Taylor Swift, like her or hate her, you cannot deny the girl’s “got it”. As the most commercially successful artist in the country/pop genre, Swift’s recent album “Red” sold a massive 1.208 million copies in the U.S.in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan (which tracks sales statistics for the entertainment industry). Released on October 22, 2012, Red debuted at No. 1 on both the Billboard 200 and Country Albums charts, and garnered sales of 3,892,000 in the remaining 10 weeks of 2012 alone.
Although only 32 weeks have passed since Red was released, Swift revealed yesterday that she’s ready to get back to work.
“It’s starting,” she told reporters backstage at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville on Thursday. “All the anxiety is starting. When the anxiety starts, the writing happens right after, usually.” (USA Today)
Excuse me? Could you repeat that, Taylor? How does this mega-star begin her creative process? With inspiration? New ideas? A sense of peace and quiet within and without? No. With anxiety.
As an artist and musician myself who has struggled with anxiety throughout my life, this quote got my attention. Though talented, driven and capable of artistic success, my emotional life has at times overwhelmed me to the point that I do not produce or pursue my art. This then causes more strong feelings, which stops my expression some more. Rinse and repeat, sometimes for years. Does this sound familiar to anybody out there?
In attempting to disentangle myself from this cycle, I’ve read books, self-reflected endlessly, tried medication, traditional psychotherapy, and a host of alternative therapies. In doing so, I’ve discovered that a great part of the problem is my belief that I have a problem.
In “Awakening Minerva: The Power of Creativity in Women’s Lives” author Linda A. Firestone, PhD states:
“Research indicates that creative behavior is conditioned upon a tolerance for strong emotions and uncertainty. It is so, because those are the conditions of the creative process.”
Interestingly, ironically, paradoxically for most people, these are also the prime conditions for anxiety. Is there a lesson here? Are there treasures hidden in or by anxiety that we may, as a society, be pathologizing away? According to experts (and Taylor Swift), the answer is yes.
“It turns out that creativity and anxiety travel the same road together. Just as the Buddhist pays special attention to suffering and the Christian pays special attention to sin, the everyday creative person pays special attention to anxiety. She understands that she must write her songs against a backdrop of anxiety, and that because of anxiety she may be tempted by tranquilizing drugs. She understands that her inability to write her novel and her anxiety about writing a bad novel are somehow intertwined, and that if she could just calmly say yes to the book it would spill right out…Is life nothing but suffering? No. Are we perpetual sinners? No. Is there nothing but anxiety? No. But there is plenty of anxiety to go around; it is real, and it matters.” ~ Eric Maisel, The Creativity Book
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that anxiety disorders:
• Are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United Sates age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population)
• Cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill, according to “The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders,” a study commissioned by ADAA (The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry,60(7), July 1999)
• Are highly treatable
• Often co-occur with other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
These statistics are staggering, undeniable. And let’s not forget that behind each number is a person struggling to overcome in themselves what feels unbearable, what they believe they should not be experiencing. But what if all this feeling, this internal pressure, is instead rather normal? What if it’s our definition of “normal” that’s abnormal? How much time, money, and personal distress could be saved?
I have to wonder, could Taylor Swift do what she does with the same facility if that flutter in her stomach was medicated away? What if she believed she had a problem rather than a gift? I have to applaud her candor in owning her emotional states and creating with them rather than running from them. I believe it is this raw emotion in her work that people respond to.
Because we’re all Taylor Swift. We are human, we feel. And we are all attempting (with varying degrees of success) to deal with ourselves, to exist soulfully, to present ourselves to one another and the world around us without disintegrating.
What are your experiences with anxiety and your creative process? I’d like to see us sharing them freely with one another, developing wisdom and tolerance for our true experiences, rather than pathologizing them away. Let’s normalize for ourselves and each other what, as it turns out, is often already normal. What gifts can we uncover and give permission to, as we do so?
Now, I’m off to listen to Red!
Written By: Cybelle Clements