and already I was starting to lose it from the stress. The day I broke down with a massive anxiety attack after a critique from a teacher, hiccuping with tears and hyperventilating in a bathroom, I walked across the street to the health clinic and got an appointment with a mental health counselor. There, a very nice man named Bob talked to me about my experiences, about what I knew about bipolar disorder.

Bob told me some truth about where I was at and what I needed. He said he was surprised I’d gotten as far as I did going the way I was. He listened to my fears about going on meds and what had happened in the past. Then he calmly explained how he was going to give me medication and we’d work together to find what worked.

The first day I took medication, I woke up in the morning and the tornado was quieter. Not quiet, but less a twisting funnel of noise and more of a loud echo. I called up someone who was then a friend (who had experience with the medication I’d started taking) and broke down crying. I asked him: is this what normal felt like? I had no idea it would get even better.

Six years later, I’ve never been off my medication a single day. And I’ve graduated from grad school, survived a brain surgery and being diagnosed with two serious chronic illnesses, ending up using a wheelchair, running my own business, becoming a writer, and too many personal ups and downs to count. Each of them I tackled with a surety in myself I never could have before, because I was no longer screaming through a tornado all the time. More importantly, I’ve spent those years creating games and writing work I’ve made with deliberateness and careful consideration. When I create, it was no longer controlled falling, but dedicated flight on a controlled course. Well, most of the time.

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I won’t say everything became perfect after I started medication because I won’t let blogging make a liar out of me. Being bipolar is a constant system of checks and balances. These days, I fight against needing my medication adjusted a lot, against depression and anxiety, mania and hypomania. I still end up flying some days, sometimes for days at a time, because as time goes on the body changes and you have to adjust to new needs, new doses, new medication.

Coping mechanisms change, life situations go ways you never expected, mania and depression rear their ugly head. But the day I went on medication was one of the greatest days of my life, because it was the day my creative spark stopped becoming an excuse to keep putting up with an illness that was killing me.

I did some research online (now responsibly!) about artists who were known to have fought with mental illness. Google it some time and it’ll be a stark look into some suffering for art you might not know about. People know about Van Gogh, but what about Beethoven and David Foster Wallace, Georgia O’Keefe and Sylvia Plath, Goya and Cobain, Robin Williams and Amy Winehouse. I did research and discovered artists like Mariah Carrey, Demi Lovato, Catherine Zeta Jones, Vivien Leigh, Russell Brand, Linda Hamilton, and of course Carrie Fischer all have/had bipolar disorder. Their stories, their struggles, are well known.

I read books about people theorizing about the connection between mental illness and creativity and shake my head. I don’t need to know the connection, because if there is one, it doesn’t matter to me. I take my medicine and work my craft at the same time because I don’t need to suffer as an artist. I don’t need the mania to take flight and reach inspiration. I can do that on my own.

 

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So speaketh the General, the Princess, Carrie Fischer

 

Mental illness and the struggle against it is one I’ll tackle for the rest of my life. But to quote Hannah Gadsby: “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.” The day I started on my journey to getting better by taking medication, by denying the world my suffering and instead gave myself permission to live healthier while making art, was the day I started rebuilding myself into the strongest version of me. Every day, one more brick, with every word I write, I build myself higher.

And so I offer a special thanks to Hannah Gadsby, and her brave “Nanette,” for reminding me of how important that choice was to my life. For reminding me I owe nobody my suffering to make what is precious to me, and that a creator doesn’t need to push aside their own mental health to be hailed as an artist. Thank you, Hannah, for your strength. May you find your inspiration wherever you walk.

Charlie-Hebdo_2439511b

Back in 2011, the offices of a French satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo was firebombed. The picture above is of the magazine’s editor, Stéphane Charbonnier aka Charb, holding the reason for the attack: a cartoon they decided to print that depicted the Prophet Muhammad. By the laws of Islam, it is religiously prohibited to create a likeness of the Prophet in any way, and so the cartoon was considered sacrilege. The cartoonist, as well as any associated with the project, received death threats. The offices were fire bombed. And yet the cartoon was published anyway. It was joined in subsequent years by numerous other cartoons of Muhammad, each compiling the rage aimed at the Paris-based magazine.

After publishing the comic, Charb was quoted in 2012 as saying, “I would rather die standing than live on my knees.”

Well, Charb is dead now. He was shot dead in the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris on January 7th. He was murdered alongside eleven others, including three of the other cartoonists who helped found Charlie Hebdo – Cabu, Tignous, and Wolinski. Eleven others were injured in the attack, four critically. Of the twelve killed, eight were journalists and two were police officers.

