Mental Illness and Crazy: Creativity and Medication
Some people believe that being crazy makes you creative (perhaps brilliant) and being creative makes you crazy. Similarly, along this line of logic is that taking medication makes you uncreative and perhaps, un-brilliant.
Well, pish-tosh I say.
Pre-Medicated, Crazy Me
I have been medicated a long time. I have been crazy a long time; in fact, some might suggest since I was a teenager. So there are quite a few years when I was only receiving therapy for mental unwellness and no medication.
So, according to the above logic, it would stand to reason then, that I would be more creative (and perhaps brilliant) in these years. This was not even remotely the case.
What I remember about those years is this: crazy ruled my life. Crazy ruled my life. (Unless I wasn’t in an episode, and then I just never thought about it. Wasn't particularly creative then either.) I remember desperately, finally, seeing a doctor while having open wounds bleeding from various parts of my body thanks to a razor blade and a lack of knowledge of Steri-strips. There wasn’t a single creative thought in my head because my head was too busy spitting out tears and blood. There were no thoughts outside of death, pain and darkness. Not even creative ways to kill myself.
Creativity and Medicated Me
I didn’t suddenly become creative once medicated either. There was much pain, consternation and tenacity required upon medication trials. My life was still all about the crazy.
At some point, after finding a magic pill that made me feel like a human being, I started to write. Yes, it’s true; I had never written a single word unmedicated. It never particularly occurred to me.
And now? Well now I’ve written literally millions of words, two 3-day novels, short stories and thousands of people read me every month. Some would suggest there is a certain amount of creativity in said writings.
I’m not suggesting that my mental illness hasn’t affected my creativity, because it has. I’m also not saying that thoughts can’t be dampened on medication, because they can. What I’m saying is it’s far from a one-to-one relationship.
Crazy might make you creative or it might just make you crazy. Might make you just hurt. Might make you hurt other people. Might make you lose your job. Might make you destroy your life.
And medication might dampen your thoughts, or it might just quiet the voices in your head long enough to do something creative.
I’m reminded of Van Gogh who, of course, was a seminal painter and someone who cut off his own ear. (The speculation is he had schizophrenia.) Are we really all that sure he wouldn’t have been so brilliant with both ears intact?
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Tracy, N. (2011, March 15). Mental Illness and Crazy: Creativity and Medication, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, May 29 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/03/mental-illness-crazy-and-creativity
Author: Natasha Tracy
[…] Questo luogo comune potrebbe, infatti, non può essere più lontano dalla verità (Malattia mentale e Crazy: Creatività e farmaci). Molti artisti grandi, musicisti e scrittori producono opere eccezionali, nonostante la loro […]
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. To me, that's a long way from having a brain that sometimes doesn't function properly. I know a lot of crazy people.
Example of Crazy: Choosing people to be in your life who are clearly not of the same belief system as oneself, and getting disappointed when they don't change to your way of thinking.
Example of Schizophrenia: Hearing voices in one's head due to psychosis.
Example of Bipolar: Non-stop activity coupled with lack of sleep due to mania.
I, having bipolar, am presently experiencing mania. But if you ask me if I still have my abusive ex-husband in my life, my answer is an emphatic NO!!!
I am an artist who hates to paint and a writer who hates to write;I almost always loathe every artistic action I attempt...
BUT,every so often,if I put my work aside for awhile and refuse to look at it (or let it look at me) then,sometimes,perhaps,possibly,maybe--
I will later look at it with fresh eyes and notice --IT DOESN'T SUCK.
Or at least,not as badly as my bipolar -biased memory of it was.
I have always been very creative (if I spill wine on the hardwood floor,I'll play around w/ it & turn it into art) but I am constantly warring with my Inner Critic,who is an absolute & utter bitch. You know the type.
Being creative and bi-polar is definitely a 2 edged sword,because I always feel better when I'm creating,but if I'm depressed,I just can't even seem to try...
So then I get even more depressed.
So I try to bully myself into just being a tiny bit artistic;even if I can't work on a big old scary piece of canvas,I'll sew something on jeans or paint a piece of furniture & it helps shake me out of my funk.
BTW--@ Natasha;love your blog,so glad I stumbled onto it!
But as per your "I can't draw" comment :
BUT--I bet you could paint if you tried.
In my opinion,drawing and painting are entirely separate skills,using different sides of your brain. Painting is more "suggesting" while drawing is more "showing". Drawing is more akin to engineering,math,etc. while painting is closer to writing & poetry--it's less specific,less linear.
Some artists are good at both,but I believe even "non artists" can benefit from and enjoy painting. Try it sometime!
Just get some canvas,some paint and PLAY.
(Tell your Inner Critic to shut the hell up;you don't have to hang it in the Louvre, just PLAY.)
Yup. The energy thing I think make people sometimes appear more creative but it's really that they just get a lot more done.
