Mental Illness and Creativity

Mental Illness and Creativity

I’d like to thank litebeing chronicles for inspiring me to write this post.

People have this conception that a prerequisite to creativity is some form of mental illness. After all, don’t you have to be some sort of mad to spend hours on some piece of art that may never see the light of day? I suppose so, but then there are a variety of mental illnesses out there, some that might enhance creativity, and others that may inhibit it.

I can only speak as a person with bipolar disorder who has gone through mania, hypomania, mixed states, and depressive episodes. I can’t speak for any other type of mental illness, like schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder or panic disorder or even borderline personality disorder. So my experiences with creativity, or lack thereof, only come from my experiences with my own mental illness.

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night. Oil on can...
Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night. Oil on canvas, 73×92 cm, 28¾×36¼ in. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mental illness can enhance creativity in some aspects. I never hallucinated during my manic episodes, but the fast, racing thoughts and overexcitement of life seemed to have resurrected dead creative brain cells that were lying dormant in their little graves. Stolentime was partly the product of a manic episode and mostly the product of my sanity working through what my mania came up with. Of course, the novel was a completely different story then, but only because my mania had no filter and no way to logically structure a story. So while my mania came up with an idea, it couldn’t bring that idea to proper fruition because the thoughts I had were too grandiose and I couldn’t look at reality properly. I was completely delusional, so to speak.

I once read some of Van Gogh’s paintings were a product of his mania, but there was no mention whether he painted them while he was manic or after he was manic because mania can give you thousands of ideas, most that you’re not even going to remember.

But depression inhibited my creativity. My brain was so weighed down by this thick, heavy black fog that it couldn’t come up with anything new. It kept trying to grasp on to those ideas it came up with during mania, but it didn’t have the energy to put any sort of logic to them. However, I do think some writers have used their depression to their advantage. Apparently Sylvia Plath wrote her final novel when depressed before ending her own life, so it is possible to write while depressed–just very, very difficult. I couldn’t really brainstorm Stolentime while depressed, but I had enough in me to work on When Stars Die because it didn’t take whole re-writes.

Overall, I think mental illness can enhance creativity, but after the fact. It’s very difficult to enact creative processes while ill, but that doesn’t mean one can’t use one’s illness as a source of inspiration–might as well make something good come from the bad, right?

9 thoughts on “Mental Illness and Creativity

  1. My favorite writers were plagued by depression and various illnesses when they penned their masterpiece. Virginia Woolf was depressed, Katherine Mansfield had tuberculosis and was depressed, and many other writers have dealt with depression at various points in their lives. I myself find being in dark places, while perhaps not so desirable, helps me unleash creativity and ideas I would probably never have conceived if I were happy all the time.

    1. You might not have come up with those ideas, but I’m not convinced mental illness makes us any more creative. I just believe it gives us a different perspective on life, so of course we’re going to come up with different things than if we were happy–but it doesn’t necessarily mean better. Just different. And if we spend a lot of time depressed or sick, we get comfortable with it and so find it hard to imagine to come up with anything when we’re well because we don’t spend so much time being well–just sick, sick, sick. But I believe had Virginia Woolf and others not been struck with depression, they still would have come up with some good stuff, just different stuff, but good stuff, nonetheless.

  2. I am diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders. There’s even been mention of possible PTSD from a recent experience. I have to say that when I’m depressed, I come up with some good, dark poems and stories. However, I have found that it only leads to more depression which leads to me lying on the couch for days doing nothing not wanting to talk to anyone.

    I consider myself creative, and I must admit that my issues certainly inspire certain things. In one sense I’m glad to bare the burden of these things if it means creativity. But in another sense, I wish I didn’t have these issues sometimes. I’ve come to accept them and I pray to God often to heal me, but sometimes these things make life with other people very difficult.

    Thanks for writing this, I think you’ve struck a chord here.

    (also, thanks for subscribing to my blog!)

    1. My thing about the whole mental illness thing is we don’t want to delude ourselves into thinking our mental illnesses make us any more creative because I don’t think that’s what’s happening. They give us a different perspective, certainly, and so different ideas that we probably wouldn’t have been able to come up with if it weren’t for our illnesses.

      While I love Stolentime, it frankly wasn’t worth all the grief bipolar put me through. I’m glad I got something good out of the bad but at the end of the day, it’s not worth it. Nothing ever is when it comes to full-on mental torture.

      And your welcome! I really enjoyed your blog, so I had to subscribe.

  3. You are right, mental illness does not inspire creativity, it just gives a different perspective. Some authors suffer from substance abuse. Does that mean that authors are susceptible to substance abuse? Not necessarily.
    Years ago I was in an accident and suffered severe head trauma. I got to experience all of the ‘fun’ side effects, but I was writing long before the head injury happened. What the head injury has provided to me though is a wealth of insight into mental problems and how one can recover from them or live with them.
    But I would have much rather read about them in the book.

    1. Exactly. I would much rather read about experiences with mental illness than have to go through it myself. But such is life, and all we can do is try to get some good out of it, right?

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