Psych Meds Prevent Artistic and Creative Thought

Not infrequently, at the Bipolar Burble I get comments about how if famous artists with mental illnesses had of been medicated, we would have no art today. For some odd reason their go-to example is always Vincent Van Gogh. Without his untreated mental illness, they argue, Van Gogh wouldn’t have been the great artist we know him to be today.

Right then. Let’s all go off our meds and paint. And chop off our ears.

Creativity and Mental Illness

There is no doubt that being crazy makes you see things in a new way. I know I can see things in ways that others can’t. It’s both a benefit and a dramatic hindrance. I’m constantly dealing with people looking at me in odd ways as they try to wrap their head around whatever-the-heck logic my thoughts are trying to make. It’s no mean feat.

But that’s not necessarily all the bipolar. That’s creativity. I was creative before I was crazy, before I was medicated. And I’m creative now, on psych medication.

Creativity and Hypomania

I have had hypomanic times where I have written and written and written and written. Thousands and thousands of words pour out of my skull. And they are brilliant.

Or at least, so I think at the time.

Hypomanic (and manic) people think they are brilliant. Think they are unbelievably talented and creative. Think they are genius. It doesn’t mean they actually are.

Creativity and Psychiatric Medication

Since being on psych meds I have written thousands of pages. Thousands. Some professionally, some not, but many fairly laudable and creative. Believe it or not folks, I do have talent and that talent hasn’t magically been removed because of the medication.

Of course, if I’m too depressed because of the bipolar to get off the couch, that has a rather adverse effect on producing anything, talented or not.*

Van Gogh Committed Suicide

Van Gogh, Self-portrait with Straw Hat, 1887–8 (via Wikipedia)

Artists, Psychiatric Medication and Death

But so you don’t agree with me. You have personally found you’re brilliant off meds and not on. OK. Fine. And maybe you think you’d be willing to part with your ear to be Van Gogh. OK. Fine.

But you might want to keep in mind some truly brilliant people who killed themselves due to mental illness, including Van Gogh whose depression worsened over the course of his lifetime, making him unable to paint, leading to his suicide at the age of 37.

And then there are other famous artists dead from suicide:

  • Sylvia Plath, suicide at 30
  • Kurt Cobain, suicide at 27
  • Ernest Hemingway, suicide at 62 (and just in case you’re doubting genetics, his father, brother and sister also committed suicide)
  • Diane Arbus, suicide at 48 (both a drug overdose and slashed wrists)
  • Arshile Gorky, suicide at 44
  • Alexander McQueen, diagnosed anxiety and depressive disorders, suicide at 41
  • Virginia Woolf, suicide at 59, part of her suicide note to her husband:

I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. . . I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. . . I can’t read.

And a whole bunch of other talented people both known and unknown who had their lives cut short by suicide.

And my guess is the loved ones of every single one of those people wish treatment had of been available for /used by their loved ones.

Psych Medication Destroys Creativity and Art

So don’t give me the bullshit argument that medications are “bad” because they hamper creativity. Because you know what really kills your creativity?

Death.

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A Little Bit More

* There’s a study showing this but I seem to have misplaced it.
I’m not saying it’s never the case that medication inhibits creativity, just that it’s a poor argument and misses some of the fundamental reasons why people get treatment in the first please.
Creative people who have publically stated they are in treatment for a mental illness. Including Patty Duke, “She says that she’s more creative now because she can organize a thought.”

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  1. It’s not as black and white as being stable vs being unstable..

    To put it short:

    I’d rather have feelings, be social, creative, thin and funny than;
    not have feelings, be antisocial, uncreative, fat, boring and unfunny.

    Which is which? Can you guess??

    The rush of hypomania feels better than any drug in existence. Does it weigh up for mania and depression? Hm..I don’t know. I do know that while being medicated I’m not myself anymore. I just sit around watching Netflix. Try to play guitar now and then, give up and throw my guitar into the freaking wall. My music was one of the things I really enjoyed. Now I feel it slipping away. I can’t talk to girls anymore. I feel dead inside, without even caring. Maybe I became addicted to depression? But now that its gone, I feel absolutely nothing. Just a big, vast emptiness. I used to have plans for my future, now I don’t see an future at all.

