Creativity and Recovering From Mental Illness
When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, despite my young age, I was told that I would need to take medication. Probably for the rest of my life. I wondered, as many people do, if medication would change me. Sure, I was told it would make me well and make my life easier, but I was not sure what that really meant. Would I still be me?
The Connection Between Creativity and Mental Illness
It has been argued that mental illness can spur creativity. When we fly too high, we might create beautiful art or we might drain our bank accounts shopping. When we fall into depression, perhaps we use that pain to write or to sing. On the other side, we might be too sick to even speak or rise from bed.
It is largely because of this, this notion that we are most creative when we are ill, that people do not seek help. It’s frightening having a mental illness, but it’s equally frightening having to take medication that may or may not affect our level of cognitive functioning or creative abilities.
I am a writer, an artist, and I play guitar. My life has always been defined by both the cycle of my illness and, more so, the ability to express this creativity with a pen, a paintbrush or music. It has kept me alive more times than I can recall. And I suspect many people can relate to this. Music and art are a gateway in which people can escape, if only for a little while, and find themselves.
When I was sick, I was less creative. While this is not the case for everyone diagnosed with a mental illness, it is more common than people assume. When you are ill, when your mind is chemically unbalanced, it can hinder creativity. Before I was properly diagnosed and treated, I would sit in front of my computer, my hands on the keys, but not able to move them. I willed my mind to make writing possible; I would type a couple sentences, read them, and walk back to bed. Defeated. More often than not, my illness, when untreated, made it impossible for me to be creative. I was simply too sick.
The Benefits of Medicating Mental Illness
It isn’t easy finding medications that work. It’s often a long process and it is certainly not pleasant. But being sick is, in my opinion, much worse. If you think about mental illness from a biological point of view, it is partially defined by a chemical imbalance, neurons not working properly, serotonin too high or too low. Medication can level things out. In doing so, you can become well.
Your mind might race less or you might be able to face the day without fear. Your creativity, your passion, still exists. You have nothing to lose: your mind, your intellect, will always be yours. The creative side of you will never be lost and, with any luck, it will flourish.
Jeanne, N. (2011, September 15). Creativity and Recovering From Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2011/09/creativity-and-recovering-from-mental-illness
Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne
On behalf of a family member dealing with diagnosis and treatment, thank you so much for these words of inspiration and hope. They matter more than you can know.
Thank you so much for the positive feedback it makes writing about tough stuff worth it.
Thank you so much for writing this article. I just reposted it on my facebook page, and i Intend to share it with everyone I know. I wish people would stop romanticizing mental illness and realize that it not only kills creativity and dreams, it also literally KILLS, when it is not treated. Van Gogh, V Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and all the rest - mental illness is not what made them creative, it was just an unfortunate aspect of the DNA they inherited. They were lucky to have had windows in which they could be creative - but in the end, the illness made them unable to create at all.
Thank you for the comment and I am so glad you can relate it it! Your examples of those with mental illness who died are important to remember. So often people recall the brilliance of the art, the written word, and forget the death and why it happened.
Good post! - Fear of losing that creative edge is one of the primary reasons bipolars refuse medication and put their very lives at risk. I will quote the great Taz Mopula who said, "If you need mania to be creative then maybe creativity isn't for you." - I can tell you that in my bouts of mania I THOUGHT I was fabulously creative, in fact I was like a demented TV set that wouldn't shut off. As the years went by and I gained mastery over my illness, and got sober, my creativity and productivity soared. I also became more real, more human. What people forget about the creativity of mania is that is has its foundation in falsehood and fear.
Thank you for such a wonderful reply:) What a great quote! And I agree on all levels: essentially, mania is frightening and, I believe, limits our creativity.