For most of my teenage life, I lived alongside two somewhat conflicting narratives:
- My name is Ashlyn and some days – long afternoons, bittersweet mornings, dark nights – I hate myself.
- My name is Ashlyn and I was born to turn my pain into something beautiful.
I love(d) to create, whether I was stringing sentences into stories or thread through the shoulders of a garment or paint across the palms of my bare hands. The process of turning raw material into a finished product with the potential to inspire, change life fascinated me.
But I also love(d) to play the comparison game. I measured my bones against classmates and envied the long-limbed, dead-eyed models haunting every billboard, every grocery store checkout, every gossip magazine. I measured my art against that of those who had been creating for decades. When I realized I wasn’t like the others, not quite good enough, I took matters into my own hands.
I lost myself.
I grew up, fumbling, pain my security blanket and darkness my compass. Depression was a maze that trapped me in, hand-in-hand with my childhood friends: envy, pride, and desperation.
What I didn’t realize was that in these months of hurt, I was losing so much more than time. I was wasting the precious, bright spark of inspiration, the cherished part of my identity that so defined the world for me in brilliant color.
Writing evaded me. Designing chanced me. I couldn’t quite figure out how to channel my creativity away from my pain.
Which is how I discovered positive self-talk, self-love, and everything that meant, and would continue to mean, to me. Instead of calling myself worthless, I would gently redirect with baby girl, you’re beautiful. Words like tarnished and never-good-enough and stupid were replaced by valued and courageous and creative.
I discovered that positive self-talk, when paired with creativity, was the key that allowed me to jump out of a dark, negative head space, and into a positive, affirming one.
This is because creating from a positive place helps you…
#1: Dive headfirst into “work,” without those ugly voices in the back of your head hindering every step of progress you make.
“To reach a port we must set sail – Sail, not tie at anchor Sail, not drift.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
- If you’re putting in time and effort to silence your critical or negative voices, creativity can be a fantastic subconscious stress-reliever. You don’t have to bend your brain to keep the depression at bay because you’re distracted by the beauty of what you’re accomplishing! It's amazing to just create without judging what you're doing. I urge you all to work to get there.
#2: Find the space and grace to grapple with negativity and depression in your art.
“Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”
- The idea is this: if you’re not living out of that place of pain – and you’re emotionally and mentally grounded – accessing those deeper emotions becomes an exercise in rediscovery instead of wallowing. You’re not retreating back into your mind, you’re tapping into your emotions so that they can be expressed, and even used to encourage others, in what you create.
3: Put your brain back in “good gear.”
“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.”
- George Eliot
- What do I mean by “good gear?” It’s that future-forward, brightness-of-tomorrow outlook on life. Shaking loose the negative thoughts frees up space for hope, joy, and transformation in your life. Creativity can become something to anticipate, rather than dread.
So how do I get started?
It's easier than you think. I challenge you to take note of at least 5 negative things you think or feel today. Write them down and then beside them, write 5 positive things. When you feel those negative thoughts popping up again, pull out a positive word and vanquish the monsters back into hiding.
With time and effort, you’ll begin to see a slow change in how you perceive yourself and your art. (And yes, anything creative counts as art - whether you're a DIY-er, a painter, a writer, a baker, a singer, or a graphic designer.) You might even find your art evolving – into something different, yes, but possibly into something more beautiful, more breath-taking, more inspired than you ever thought possible.
Readers, jump in: have you / do you ever struggle(d) with negative self-talk? Are you willing to step forward into a happier, more positive head space? Do you create art, music, poetry, photography, etc.? How has your creative process and art been affected by personal challenges?