Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bipolar disorder and creativity

Bipolar disorder and creativity - there does seem to be a link.

Kay Redfield Jamison has certainly makes a very strong case for a correlation in her book Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. From personal experience, I know many artistic people who suffer from various mood disorders. And the history books are filled with famous creative people who have displayed symptoms of such.

It begs the question:

“Is it having a mood disorder which makes you more creative” or is it that “People with mood disorders are accepted in artistic circles”.

Having lived most of my life in artistic circles, I can say with little doubt that artistic circles are more accepting of differences. The arts has long been a haven for misfits and people who display unusual or extreme behaviors as well as people who have unusual talents, thoughts and extreme beliefs. So it follows that a person suffering from bipolar disorder could be drawn to a community of people who would accept their erratic behavior of highs and lows. I know it was true for me. Having bipolar disorder and creativity, the theater was the only place I found where I could be myself and feel accepted.

Also, the performing arts ask and encourages its members to delve into the heights and depths of their psyches so that the may create more profound work. Historically there is the idea of the mad genius, the eccentric artistic temperament and the suffering artist. Even those in the arts who don’t have a mood disorder often attempt to cultivate the unusual in themselves or look for the extreme in order to create. Thus it makes sense that if you brain chemistry makes you think and act differently you could find a home inside the arts.
But is there a relationship to bipolar disorder and creativity?

Does being bipolar make you more creative or artistically productive than someone without?

There are some studies that think yes. One such study put forth the theory that when a person is in a manic state they have a tendency to be extremely productive and may linguistically arrive at more interesting word choices or rhyming schemes that might not occur otherwise. And alternatively, after the productive period of mania, the low period for the artist might then allow them to be more critical of their work product and cut or revise things they might have left in without the lower state.

And while we will probably never have an empirical study that bipolar disorder and creativity are definitively linked, (After all art is subjective and there’s still no medical test determining bipolar.) we can say that many people who suffer from bipolar disorder are often creative people as well. Perhaps it is also the nature of people in pain to look for ways to alleviate their suffering. The creative arts can be used as a way through that pain, as a means of expression and self-therapy. Creativity can soothe a tortured soul.

Since we’ll never actually know for sure whether bipolar disorder and creativity are linked, we have to ask ourselves the following two questions:

1) Are all people with bipolar disorder going to be creative geniuses? Certainly not.
2) Can you be a creative genius without being bipolar? Yes, you can.

So whether you suffer from a mood disorder or not, you can use creativity to help you enhance your life.


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