I've heard that art therapy is useful for a few people. Seems like it would be a beneficial self-expression for those artistically inclined. I wrote 1800 blog articles. But that's me. I can't draw.
I don't feel more creative when manic, just have a lot more energy to do stuff is the key thing.
I have found though by doing a lot of art therapy groups I have gotten back in touch with my creative side. Which has been pretty quiet for a lot of years. So that has been nice to reconnect to, and if I hadn't been working on my mental health I never would have reconnected to that side of me so early in life. I could be 50 + and just getting back to my creative side. So I am grateful that what has happened has so that I can be more connected in creative ways and be the real me.
Mental illnesses have a compassionate by-gone time. Even epochal approaching on psychiatric treatment of mental disorders, it is left many trivial attitudes and disdain designation among people upon them. Such nickname to mental illness person is crazy, fool, stupid, madman..... . The same used for any person who make mistakes, but to psychiatric patients are insulting ones. The distinction between mentally health man and person with psychological disorders isn't in present psycho-pathology, but in gradation of global functionality. Mentally ill people are generally incapable for daily obligations as well as irresponsible for their actions. Current psychiatric therapy improved right these psycho-social performances of psychiatric clientele. The excellent example are You Ms Tracy.
"And you wouldn’t be the only one who would rather be unstable and creative than stable and medicated. That’s a personal choice."
And let's not forget the choice of being stable and creative, without meds in the mix. Not for everyone, I know, but that is a viable choice for a growing number of us, myself included.
Great post, as always. As this has been a hot topic in other forums lately, I can now distill my own feelings on the matter down to this:
Something about my brain and/or my life experiences contributes both to my "mental illness" and to my creativity. I feel they are connected.
Not that I'm more creative or productive when in the throes of an episode, but to me, it seems there is some similar causation between what makes me creative and what makes me crazy (this is not to say that all creative people are crazy or vice versa). Which probably has much to do with my feeling that being crazy is, in many ways, a good thing (once we find the balance and stability necessary to live without constant mental, physical, and emotional pain and terror, that is).
A great comment. I would imagine you are correct, for some people taking medication is an acknowledgement of illness, and an undesired one. That was never my thing. My thing was my mind only existing in a fog of chemicals and never truly experiencing reality. I come from addicts and I never wanted to become one. (Yes, I understand, addiction is different. The fear, however, doesn't know that.)
"Meds do slow me down, sometimes to much, sometimes not enough and sometimes just right. They do not make me more or less creative, a better human being or turn me into a zombie, they just seem to make my symptoms more manageable... I think everybody has the potential to be creative and express themselves creatively it has to do with giving into the process of creation and being brave not whether or not you are mentally ill."
"Because the alternative is being dead, and even through the crazy I know that’s not a solution. The creativity came back once, it can come back again. Once I’m dead I’m dead forever."
Yup. Well said.
I believe we have entered a new era of understanding.
A missing part of our education has been found. There is a reason why we humans, the most intelligent animal on the planet can be so extraordinary on one hand, and on the other, having to suffer, for example, the pangs of bipolar; a brain disorder that causes severe ups and downs that effect mood, energy, and ability to function.
The reason can summed up this way. We humans pay a price for having a highly creative brain that has created, without our knowledge or permission, an image of who our brain thinks we are. This image (the ego) consists of our beliefs and has a gatekeeper, the “chatter in our head” whose purpose is to protect, and if necessary, to create new beliefs that support the ego’s agenda.
The ego is clever, and knows that our intelligence affords us the opportunity, unlike other primates, to project into the future and past. Our chatter high-jacks this talent, turns it into a weapon and uses it against us. For example, our chatter loves to drag us into the future and beat us up with what-if questions, we can’t answer. “What if you fail, what if you’re rejected, what if you don’t get the job, what if, what if, what if?” When our chatter finishes, bouncing us up and down in the future, it will haul us into the past to remind us of our failures and mistakes, hoping we will slide further into the abyss, which raises a question. How do we manage this “thing in our head” that has run us all of our lives?
Click on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjA2Nr6LEZk to learn the answer.
A note regarding the “chatter in our head.” Those taking a psychological drug(s) may not be aware the drug is intended to moderate the “chatter in their head.” Improper medication may turn up the volume. Patients, who are unaware of this fact, may attempt to quiet their “inner noise” through means that may have, unintended consequences.
My bottom line is this. Meds do slow me down, sometimes to much, sometimes not enough and sometimes just right. They do not make me more or less creative, a better human being or turn me into a zombie, they just seem to make my symptoms more manageable.
There is a lot of fear surrounding the use of meds, I think a lot of it boils down to the sense that you are acquiescing to an illness when you take them ie. if you give into treatment you definately have the illness.
I think everybody has the potential to be creative and express themselves creatively it has to do with giving into the process of creation and being brave not whether or not you are mentally ill.
