Art is healing. It surrounds us every day. It comes in so many forms: photography, illustration, graphic design, music, film, television, to name but a few. Some people use art to fuel the most receptive parts of our brains and nurture us through the hardest of times. I am one of those people.
My name is Billy Clayton. I’m twenty years old and I use art to escape every single day. To put it bluntly, I use music as a tool to cope with every aspect of my life. When it comes to discussions regarding mental health, it is not peculiar to hear of those who use creative outlets to balance their minds. With the rise of the ‘millennial culture’, I am happy to be part of a new wave in which we do not censor our feelings as explicitly as previous generations, creating a mutually conscious community.
In the Summer of 2015, having just left sixth form with no applications prepared nor jobs secured, I was filled with anxiety about the next stage in my life. I felt lost.
Things took a turn for the worse, when, in August, a week prior to results day, I received a different set of results. I’d been experiencing the most excruciating pain in my thigh for several months which had been written off by my GP a handful of times as ‘growing pains’, even though deep down I could sense it was something much more than that.
I felt truly dismissed, and as I lay awake through the night taking painkillers to get me through my exams, I finally decided it was time to book an MRI.
My mental health often presented me as a class clown; my physical health, however, had always been immaculate. This is perhaps why I found the following news so traumatizing: I had cancer. Specifically, Ewings Sarcoma, a very rare form of bone cancer with shockingly poor survival statistics. On the brink of the first true chapter of adulthood, I was put on pause. I was frozen in time and completely unable to live in the same way again.
Intense cytotoxic chemotherapy commenced every three weeks in central London, 120 miles from my hometown of Norwich. After daily radiotherapy and two major surgeries later, I am not as privileged as I once was. This process, with each and every one of the vast and often unseen complexities it includes, such as financial struggles, social exclusion and body dysmorphia (to name just a few), has shaped my perspective towards just about everything.
I could no longer just leave the house whenever I wished, for the risk of getting a bacterial infection that could – and often did – hospitalise me. My social life vanished and I became incredibly lonely. I spent so much time housebound and unable to do much more than climb the stairs after disabling surgery. I couldn’t even put my own socks on anymore. In spite of all of this, it feels significant to me just how much art has made this process one worth fighting for. I am a musician.
I sing, I write, and I experiment with production and mixing. Ever since I was using my weekly pocket money to buy CDs at HMV as a child, I was confident about what path my future would take. With the help of a Macmillan grant, I could now afford the essential equipment needed to finally pursue my long-term goals of creating music. I spent hours on end teaching myself about production software so I could then apply my lyrics to a beat and sing about whatever was troubling my brain. It felt like the best form of therapy I could ever receive, something I desperately needed during this mentally damaging time.
Whenever I felt I was unable to go on after receiving bad news, whether that be my double-relapse or the passing of another undeserving fighter of this plague, I put the world on pause just for a moment. By taking myself into a separate space and listening to my most treasured albums, I create art from difficult experiences.
I took the first eighteen years of my life for granted and now I long to have that time back. The trauma my body and mind are going through gives me the energy and the willpower to keep going, to continue creating. I have to ensure that amongst the periods of demotivation and distress, I cherish what I do have. Music has been both a release and a form of company to me over this period of time, and I hope that one day others can find comfort in my music in the same way other people’s art has comforted me.
AUTHOR: BILLY CLAYTON