Stability or Creativity

Posted: June 29, 2010 in creativity, mental illness

Sorry for my silence. As you can imagine it has been a hectic few weeks.

I just finished watching an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. It featured a character who was schizophrenic. It struck me that she was aware of her disease, and yet she lived a life of childlike fantasy. Now to be honest, my only experience with someone with schizophrenia is my aunt, who at this point I am no longer sure if she actually has that diagnosis anymore. She was first diagnosed with schizophrenia and later bipolar. I don’t know if with the bipolar diagnosis they discovered she wasn’t schizophrenic or if she has both. Either way before she was rightly medicated, she was an angry, scary, unpredictable woman who caused my father a lot of pain growing up. So this image of schizophrenia, along with the subject in The Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl, is starting to change my understanding of schizophrenia.

But that is not — directly — what this post is about. The character’s child-like innocence (and I have to admit I fell in love with her character) got me thinking about the whole debate about creativity and mental health. There is a bit of a (somewhat silent, depending on your circles) disagreement over whether mental illness helps creativity and/or whether medication stunts that creativity. Up to this point I have been on the fence about it and didn’t really know which was true. I think I’m starting to lean toward a certain stance.

It is pretty widely accepted that some of Western civilization’s (which leads to another question as to the cultural relativity of mental illness–but another time) greatest artists, authors, and poets suffered from mental illness. It is pretty widely known that Edgar Allen Poe (a favorite of mine) suffered from some pretty dark depressions. I mean just reading his poems–well, I shouldn’t joke about that. Emily Dickinson was a recluse, and I don’t know if it’s been verified but I know of rumors that she suffered from mental illness. I heard something about Van Gogh (sp?) but don’t take my word for it. My favorite poet wrote a poem about suicide: Robert Frost’s A Dust of Snow (it may just be called Snow).

From my own personal experience, I am most creative when I am depressed. I just don’t have the energy to live out that creativity. I am also highly creative when I am hypomanic, but I don’t have the where-with-all to take pen or pencil to paper. Due to the ADHD I don’t remember these sparks of creativity.

Enter medication. Since stabilizing in my medication, I am less prone to creative impulses. However, they may come less frequently, but I am able to remember them. So that though an idea for a painting emerged during a depression (and possible act of self-injury), I have been able to retain the memory of the image so that I can paint it when I get a chance.

So, yes, I believe mental illness does spark creativity. I also believe that medication helps maintain a longer lifespan. So, since being stable I haven’t written any poems. I haven’t continued my fanfiction. Inspiration for art is few and far between. And that is hard for someone who has defined herself in part by her creativity. It’s one of my strengths in a job interview. It helped me survive my childhood.

But being medicated has allowed me to get married and stay married. It has helped me be more successful in my job than even I thought I was. It has helped me get rid of major credit card debt. It has helped me to begin advocating for myself. It has helped me remember to feed my pets, who I love as my children. It has helped me even think of having children as a possibility.

So yes, I vote on the side that medication does dampen your creativity–or at least it does mine. But I would rather have 20 creations in 20 years, than the same amount in 1 year only. Because if I wasn’t on these medications, my last creation would be my own corpse.

  1. I like your view on this. It’s not as one-sided as people tend to lean on such controversial issues.

  2. butterfly keeper says:

    this post reminds me of the crazymeds site. and i don’t remember the exact wording, but he (jarod poore) wrote something like the side-effects of Pdrugs can “suck donkey balls.” but when it comes right down to it, i’ll take the side-effects and forego the sacred geometry in exchange for having one one more tool in my tool box that could help me cope.

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