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What Happens When Your Passion Becomes Your Prison?

The mental state of the black creative is oftentimes overlooked. We must discuss it. Let’s start with some statistics:

13.4 percent of the U.S. population identifies as black or African American; of that percentage, over 16% reported having a mental illness within the past year. That is over 7 million people.  

Of that 7 million, how many do you think are creatives or participate in the entertainment industry at some capacity??? I am willing to bet A LOT! 

As you may know, being Black in America isn’t a cakewalk. If you aren’t aware of this, research just about any topic based on black oppression and systemic racism, and you will soon learn just how much strife is given to one race because of their skin color. Having to deal with societal, demographic, and economic issues is heavy enough, and if you are blessed to find a gateway that gives you peace of mind, you will live in that…right? Whether that bit of utopia is sports, music, writing, painting, coding, etc. It is an outlet that takes away the strain of your reality. But what happens if your utopia became a dystopia? Being creative is hard enough but add on to that being Black, having this unrealistic expectation put on you and your work, trying to capture that expectation and still being unapologetic about who you are and wanting to express your triumphs and perils to the world so that your story doesn’t go untold.

Most creatives credit their skills to how and where they grew up. You may hear songwriters claim that they pull inspiration from personal situations, and when they write, it becomes their way of dealing with that situation. For example, Jay-z’s “444” album gave the listener a glance into many intimate and personal moments within his marriage. The same could be said about most of Taylor Swift’s catalog, her relationships have been highly scrutinized, and she talks in detail about most of them through her music. So, in a way using your creativity to deal with your strife’s can be therapeutic, but what about the moments it starts to feel like a burden, and you feel burnt out? There are times where you can pour so much of yourself into a creative process that there is nothing left.  

How can we create worlds that people can use to escape reality, but in turn, we are trapped between finding the balance between our own life and artistry? Ever since quarantine, we have been forced to deal with some horrible truths about ourselves and our perception of what being a creative is. As of late, there have been claims and accusations of discriminatory behavior behind the scenes of some well-known productions, and it has shown us that even through our efforts as black artists to have our work displayed, we still struggle to get our ideas heard. We create stories to tell the world and still must deal with not being respected because of our skin color. It is stressful, to say the least, to walk on a set or in a studio or classroom and be met with disdain or skepticism. Then, go back home and WANT to create more work that will probably be combed over or maliciously attacked, but we still share and show up because of the determination and this need to want to be the difference. That is the worst prison you could ever be trapped in. 

You can go on just about any social media outlet and see most creatives label their constant no sleep, no rest work cycle as a “Hustle” or “Grind.” What once was our “way to escape reality” becomes the number one trigger to causing stress. The sad part about that is…no one wants to admit it. Everyone is okay with complaining about how they must rehearse, learn the lines, learn the notes, write the song, sign the contract, etc. Sometimes you DON’T want to rehearse or perform, sometimes you want to sit on the couch and binge-watch your favorite show…and that is okay. There is no reward at the end of the tunnel of constant depression and self-sabotage. If you are aware that your mood isn’t where it once was when you started your creative process, work towards getting better. If you do not enjoy creating as much as you use to and it has started to feel more like a chore, make room for rest. When we avoid our mental stability during any creative journey, we ultimately do a major disservice to the work we claim to love and ourselves. It pays to rest and recharge; your mind and work will thank you for it. I have found a few ways to affirm myself and deal with how I approach a potential overload of work, and you can use these ways as well. 

  • Tell yourself that you deserve to be here.
  • Make sure that you are not jeopardizing your integrity and morals. 
  • Stand up for yourself and make sure you are setting your boundaries. 
  • Try not to become part of the problem. 
  • Talk to someone, whether it be your closest family member or a friend, or a therapist.
  • Step away from your routine and recharge yourself. 

If your depression is deeper than what you read here today, please call a local or national depression hotline and speak with a professional.


Written By

Drew Shade is a theatre artist and enthusiast who fosters artistic diversity and excellence for the love of Black theatre artists. He is the Founder/Creative Director of Broadway Black, Off-Book Podcast & The Antonyo Awards. “Have a belief in yourself that is bigger than anyone’s disbelief.” – August Wilson


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