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Creatively, Mentally, Fabulous

February 8th, 2014


We’ve heard many times that it’s the crazy ones that are creative and there are studies that may seem to prove such findings.

A post came up a few months ago by Scott Barry Kaufman about the link between creativity and Mental Illness. He has a book out called Ungifted, which may tell you without reading the post above what he thinks is true about said link.

Here’s a main takeaway: “There are many eminent people without mental illness or harsh early life experiences, and there is very little evidence suggesting that clinical, debilitating mental illness is conducive to productivity and innovation.”

And later:…my colleague and friend Zorana Ivcevic Pringle found that people who engaged in everyday forms of creativity— such as making a collage, taking photographs, or publishing in a literary magazine– tended to be more open-minded, curious, persistent, positive, energetic, and intrinsically motivated by their activity. Those scoring high in everyday creativity also reported feeling a greater sense of well-being and personal growth compared to their classmates who engaged less in everyday creative behaviors.

Creating can also be therapeutic for those who are already suffering. For instance, research shows that expressive writing increases immune system functioning, and the emerging field of posttraumatic growth is showing how people can turn adversity into creative growth.

I have no quarrel with that. People who have had hardships and/or are mentally ill have no ownership over creativity. Creating is awesome and can be healing and everyone should do it in whatever way they want.

Later, he talks about the families of those with mental disorders, and it’s interesting:Research supports the notion that psychologically healthy biological relatives of people with schizophrenia have unusually creative jobs and hobbies and tend to show higher levels of schizotypal personality traits compared to the general population. Note that schizotypy is not schizophrenia. Schizotypy consists of a constellation of personality traits that are evident in some degree in everyone.” (Maybe go read the entire article.)

But then we get to the very end and it’s this last paragraph that just kind of stuck me in the gut: “Which brings us to the real link between creativity and mental illness.

The latest research suggests that mental illness may be most conductive to creativity indirectly, by enabling the relatives of those inflicted to open their mental flood gates but maintain the protective factors necessary to steer the chaotic, potentially creative storm.

Well, I gotta say, that’s insulting on a few levels.

So, basically, the mentally ill people of the world are the conduits for creativity for all those around them who are strong enough to “steer the chaotic, potentially creative storm” because they themselves are not actually all that talented and couldn’t handle it even if they were?

Let me say this – I’m a creative person. You can divorce that from all the other things that I am if you want, but it doesn’t change. I’m still a creative person with or without the history of bipolar or the eating disorders or the MPD/DID. If you take the hardships in my childhood or the rocky part of self-medicating in my late 20s/early 30s with drug abuse and alcohol dependence, you’d still find me painting or doodling or crafting or writing.

BUT. But. I am a person with a history of all those things. And to say that my creative existence is not for myself but for others to feed off of, well, it just feels bad. To say I couldn’t handle the REAL creativity because I’m not strong enough, only those around me can, as they help corral me to safety, well, that’s just rude and belittling.

The times I felt I couldn’t handle my own creative power was when I had alien drugs in my system that were prescribed to me by doctors trying to help me get my levels back to a place where I could function. Anyone that has had to get on a new medication regimen for the first time or the 50th time knows what I’m talking about. You have a bloodstream full of new, tiny particles zinging this way and that way and you sometimes feel so lethargic your brain can barely think and you can hardly inhale and exhale correctly. Or your hands feel like they’re 20 feet wide. Or you start smelling all the sounds around you. And your teeth hurt.

AND EVEN THEN I still had the creative juices flowing but I couldn’t do anything about it. Thoughts wouldn’t form coherently and I couldn’t concentrate long enough to finish anything. Or picking up a paintbrush was impossible because it was heavier than a car.

But, this was all due to the management of my mental illness. It was because of medication in my system, which I needed so I could have some resemblance of a “normal” life.

