Getting that first commission from a stranger, being asked to speak on a podcast or a panel, fan mail, recognition at a con, even just an enthusiastic comment or a bunch of shares on your social media platform of choice – all of it or any of it is a rush, both physically and emotionally. Success is the drug of choice for creatives everywhere, but the crash is something I haven’t heard talked about much, at least at the lower levels of the creative industry, somewhere in that stretch post-amateur, and pre-fame.
I call it “con-crash” because the context I’m mostly likely to experience it in is the Tuesday after a convention, but I’ve felt its effects after a round of un-looked for social media signal boosting or even just a positive review in the comments section. I know it’s not just me – I make a point of keeping an eye on what my fellow “mid-level” creatives are doing across industries – comic makers, artists, writers, and even table-top designers I meet at cons. Some of them start reporting that feeling of exhaustion, depression, or just general listlessness native to the con-crash as early as Monday morning, others push through as late as the next week.
What concerns me most about con-crash is the trend I’ve seen in my admittedly-short three-year run in the convention scene is the effect is has on up-and-coming creatives. There’s been a lot of focus on how the fame-drug destroys the lives of Hollywood stars but not a lot said about the masses of creatives that drop off into silence just as their careers are starting to take off. When I first arrived on the scene, I was dumbfounded as to how the people I met on panels and on the floor could enjoy the level of success they were experiencing, and yet a half-hour into conversation, admit to me that they were thinking of ditching the whole enterprise. I know better now.
Con-crash is nefarious because it exists in an industry already dogged by insecurity, or just good-old-fashioned creative angst. That drop in dopamine on a Tuesday morning can sometimes be all that is needed to nudge a person over the edge into serious depression, or other pre-existing mental health issues. Success also, like any elixir of its kind, is a drug of diminishing returns. What set off the high the first time around will not continue to thrill reliably long into the future. In order to get their fix, the creative requires more diverse and escalating accolades, only to find the crash that much more intense on the other side. The greater the height, the harder the fall. I used to think that financial success was the exception to this – surely if you were at least making money that would take the edge off the impact, but that turned out to be pure naivete. Almost exactly a year ago today, I returned from what was our most financially successful convention to date, wildly outstripping our expectations, and found that I just didn’t care. I immediately plunged into what would prove to be one of my most debilitating depressive episodes to date, unable to get out of bed in the morning, and lasting almost into the new year.
I don’t have a ready-made, off-the-shelf solution – all I can offer you is what I’ve learned in the past year and what works for me to combat the effects of con-crash. In no particular order, here’s what I’ve found works for me:
- Knowing is half the battle. Just being aware that con-crash was a thing helped me hold my emotions in balance. My work with children ensures that I have the physical immune system of a goddess, but thinking of con-crash as an emotional flu or head cold of sorts and treating it similarly to the biological equivalent helps mitigate its effects substantially.
- Prioritize. One of the most crushing things about that depressive spell last October was realizing how many of the things I truly cared about I’d let slip in the pursuit of my next success-fix. Some of it was big things, my faith and my relationships, some of it was tiny things – I’d stopped ritualistically drinking hot chocolate in the morning, every morning, which sounds silly, but is something I really love doing. By spending the following months and year properly ordering myself, a la Platonic virtue, the crash became significantly less crippling or all-encompassing to my internal world.
- Get a hobby. Something that creatives often forget when they turn their hobby into a business is that they need to find a new hobby. Get something that doesn’t engage the work-side of your brain because even if you love it, creative work is still work. For me, it’s table-top rpgs, and video games. Enough said.
If you’ve experienced your own version of con-crash, or have other tips and solutions for handling it, I’d love to hear from you, either through a private channel, or in the comments. Talking about it as a creative community helps newcomers know they’re not crazy for feeling bad in the wake of success, and maybe, just maybe, will help keep people from giving up on their dreams, just as they are starting to actualize.