Day 56: The Mental State of Creative People

All my life, I have heard that creative people are more prone to have mental illnesses.  When you look at the creatives that have come before us, that seems to have merit.  Suicides, alcoholism, drug abuse, self-mutilation, aberrant behavior, schizophrenia, generally self-destructive behavior, etc….  I personally have been in therapy off and on since I was 21.  The last therapist that I saw for about 6 years diagnosed me with PTSD, cyclothymia (a form of bipolar disorder), suicidal ideation (which means I think about it but don’t attempt it and am not a risk to myself…basically, when depressed, I think about just not existing any longer, not actually committing suicide.  It’s a coping mechanism), anxiety, derealization/depersonalization (which are forms of dissociative identity disorder), ADHD, and OCD.  I’ve never had a problem with alcohol or drugs although I did partake in my twenties and thirties.  I have exhibited some self-destructive behavior but not to the point where I went off of the deep end…I was always able to pull myself back in before that happened.  I have never harmed myself or tried to commit suicide.  So, although I do have all of those diagnoses, I’m relatively sane.  Or appear so anyway.  Some of my diagnoses are the result of traumatic experiences in my past…PTSD, anxiety, OCD, DID, suicidal ideation…so I can’t blame it all on brain chemistry even though my shrink said that I was more susceptible to those things because of it.  So, am I creative because of all of this…because of my brain chemistry…or in spite of it?  I can say without a doubt that when I am very depressed or extremely angry, I write my very best poetry.  And when I’m on the manic side of the cyclothymia, I write excellent prose.  So, for myself, there is some correlation between my creativity and my mental state.  You often hear about artists that are being treated for schizophrenia and they say that when they are on their meds, they can’t paint…that it causes them to lose their creative ability.  So they go off of their meds in order to be creative again, which many times does not end well.  But my question is if we’re born with brain chemistry that makes us more susceptible to mental illness, does that mean that we are born with this creativity pre-installed in our brain or do we become creative because of it…is it learned behavior as a way of dealing with mental illness?  What about brilliantly creative children like Mozart who wrote his 1st full symphony at 8 and had been performing since he was 5?  Did his brilliance at such an early age foreshadow the mental illness that was to come?  Or was it just a coincidence?  I personally do not think that it’s a coincidence.  I think that there is a definite correlation between the 2 but I don’t know the “mechanics” of how it all works and happens.  I do know that there are creatives that either do not have a mental illness or have it well under control and keep it hidden and they produce spectacular works of art and writing.  I know that I exorcise a lot of my demons and negative emotions through my writing.  I know that I’ve had mental issues since childhood.  I know that I’ve had an amazing imagination since childhood.  But I don’t have any hard proof that the two things are related…it’s just my belief that they are based on observation and my own experiences.  What do you think…is it coincidence or are they related? 

“Writers can treat their mental illnesses every day.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut



About Donna Heilman

I am a writer that lives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex with my husband, 2 dogs, and 10 cats. I am currently working on my novel, Rapture, as well as writing poetry and some short non-fiction. I am honestly writing this blog to feel more connected with other creative people.
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