I had the trauma and indignity of abuse in my early years. I spent the major part of my 20s trying to figure out how to be a parent and pretend my brain worked like everyone else’s did. In my 30s, things got increasingly worse health-wise for me before I was finally diagnosed with lupus in 2011. In the past couple of years I’ve finally started to make sense of how my brain and body work together and my health – both mental and physical – has never been better.

But through all my life I’ve had some form of creativity to fall back on – to keep me sane. To propose that my life of mental illness is somehow just to benefit those around me so that they can have a more fulfilling, creative life and that my creativity pales to theirs because of the very fact that they aren’t mentally ill and I am? Well.

I’m not going to run through my family members to try and see if my creative energy is rubbing off on them. I’m not going to start comparing us and ranking us according to who might be the most creative. According to who? And about what? And in what field? How presumptuous would someone have to be to think they knew the creative aspirations and secret heart of someone else? And who’s to say that any one person’s project in any field is any more or less creative than any other person’s in any other field? And how can you tell if said person can actually express all the creativity they feel?

I feel like I’m back in 4th grade art class and the teacher is “grading” our paintings.

Let’s pretend for a second that we can score where everyone falls on both the creativity and the mental health grids accurately. Like that’s a thing. Let’s pretend that mental illness doesn’t run in families. Let’s pretend that it’s ok to hypothesize that a member of a family should be thought of as a catalyst for everyone else in that family to feel more creative, a little better, a little “Phew, at least it’s not me!” about. Like they are the sacrificial lamb.

And now let’s stop pretending because it’s not.

Eleanor Longden: The voices in my head

February 7th, 2014

Wonderful talk from Eleanor Longden about her struggle and acceptance of schizophrenia. The end is particular beautiful as she explains that hearing voices isn’t something to be ashamed of and in fact is something that can be healing.

Elyn Saks: A tale of mental illness — from the inside

July 22nd, 2012

TED talk by Elyn Saks talking about schizophrenia, psychosis, and the like from the point of view of her own experience. It is fascinating, harrowing, and incredibly brave.

Who You Are – Jen/Jenny/Jennifer

September 8th, 2009

People call me/I call myself Jen/Jenny/Jennifer.

I see myself as a feminist, a person interested in progress (and sometimes politics), a sister, a friend, and a survivor (and though, I’d prefer a different term for that one, it fits).

If I thought you cared and you were listening, I would tell you how lonely I really am, despite the smile on my face.

I am struggling with self-hatred…Schizophrenia…being an “other” in a world not built for “others”…wanting to do so much that I lack the clear mind required to accomplish…feeling like a failure because I haven’t. finished. college. and I’m 34. years. old. and it’s pathetic.

Something I have been keeping a secret is I hear voices while I’m at work, and no one at work knows.

I am trying to think positive and something I’m good at is keeping a blog (does that count?), taking care of my little apartment and my cat (housework being something I couldn’t manage in the past, for great lengths of time), being a true friend.

I love activism, writing, laughter, and having hope.

I want people to know the world is not a fair or equal playing field for people who live with mental illnesses, but we are still an integral part of this great, big human experiment, with much to offer.

When you hear “schizo….” what do you think? Probably not me.

August 27th, 2009

Guest post by Jennifer

“It’s been a long trip with little days in it, and no new places” ~Anne Sexton

It started when I thought I had been molested and blocked out the memories. This made sense when I read books on the subject, and talked to a therapist or two. It made so much sense, I had things I thought were “repressed memories” and I became completely sure that they were real. It made so much sense, I destroyed some familial relationships that have never been repaired completely since.

The first time I hallucinated, I thought there was a bat flying around my bedroom. Another night, a giant frog was on me.

The CIA didn’t start to follow me until a few years later. I thought I was followed by the mafia, the Masons, the CIA, the FBA, the NSA, and Satanic cults, and became convinced I had a connection to all these groups.

I saw the same color, everywhere I looked, some days. I’d see red-white-and-blue on everything from someone’s clothing to the paint on a wall. Everything. And I didn’t know I was hallucinating at all.