The alleged murderers were caught on camera walking into the building all in black. They executed a police officer first, then went up to the office and started shooting. Reports state that they called out the names of those they were going to kill, then executed them. This came from the mouth of one of the suspects, who just before the beginning of my writing this surrendered himself to police. Eighteen-year-old Hamyd Mourad is in custody while the other killers, Said and Cherif Koachi, are both at large. At the time of this writing, so much is still unknown about what happened, about the whereabouts of the two other suspects. But one thing is clear to anyone who is paying attention:

Twelve people lost their lives in Paris on January 7th over the art they created.

From the moment this horrible event happened, people have been jumping to politicize the tragedy. Newspapers across the world trotted out the “Behold, the true and horrible face of Islam!” garbage. (And it is garbage, please, because radicals are radicals and not representative of a whole religion, so let’s not dance that dance, okay?) Donald Trump climbed out of the woodwork to post on Twitter that the victims of this tragedy would have been better off if they’d had guns to protect themselves (yeah, Captain Hairpiece, like the cops didn’t have those – oh why do I bother). Still others wanted to use this to talk about immigration into European countries. Agendas by the armload. Agendas from the rooftops, across blogs and social media and pundit pieces galore. But if you stop listening to the politics for two seconds- close your ears to it and shut your eyes- you’ll hear another rumbling going on across the internet from creators of art everywhere. They’re all asking:

Is this the new standard? When did creating art become so dangerous?

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Stéphane Charbonnier aka Charb, 2012.

The truth is, it always was. Painters, writers, musicians, poets, illustrators, comic book makers, dancers – all have expressed their ideas in countries across the world and been subject to censure. Some has been subtle, and some has been overt, and a lot of times it’s come down to violence. Because in plenty of places, the freedom of expression, the freedom to create, has not and does not come free.

But today, in 2014, we take for granted that we have the freedom in the western world to create in safety. Our right to freedom of expression is unassailable, inalienable.

Until someone walks into a magazine headquarters and murders people for making cartoons.

It would almost sound absurd if it wasn’t so horrifying. Cartoons of a religious figure made some people angry enough that they picked up guns, walked into a Paris building, and executed other human beings.

Do you shudder at that? I do. It shakes me down to the core.

I’ve written in my time about being considerate with the content of your creative work, about being sure that when you produce art that you are trying to do right by your readership in terms of representation, inclusivity, and sensitivity. And there are battles in our media constantly about content, things that make people angry, things that are meant to shock and are sensational and that trigger and that offend. But at the core of these arguments is always the same (sometimes uncomfortable) ending to the conversation: people should have the right to create what they wish. And when we shrug our shoulders and shake our heads at that, we are glossing over the importance of that saying.

We live in a world where people should have the right to create what they wish.

People lived, fought, worked, and even died to make the freedom to create a right. In some parts of the world, parts far away from the safety of our western lives, they are fighting for that right today in real and bloody ways against open threats we can’t imagine. That right says that for the world to grow and expand and evolve, we as human beings have the right to express ourselves through our speech, our artwork, our writing, all of it. And while we might disagree with someone else’s creations, we are all part of the glorious tapestry of things that are made and things that are expressed. In other words: you might not like it, but you’re not the arbiter of what gets to be created. You are not the arbiter of freedom.

Until someone decides they are. And they pull out some guns. And they go to an office one day in January.

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By: David Pope

To say that the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo is an attack on freedom of expression is not an attempt to politicize a tragedy, but a solid conclusion. It was the choice of three men to take their grievance over their own religious outrage and turn it into violence. They didn’t choose to make a piece of art slamming Charlie Hebdo. They didn’t make a speech or write a column or make a documentary or any number of proactive ways to express their opinions. They instead decided that they were the arbiters of freedom of expression. Their beliefs trumped another’s right to make things, to express, and ultimately to live.

Does that sound dramatic? Sure. Does that make you nervous? I hope it does. It should.

The right to create is not unassailable. It can be assailed. And when it is assailed, we all feel that shudder as everyone looks around and wonders: should I speak my mind? Should I open my mouth? Make that art? Write that piece? Because in the end, could I be next?

Fear lives in those moments, when you duck your head and wonder if the angry face across from you when you speak your mind will punch you in the face. When those angry comments on the internet will lead to a credible threat on your person. When the credible threat might turn into that one in a thousand, one in a million, that might send you to the hospital, or worse.

