S. Sloan MacLeod is a Copywriter at Rethink and a multidisciplinary artist. They’re either a Renaissance man, or a Jack-of-all-trades, depending on how you look at it.


tw: depression, suicide, self-harm

Video transcription after the cut.

I worry sometimes that in my willingness to be open about my experiences with depression and anxiety, I romanticize things. It’s not intentional, I’m just an artist, and like any artist, I want the shit I make to be good. I only write about my depression in tidy, sensible essays, and I don’t really talk about its deepest, darkest recesses.

Whenever I speak about it, people call me brave, which is so kind, but untrue. I can be so honest because I shy away from the scariest things that go on in my brain, and instead talk about the stuff that’s easier to understand. And honestly, most of the time my issues seem so obvious that I don’t see the point in trying to pretend they don’t exist. I don’t care if people vaguely know I have mental health problems. I don’t care if that changes their perception of me. I don’t care about most things. Because I’m depressed. And that’s not cool. It’s not cool to not care. Being mentally ill is not cool, even though sometimes it seems like this disease exclusively affects cool artists, like having it somehow validates our creative endeavours, like suffering is the clearest path to meaningful artistic output. It’s not. But we allow that perception to exist because it makes us feel better about ourselves. It makes us feel better about the ugliest parts of our depression. Well, now I’m seeing young people taking pride in being “emo,” and it scares the shit out of me, and I’m annoyed at myself for hiding the ugliest parts of my depression, so, here they are.

I’ve been dealing with this on and off— mostly on— since I was 12. The depression came first, so that’s like my spouse, and the anxiety came later, so that’s like my mistress. I’ve done therapy and taken meds and seen doctors, but I’ve only really had one period of stability in recent years, which was last summer, after which I slowly spiralled into the worst depressive episode of my entire life. I had to cut short a long-haul trip to Europe with my sister that I’d been planning for nearly a year, because I wasn’t sleeping, or eating, I was just derealizing and losing weight at a terrifying pace. I got home in January, and my plan was to rejoin my sister in Europe a month later. All those flights added up to about $1500 that I ended up wasting, because instead of getting on a plane a couple days after my 19th birthday in February, I tried to kill myself. I had never had auditory hallucinations before, but while I was in the hospital recovering from my overdose, I heard my brain crying.

In March, antidepressants turned me back into a human being, and I suddenly had all of this energy, and I spent most of my days at work and most of my nights out dancing with my friends. I was enjoying myself for the first time in months. Then, on March 26th, because I’m apparently not allowed even a brief respite from the agony of existence, my dad died. The depression came back and overpowered my meds. By July, I was cutting myself almost daily. There was this one day where I had woken up from a horrible nightmare, bawled my eyes out, sliced myself up, but didn’t properly stop the bleeding before I went to work. I ended up bleeding through my clothes. Nobody noticed because our uniforms are all black. There was a cruel irony to it. The invisible illness almost made visible, but not.

At the end of the first week of October, I quit that job. It was at a restaurant, and I had been there for two years. I loved my managers and my coworkers and I was good at what I did. But it was getting too dehumanizing and emotionally exhausting to be treated badly by customers all day every day. A lot of my coworkers asked me where I was going next, and I wasn’t really sure how to say “well… I’m going to take care of myself,” without feeling this deep, horrible shame. Logically, I know self-care is important, I know I can’t expect myself to function at the same level as someone who doesn’t want to off themselves, I know what I’m doing right now is valid, but… and maybe this is just due to the influence of the capitalist culture I was raised in, or my anxiety… I can’t help feeling like now I’m just doing nothing. I can’t help feeling like if I’m not actively contributing anything tangible to the world, then I’m wasting my life. I can’t help feeling like I need to earn the right to take up space. I can’t help feeling like I need to prove that life— my life— is of value to me.

I guess in an effort to be further masochistic, I settled on ‘making art’ as my way of contributing to the world. As if my depressive episodes— during which I don’t have the motivation, energy, or focus to do anything— don’t make ‘making art’ FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE.

Writing is the thing that I’m, arguably, the best at, and for the most part that is literal creation. You’re making something from nothing. Although perhaps contrarily, I find writing to be at its easiest when it’s pure fabrication— like writing a novel— and at its hardest when it’s the candid, truthful organization of half-baked ideas— like this essay.

It’s hard either way, but at least I don’t need to be honest when I’m writing fiction. Telling lies and making stuff up is inherent to the process. I can be a verbose con artist. In nonfiction, in attempts to tidy up the constant mess of thoughts in my head, it sometimes seems that all I do is slit my wrists, bleed all over my page, then describe what the blood looks like. I don’t do this shit for fun. I do it because I have to. My thoughts are all over the place all the time, and nothing ever makes any god damned sense unless I write it all out.

I think that state of confusion which can be cured only via writing might be why I feel guilty whenever I take art in without making any myself. I used to consume media voraciously. I read 4 or 5 books at the same time, I watched films with my dad, TV shows with my sister, and I listened to music constantly. I saw nothing wrong with just taking everything in. Now that I’m a little older, now that I’ve formed some tastes and made some things, I feel like a failure when all I do is consume art without creating it.

Realistically, no one is being hard on me except myself. I’m not letting anyone down except myself. It’s really not that hard for me to disappoint me, I have impossibly high standards. Or rather, my mental illnesses set impossibly high standards. Last summer, during a period where I wasn’t a disaster, I discovered that I’m actually a very chill, very Type B person. It’s important to try to differentiate between yourself and your illness, if you can.

Sometimes I wish I was good at and passionate about something other than art. Something less extreme. Something less emotional. Something less enthralling. But then, I’m a bit of an all-or-nothing person. If I care about anything at all, it’s going to be extreme. And that’s likely true of anyone who loves anything. I would probably metaphorically slit my wrists and bleed everywhere even if I happened to love… I don’t know… telemarketing. …Or maybe I just want to slit my wrists.

Anyway, this essay is a bit… messay, if you will, and usually when I put my thoughts on the internet, I like them to be more organized. But I only do that so I can pretend that’s how my thoughts always are: not happy, but at least organized. That’s fallacious. That’s not how things work for me. The mess in my brain is too jumbled to force into a line, like earphone wires in pockets. I guess what it boils down to is this:

    1. depression is hard,
    2. being an artist with depression is hard,
    3. I quit my job because depression made it hard, and now I have a bit more energy to make art, which is still hard, so
    4. if I can’t make art, that is okay, because
    5. I need to learn how to give myself permission to just exist.
    6. Just exist.
    7. Just exist. Also
    8. Wh– depression isn’t cool, man, this shit sucks. I hate being alive. It’s– what– like… UGH.