    I know mania and depression are high risks of injury and death. I know! But if I’m gonna feel utterly alone, emotionally dead and useless for the rest of my life, I really don’t know if it’s worth it.

    I see some of the comments put down the bipolar creative “geniuses”.. Truth be told, I never considered myself or my art to be genius. Never! I’ve always been rather humble and even shy about it. There were always everyone else who told me that my music and lyrics (poetry?) was brilliant. See? it’s absolutely NOT delusions of grandeur!

    This is actually my third(!) offer for a record deal. Because the first two times, I actually panicked. Being approached by a big record company is freaking scary..

    Now that I’ve started learning and spotting the signs of how mania and depression creeps up on me, I actually believe it’s possible to stop those dead in their tracks. Do you think it’s possible?

    Or do I need to be medicated and retarded for the rest of my life?

    Thoughts?

  2. I have bipolar disorder. I’ve been playing guitar for the better part of 25 years. I’ve also been writing songs and lyrics for something like 20 years. recently got a record deal, so it’s obvious that I’m talented. And yes, I CAN see the difference between my good songs and my bad ones, just so we’re clear on that!
    After being medicated, my inspiration is gone and my ability to play guitar is very, very diminished. I’m actually considering using amphetamines in order to record my album, because I know it helps. Not the best idea, but that’s the alternative.
    Yes, I subscribe to the theory that bipolar disorder and artistic creativity go hand in hand.
    I’ll finish with a quote from famous bipolar painter Edvard Munch: “If you remove my illness, you’ll also remove my art, mr. doctor.”

  3. I’m wondering if what artistic people miss is the mood of mania, bringing feelings of being a great artist into play. When we’re manic we rarely question how wonderful our work is, because we know beyond a shadow of doubt our work is brilliant !

    Those moods banish the insecurities most artists have to live with regarding their art : Is it any good ? Will people buy my work ? Will I ever be able to create anything of meaning and value ? Why am I unable to work right now ? Why am I tempted to quit ?

    Being an artist is oftentimes our identity. When who we are as a person is threatened by a creative shut-down it can be terrifying.

  4. The Bipolar condition is far from fashionable, and an irritant to close friends and relatives. Loved ones tolerate ‘you’, everyone else may just think you are eccentric or just a jerk. Elevated levels of biological stimulants cause the brain to over act. The result is a bunch of choices, some good others a disaster, or even criminal. Yes this is the negative side of what can be a very pleasurable experience, but it comes at a price. One you pay for all your life.

  5. I love this article, Natasha. I know so many people who, while in the throes of a hypomania, think they are creative geniuses. If I had a nickel for every person with bipolar who thought “I should write a book about my experiences” because they think they somehow are different from every single other person with bipolar disorder, I’d be rich. Bipolar and creativity being linked is nonsense. I have a family full of people with bipolar disorder, and a bunch of friends. There is no more creativity or genius among them than there is among my other family and friends. Though the bipolar people in my family who don’t take their meds sure think they are geniuses as they write pages of poems that they think will change the world or take up an instrument when they couldn’t play the first thing they took up. (It’s not just bipolar, people think every autistic person has some savant ability, too….god do I get sick of answering the question does my 17-yr-old autistic son have any special abilities. I want to scream: Yes he does. He can eat two pizzas in under ten minutes. Now shut up!

  6. I reconnected with my sister, who is an artist as am I, after several yrs without contact. I was not surprised that she too, in the interim, had been diagnosed bipolar type II, like me. I asked her how the medication was working for her. She told me that she stopped taking them because of the weight gain. She said, “I’d rather be thin and crazy than fat and sane.” Shocking! I made a mental note to myself: “NEVER TAKE ADVICE FROM YOUR SISTER!” I had found a measure of peace for the first time in my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything; equally, I am willing to trade anything for this peace. One of those ‘trades’ has been my prolific output of visual art.

    Yes, I still grieve the loss of what was once an incredible pleasure. I have owned two art galleries and done well in my career. Unlike others here, when hypomanic, I was wholly focussed, entirely immersed in the body of work I was creating. Too much so, really, but the results were excellent. Of course, the cost was phenomenal. I was physically and emotionally destroyed at the end of the weeks or months it took to put it together. It’s what I call “Bipolar Law”, like that Law of Physics: there WILL ALWAYS BE an equal and opposite reaction. In no way, shape, or form do I miss living from extreme-to-extreme. NOT.