That’s fear, right there. That’s what it tastes like. Makes you nervous? Yeah, me too.

And I say to that fear: Fuck. You.

By Neelabh Banerjee
By Neelabh Banerjee

I can’t believe I’m going to quote a Broadway musical, but in Rent one of the lyrics goes: “The opposite of war isn’t peace – its creation.” Sounds easy to say, right? But when there are legitimately people being shot for their creations, its not hard to see the correlation. Peace sounds nice, very solemn and simple and a space made of rest after a conflict, settled and silent and still.

I’m not interested in just being peaceful. I’m interested in creating, so better days can lie ahead besides ones ruled with gun and bomb and threat and repression. I’m interested in sharing ideas, in shaking things up, in making jokes and games and stories and songs. In hearing and seeing and experiencing that which makes the world a brighter, louder, more vibrant place. And with harm to none, I say this: we have to keep creating, no matter the fear. Because we don’t choose guns to share our ideas but words and pictures and music that proves stronger than any bullet at making a point. And in those creations, we celebrate that right and we fight to make sure it doesn’t die out. We create so we can stand up too.

Charb said he wanted to die standing, and he did. And tonight, the cops are hunting halfway across the world for people who chose to destroy his work, who decided to kill him and the other victims of this massacre, over a cartoon.

Does that bother you? It bothers me. It sure as hell does.

By Buzzfeed's Nathan W. Pyle, Loryn Brantz, and Will Varner.
By Buzzfeed’s Nathan W. Pyle, Loryn Brantz, and Will Varner.

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“Hi, my name’s Shoshana Kessock. I’m the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions, an indie gaming company out of Brooklyn. I’m also an NYU Game Design student at the Game Center. I’m also a nerd blogger and fiction writer.”

That was sort of my introduction at my recent panel at PaxPrime during the You Game Like A Girl panel. I was nervous. Nay, I was very nervous. There were lights in my eyes. The audience was full of people. There was even a podium for Anja Keister to stand behind. I was having a little bit of a panic moment – and then I let my introduction go. It was a mouthful. It was a textbook example of a problem I found I’ve run into over and over again since I joined the game design community: I keep reciting my resume to people.

In the airport on the way back from Pax, I asked a friend of mine what he thought of my panel. He sort of froze for a second, then said, (and this is paraphrasing): “Do you want some criticism? You said too much in your introduction. You don’t need to justify why you’re up there. You could say ‘I’m a game designer’ – BAM, that’s it. But you’re always trying to prove why you deserve to be there.”

Ouch. Hard to hear. But he was one hundred percent correct.

Hi, I’m Shoshana Kessock and I have a wicked case of impostor syndrome.

Impostor Syndrome, for those that don’t know, is “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.” (Thank you Wikipedia for a great description). Call it fraud complex or impostor phenomenon, I’ve got a whopping case of it and I don’t mind admitting it.

Example: Sunday morning I was interviewed after the successful panel the night before to be part of a documentary on Polaris, a YouTube channel. The gentleman doing the interview was wonderful and started out asking me my name and what I do. I tossed out the same long-ass line of introduction. And then he asked me to talk a little bit more about what I’ve done in game design. And I positively froze. Why was he asking? my brain asked. After hearing that, does he not believe I belong on camera? Maybe he’s not interested in what I have to say? Maybe he’s figured out I don’t belong here. Maybe-

It goes from there, folks. The internal monologue of self-doubt and concern. And the end question: maybe I haven’t earned calling myself a game designer after all?

What the heck does that even MEAN?

imposter-434It’s only recently that I’ve started talking about these feelings in a public forum. A lot of people believe that talking about your issues and your psychological states while working is weak, or embarrassing, or simply something one doesn’t do at all. Why that is? Society’s got a history of trying to cover up perceived weaknesses in what I can only imagine is some kind of sociological throwback to caveman days, where we believed showing weakness would get us automatically predated upon. This can be reenforced by those ass-hats out there who DO act like haters, who do treat creative industries like some kind of Wall Street, greed-is-good hunting ground where there is only so much awesomeness to go around, who sling their jealousy and their own self-doubt at others to perpetuate the battle for success. (To which I say: hey guys, this isn’t Highlander, there doesn’t need to be only one! Put the claymores and backbiting away!)