"Of course, if you just insist on bashing everything you do no matter what, it sounds like you might need a bit of therapy"
I've been in therapy for over a year now. :)
I struggle with this a lot. The reality is medications may have a general suite of side effects, but two different people with the same illness can have very different experiences.
For me medication was a necessary evil. I was suicidal all the time. I had a break, and fell apart and ended up in the mental health office at my college seeing one of the on staff psychiatrists.
I went from writing thousands of words a week to not being able to form coherent sentences... and that's when I could bring up the drive to write at all.
They adjusted the meds, many times, but it never really helped. Now I should note that in general I had rather bad reactions to the meds, not life threatening, but the side effects were at times severe. And seriously, I got lithium poisoning and almost died twice, so I guess I should really say they were life threatening - for me.
When I say severe I am measuring looking back. I lost my hair (there's no history of that on either side, so I really believe that this was the meds). I gained 80 pounds in under 2 months. I lost the ability to ejaculate. I lost much of my detailed memory of the whole time period. THIS IS NOT AN ARGUMENT AGAINST MEDS. Medications save people every day, and I was one of those people. I hate what the meds did to me. They castrated my creativity and my drive to write. They took the bulk of my memory of my college years from me. I WOULD NOT BE ALIVE IF I HADN'T TAKEN THEM. I believe that.
They also affected my cycling... it got worse, so much worse. They kept trying to adjust and trying to adjust. My memory got worse. My side effects got worse. The meds did less to help the crazy.
When I finally went off meds completely the creativity came back. My writing came back. But so did the crazy.
I manage now with a suite of coping strategies that usually keep me okay. But when I'm in the depths of depression, as I am now, I have to acknowledge that going back on meds may be necessary. That killing my creativity may be necessary. Because the alternative is being dead, and even through the crazy I know that's not a solution. The creativity came back once, it can come back again. Once I'm dead I'm dead forever.
Well, two things.
The first is I wonder if people don't just _think_ they were more creative before. Is there evidence of this or are you perhaps romanticizing the idea?
Second, if you have lost some creativity, it's OK to miss it. We all miss what is taken from us. I miss _so_many_things_. (Of course, the disease took those things away more than medication ever could.)
And you wouldn't be the only one who would rather be unstable and creative than stable and medicated. That's a personal choice. The thing about crazy is that it keeps getting worse without treatment. If one could anticipate a level of "instability" that would be something. But you can't.
And then there's jobs and relationships and life and all that. Those might not take well to being unstable.
One thing I will say though, when I'm feeling better, I feel better about my work. Which makes perfect sense. If you're depressed, you feel bad about _everything_ and have no perspective on what you're creating.
Of course, if you just insist on bashing everything you do no matter what, it sounds like you might need a bit of therapy :)
Perspective on our own work is hard. Takes years to figure out, if you ask me.
Poetry is awesome. My main form of writing (when I can). :P
Yes, I do think the need to "do something" is pretty pressing during hypomania, but it doesn't mean the output is necessarily good.
I _do_ a lot of things when I'm hypomanic but I end up with a lot of partially-done things. I'm _really_ focussed until I'm suddenly _really_ focussed on something else.
"I feel like people expect more creativity out of me because I’m ill. Well, I wasn’t before I got sick. What makes them think I would be now with all the suicidal thoughts and medications fogging my brain?"
Yeah. It's a funny thing. I think this is because people want to see the bipolar as a "gift" in some way. Oh, it's OK to want to kill yourself all the time because you can write a poem.
Oh, lucky me.
(FYI, no poetry for me. Not bipolar enough yet, it seems.)
Another great post.
I was a fairly creative person before medication, but after I started taking meds, it disappeared. It's only now started to come back, and only to a degree.
Although, I do judge my writing very harshly, and that doesn't help the depression part. I mean, I'm no professional, but I'd like to think that I'm at least okay... but I don't. I see everything I write as a piece of crap no matter how good others might say it is.
I guess I shouldn't miss my creativity that much if that's what it does to me. However, I still really miss it. Sometimes I'd rather have that "spark" than be stable.
Great post, as always!
I don't necessarily feel more creative when I'm manic (like I am now), but I do feel the need to DO something all the time and that usually means making something, anything that completely consumes my mind while doing it and has a definite goal, a well-defined end, something tangible. Sometimes it's dinner, sometimes it's a failed craft project (because I have no actual creativity in me), sometimes it's just grabbing my daughters crayons and drawing until the page is full of nonsense. Anything to focus on and complete and completely empty my head, which then totally fills up again. Maybe it just happens that some people are creative AND mentally ill and just become more prolific during bad episodes when they feel the need to do, to just get the crazy out any way they can. In their case it's art. Maybe others it's sports or work or charity. Sometimes I feel like people expect more creativity out of me because I'm ill. Well, I wasn't before I got sick. What makes them think I would be now with all the suicidal thoughts and medications fogging my brain? (And I think I'm rambling now, so I'll leave off here.)