Monday, May 26, 2008

Creativity and Mental Health: Mutually exclusive?

On a thread, a writer who has been feeling depressed asked for input from fellow writers recently.

Most responding posters recommended a visit with a good internist to make sure hormone and thyroid issues and other possible physiological causes weren't to blame.

I concur. A little discontentment is what makes the world go round, but for bigger, ongoing issues a good medical lookover is needed. Sometimes people take the motivational blame for things that are strictly medical in nature.

Other fine recommendations included taking care of yourself, practicing contentment and getting counselling for any long-standing issues. These are all sound ideas, of course, and they have their place.

Deciding when it's a temporary thing or something that can be managed with some heart-to-hearts and when it needs medical assistance is the trick. Either way, sufferers are not alone (by a long ways) and should be commended for assessing their situation and deciding they deserve better.

It's often said that those who gravitate to creative fields tend to be more prone to depression. "It is almost a cliche that writers are moody, depressed alcoholics, so writers are more likely to accept that it's ok for them to be moody and depressed.--On a similar note: do you feel like being moody, anxious, depressed, deep, etc. makes you more creative and/or a better writer?" one poster asked.

However, it's my observation that many addicts aren't creative. In fact, I know one who thinks his addiction MAKES him some kind of creative genius, which is bunk. It makes him unpredictable and sometimes the life of the party, but having a lampshade on your head before sinking to the depths of despair's not the same thing as thinking outside the box.

The film Pollock explored one example of someone who was considered by many to be a genius and who was also obviously bipolar or something (I don't remember his diagnosis.) If there had been good meds back then and he had been able to kick addiction, his ouevre would probably been much greater still.

There's another consideration -- the possible need of those in northern climes for more light/vitamin D in the case of SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. There again, a medical diagnosis for an emotional issue.

I give you that had Van Gogh and Pollock been on meds, the leveling of their highs and lows might have had a negative impact on their creativity. This has happened to a dear friend of mine. Once they got her thyroid issues fixed (taking the hormones out of the equation) they determined that lithium was the old-school answer for her as a relatively young woman. But there went the creativity. However, she herself prefers that flattened creative curve to the anxious ups and downs that had her pronouncing herself the devil's spawn. Which kinda freaked me out, I admit.

Starry Night or no, Van Gogh was never the same without that ear. And Sylvia Plath? Brilliant. But would she rather have stuck around to nurture her kids? I think yes. To choose creativity over mental wellness sounds more like a symptom than anything else, to me.

To check out the thread on creativity and mental wellness, click here:

Here's an interesting link I found about Marya Hornbacher, the bipolar and alcoholic author of 'Wasted' and 'The Center of Winter.' Kudos to her for going public on her illness.

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