I heard the voices first as if they were from people behind a wall. I thought I was overhearing people in another apartment or room. Then I heard people tell me how I was going to die. All the time, every day, people were telling me I was going to die. They were telling me how horrible I was, how much they hated me, that I was worthless, and that I should be dead.

I came to believe on alternating days that I was Anne Frank, Jesus, and L. Ron Hubbard. During one hospital trip, there were three of us who believed we were God. “Hi, I’m God,” one said to me. And I thought, “What?? She is obviously confused,” as I was Jesus that day.

I thought Anderson Cooper was my husband and that we were part of the “Illuminati”, I thought that he talked to me directly when he spoke on TV. I heard him. I watched him. Everything was directed directly at me. I thought the same thing about Ani Difranco’s music. It gave me messages.

One time I went to New York City because song lyrics and voices told me to. I didn’t know anyone there. When I got there, the world was ending. People were being shipped off in trains to concentration camps because the Holocaust was still occurring. I took a bottle of pills in a hotel room and cut my leg open with a piece of glass, trying to get the implant out – you know, the one the CIA put there. I woke up in some hospital in New Jersey. They wanted to send me to the state hospital. My family saved me from that fate.

I’m better now. I work part time. I live alone, with my cat, and I have lived in the same spot for three years, which is a rare thing for me. I take my meds, every day, without fail. I get injections of an antipsychotic every other week, without fail.

But I still hear voices. You wouldn’t know it if you met me. You can’t always see psychosis.

Small and Still and Undisturbed

April 15th, 2009

From Dodo

I was diagnosed schizophrenic about nine months ago, and had moved into a new world with antidepressant and antipsychotic medication since then. It was a slow and frighteningly revealing journey. I found out I was pregnant after we took a long vacation in the States over December. My psychiatrist advised me to quit all meds over two days, which I did. Then a week or so ago I miscarried. But the hospital wasn’t sure I had. I had to go in every day for four days for bloods, scans, examinations, internal scans and, eventually, ‘the talk.’ The one where they say that there’s nothing you could have done differently. Being off the meds made me feel different about the prospect of having another baby. Made me feel different about the strength of my relationship with S. We had a very difficult year last year. While we were away, the idea of new year, new start, new baby, new house seemed natural. Obvious. Now I don’t know. I don’t feel any particular connection to the baby I lost. Or to him.

“small and still and undisturbed. its what i want. and what i’m afraid of. wanting because of the absolution that’s bound to it. turn down the lights, muffle invading sounds. be still. and inside. and quiet. trying to find a way to let go without letting go. to be able to achieve distance from the outside for the hours i have to myself. lose the time that’s mine to lose. now that i’ve walked away from my job i have three whole days to indulge myself. with solitude. not solitude. a kind of comforting vacuum.

but the show must go on. P has to be taken to nursery. Adult conversations must be had. dinner made. dog walked. How much of the outside function can i maintain while secretly willing myself further and further away.
the longer i leave it, the harder it is to get back. one day without brushing my teeth, two days without washing my hair. deliberately not taking the meds in case they strengthen my fingernail grip. stop me from disappearing. but not committing, medicating intermittently. enough for ” and how was your day?” and putting on clothes. enough to take P to the park with a neighbour. enough to take the cat and talk to the vet. joke even. enough to give S a plausible account of a productive day. so he doesn’t despise my sloth. seek pastures greener. again.
outside is jagged edges and piercing sounds. clumsy intrusions. it’s too bright, too loud. too personal. abrasive. other. too much.

so few tools to challenge myself to consider the inevitable conclusion. yet here i am. what would happen if i disappeared completely. i’ve backspaced over that line twice. can’t answer my own question. except I can. i know i’ve felt this way before. i know i’ve lived through it. i remember this feeling – that S is a great father and that there’s lots of people who love P. that the clouds would soon pass. how ridiculous. how indulgent i sound. such melodrama. how pathetic.”

Previously posted here.