As much as this world can be a rat-race, with everyone battling for their piece of the pie, I’ve embraced the notion in my life that our post-caveman world can be a place of honesty rather than obfuscation, compassion versus pure competition, and community versus blatant adversarialism. So I started to talk about my feelings, my issues, and my wicked case of the ‘I don’t belong heres’. And you know what I discovered?

I’m not alone.

There are so many other people who feel this way. So many other creators who have found success who are steeped in this demoralizing idea that they were ‘just lucky’ for having what they have. Mired among feelings of self-doubt, self-consciousness, and lack of self-confidence, this impostor syndrome tries to tell folks who have worked hard and have talent that we don’t belong where we’ve gotten. We look around at other people who are successful in our field, sometimes people who we have put up on a pedestal to admire, and we say ‘I can’t walk with these guys, I’m not in that pantheon.’ So we disbelieve success or our own self-worth. We don’t believe we’re good enough to succeed.

I have this issue in spades. I have been able to recognize how fortunate I am for the chances that I have been given, for the opportunities that have come my way to get where I am. I thank the folks who have helped me find the path I’m on and trusted me with collaborating on projects or partnering with me for events. Yet often when I consider the things I’ve done, I see them as happy luck and forget one thing: I did work to get there too and part of that accomplishment is mine. So when someone asks me about what I do, I still feel the urge to look around furtively, as if someone is going to show up, point to me in a dramatic fashion like that monkey from Family Guy and declare: “She doesn’t deserve that accolade! She’s only lucky she got here! Look, a fraud!”

My brain is also a terribly dramatic place full of B-movie dialogue. But you get the idea.

Where the hell does this idea come from? How does it get in your head? I track the idea back to the notion that has been perpetuated by a lot of society that if you’re successful in creative fields, it’s because of luck. It’s difficult to be a creative person, says the world, and there’s a million of you out there who want to be successful writers/artists/dancers/ect. You have to sweat and work your way up, pay your dues, and then if you’re lucky (there’s that word again), you’ll get the breaks and you’ll ‘make it’. As if making it comes with some kind of ribbon that tells you that you’ve arrived. As if all the hard work nights are just some kind of quick montage sequence that you go through in thirty seconds, only for the important part of your life narrative to be gifted to you in some kind of lucky happenstance. It’s all very Disney-movie, the uplifting inspiring story of the artist who struggled but finally made their break because of a gift from a patron that just fell into their lap. That’s the repeated story we see presented to us: the artist is recognized because some magical godmother/godfather comes down and recognizes talent, christens us ‘worthy’, and suddenly fame and fortune follow.

Worse than this bizarre made-for-tv-movie mentality however is the piece of sage advice handed down by lots of people when aspiring creators ask them how to become a ‘professional’ creative. The answer almost always begins with these damning words: being a ____________ is really hard and it’s really difficult to work your way in. That discouragement comes with an almost implied subtext that I believe works its way into our view of being a creative professional:

Being creative is hard, the world says, and there’s a million like you. So what makes you special?

And of course, the also implied: what makes you worthy?

tumblr_l996sh1Qvy1qc3besThe answer to all these questions can be a little difficult to hear at first, but here goes: you’re not special.

You’re not special, or lucky, or a unique snowflake. There are a lot of people out there who are working hard to become creatives, and they’re not special either. They’re all however capable of awesome things, just like you, and you are part of a community of talented folks who are striving to bring their talent out into the world. You are distinct in your vision and your use of your talent and the vision you bring to your creative drive. You are distinct in the hard work you put into your work and the way in which you recognize and seize opportunities to put forward your efforts. You aren’t special in some ephemeral, capricious way that is gifted by some nebulous authority. You’re worthy because of the way you strive to make your vision a reality. You’re worthy because we’re all worthy and the only thing that sets us apart is how much hard work you put in to hone your craft. You’re worthy then because you have the skill to back up your talent, born of your drive to succeed.

That’s my antidote to this impostor syndrome problem. Have I yet achieved a state of zen with the problem? Nope. I still get flustered and confused when people come up to me and say, “Hey, I really liked that thing you did” or “thanks for that game!” I can’t seem to get my brain to accept one basic premise: you worked hard, now accept the praise. 

It’s a work in progress. Until the day when the notion of that finger-pointing dramatic authority appearing out of nowhere finally disappears out of my head, I’ll just spend my time reminding myself that I am worthy and I work hard. And I will keep thanking the folks who like my stuff because hey, there’s still appreciation. But I’m also going to work on not reciting my resume everywhere and instead just saying:

“Hi, I’m Shoshana Kessock. I’m a writer and game designer. Thanks for listening.”