When it feels like everyone else is “killing it”, it’s hard to admit that you’re not: “You think that you're the only one who’s experiencing these things.”
By
Nicola Heath

4 Oct 2018 - 2:56 PM  UPDATED 4 Oct 2018 - 2:56 PM

From paper art to felt collage to embroidery, Kitiya Palaskas loves all things craft.

It’s a passion the Melbourne based craft designer has transformed into a flourishing small business. In a studio in a zipper factory in Melbourne’s inner suburbs,  Palaskas uses craft-based techniques to create bright-coloured props, installations and artworks for brands including ANZ, Peter Alexander and Sportsgirl. She specialises in set dressing, art direction and styling, regularly runs workshops and speaks at events, and, in 2018, published her first DIY craft book, Piñata Party.

To the casual observer, Palaskas is the picture of success, but her journey has not always been smooth sailing. At university, she was diagnosed with depression – a fact she kept private for years, fearing that talking publicly about her mental health issues would harm her career.

At various times during her career, Palaskas’ mental health issues have manifested in creative block, self-doubt and negativity, a damaging mix for a creative trying to grow a fledgling business.

“In a competitive industry like the design industry, you don't want to show weakness,” she says. When it feels like everyone else is “killing it”, it’s hard to admit that you’re not, she says. “You think that you're the only one who’s experiencing these things.” 

At various times during her career, Palaskas’ mental health issues have manifested in creative block, self-doubt and negativity, a damaging mix for a creative trying to grow a fledgling business.

In 2016, Palaskas was invited to speak in front at a 500-plus audience at Design Conference in Brisbane. Instead of running through a self-congratulatory highlights reel of her work, she decided to take a risk and speak openly for the first time about the relationship between mental health and her career.

“A lot of young, aspiring designers were coming to that conference, and I didn't want to give them an unrealistic expectation of what it’s like to be a successful designer,” she says. “I owed it to them to be real about my struggles – not to whine about it or be ungrateful, but to highlight that I was able to achieve lots of things but then I also had these very real issues.”

She stepped up to the podium and delivered a confessional talk about mental health, how it affected her work, and what she does to make herself feel better. 

The audience loved it. Fellow speakers at the conference – people she says she idolised – told her they often felt the same way. Months later, people were still thanking her for sharing her story. “It was like a floodgate opened,” she says. “I knew that I had done the right thing. It was very scary to put my inner most feelings out there to a roomful of strangers, but I'm glad I did.” 

Workers in the arts industries experienced higher rates of sleep disorders, anxiety and suicide ideation than the rest of the population, due in part to insecure and harsh working conditions.

The experience made Palaskas realise that she was not alone, and that there were many people who were experiencing the same thing as her. This realisation gave rise to a sense of solidarity that helped her normalise and overcome feelings of negativity and self-doubt, and she wanted to keep the conversation going. “I’ve made a really concerted effort to be outspoken on my platforms about well-being issues and continue that open dialogue that I started at the conference,” she says. 

In 2018, she started Real Talk, an online resource that focuses on mental well-being for creatives. “There's a lot of stuff out there to help people run a business…but there doesn't seem to be that many resources out there for creatives in particular to do the same for their well-being,” she says. “I wanted to create a safe space for creative people to go to find help or resources or even just hear the stories of others so that they didn't feel alone.” 

Palaskas’ experience is not unique – many people working in the creative industries suffer from mental health issues. A 2015 report by Victoria University found that workers in the arts industries experienced higher rates of sleep disorders, anxiety and suicide ideation than the rest of the population, due in part to insecure and harsh working conditions. 

“Money is a huge trigger for stress and anxiety,” says Palaskas. “It’s always at the forefront of your mind: trying to get it, trying to hustle for it…feeling gross about it, and then worrying where your next pay cheque is going to come from.” 

And then there’s imposter syndrome, which can leave even the most successful person feeling like a fraud – like their achievements were undeserved. These feelings can be exacerbated by social media, an important tool for self-promotion for many freelancers but also a place where it’s difficult to avoid comparing yourself to others’ perceived success or, at times, face unpleasant criticism. 

Andy Wright, creator of Never Not Creative, a not-for-profit community for creatives, identifies stress (a “creativity killer”, according to Palaskas), burnout, rejection and isolation as some of the biggest challenges facing people who work in the creative industries. 

And then there’s imposter syndrome, which can leave even the most successful person feeling like a fraud – like their achievements were undeserved. These feelings can be exacerbated by social media, an important tool for self-promotion for many freelancers but also a place where it’s difficult to avoid comparing yourself to others’ perceived success or, at times, face unpleasant criticism. 

“As a creative, I’ve had firsthand experience with how various well-being issues affect my creativity and in turn my ability to function and do the day-to-day things that I need to do to run my business and…produce inspired new work,” says Palaskas. 

“It's a really interesting time right now where people are being more outspoken about issues like mental health,” she says. Now feels like a “good time to start trying to open up some dialogue around how it affects creative people in particular.” 

Nicola Heath is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @nicoheath.


 If you or anyone you know is experiencing distress, visit the beyondblue website or call Lifeline on 131114.

The new SBS series 'How 'Mad' Are You?' takes a unique look at mental health. It will be broadcast on SBS on October 11 at 8:30pm on SBS.

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