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.
Originally posted on RealMental.org.