    I have been bipolar since childhood. I was not correctly diagnosed and treated until after my daughter died a few years ago. Until then, docs kept putting me on anti-depressants because the deep depression was most obvious and therefore the diagnosis. Many docs ran through the questionnaire to see if I qualified as “Bipolar” (type I) because the depression seemed atypical in some ways, but none ever considered Type II. I didn’t know it existed until a few years ago when the last therapist brought it up. I had always, always known there was more ‘wrong’ with me than simple depression, but I didn’t know what. There was just “more to it”…somehow. And I knew that the anti-depressants made the whole mess so damn much worse. It sent me into periods of excruciating anxiety and insomnia for weeks at a time wherein I was sure I’d lose my mind. And now I know why.

    Interestingly, it was my art portfolio that helped the last therapist become certain of my diagnosis of Bipolar Type II. All of my exhibits were dated, when the work was created – by month and year – and she actually laughed out loud when she went through it. She showed me her notes listing what I’d told her were my “up” periods/weeks/months, and when exactly were my “down”/depressive periods. Then she correlated them with the art. It was as though the chaotic, colourful, edgy, larger art that left no smooth spaces on the canvases correlated *exactly* with every up/hypomanic date, and the smaller, dark, monotone, ‘plainer’ work with lots of open spaces correlated *exactly* with the down/depressive dates. Also, it looked as though the album was comprised of the work of two entirely different artists! I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed that. To me it was all…just…me. And it was. Then.

    Today, while I create far, far less work, it is a consistently visually unified body of work. It consists of a little bit of ALL of me, both the dark and light sides, the chaos and the peace I have known…in short…it is now balanced. Do I like my current work better? Yes and no. Artistically, professionally, it is more ‘sound’, still beautiful, still creative, but not as emotional, because I’m not as emotional. That is not to say that it is “emotionless”; simply that the chaotic art literally ‘vibrated’ on the walls with emotion. Which is good and bad. It attracted the few – still sold – but frightened the many with its power. As art truly should, I believe. And so I am said to feel like lesser of an artist than I used to be.

    That said, I am also more of an artist than I used to be. In different ways. Remember this, always…DISABILITIES DON’T END LIVES, THEY JUST CHANGE THEM. Also, “Every one of us has more possibilities than limitations.” That is our credo at Monkey Hill Creative Arts. Something our daughter (who was severely disabled) taught us. And so my writing today, since being medicated, is far better than it has ever been simply because I can focus and finish a thought. I can choose my own words now instead of having words sort of…????…yes…”livestream” through my head on fast-forward with the volume turned up to the max so that I feel forced to write them down in a desperate bid to purge the wild-dog monologue, the whole while under the illusion it was something called “creativity”. (I laugh at that notion now)

    I’ve said a lot, I know. But we’re talking about life and death when we broach the subject of whether or not it’s worth it to take medication to treat life-threatening illnesses with VERY high suicide rates. So can we ever say enough about it? Let me say something definitive enough to end my need to say anything further. Something that sums up the issue once and for all. Creativity and art: what’s it really worth? When my daughter died, I sat in front of my fireplace for a couple of weeks burning everything that would burn. Clothing, yrs of journals/writing, books, broke up and burnt furniture, and yes…all of my art. Why? Because the only thing that mattered, the only thing I wanted to have, was my child, and she was the one thing I couldn’t have. And I was furious that in exchange for a life I was left with a house full of…stuff. Things. Objects. My oh-so-precious art suddenly became “objects” when held up against the choice between “life” and “art”. I wanted Life. So…if you have the chance, the choice…please…I beg you All…CHOOSE LIFE!

    • Stephanie, your story brought tears to my eyes. I hope many others will read what you have experienced, as an artist and a mother. I’m so sorry your daughter died. The message in your reply means the world to me : ” Choose Life ”

      Blessings and Peace,

      Elizabeth

  7. Creativity requires lots of energy. Psych meds reduce the inclination to use that power. Normal people can be creative also when they are driven by other forces. In the end they may become just as demented when success overcomes good judgment (example: Howard Hughs). As far as suicide, there are those who are dead long before their mortality has been mercifully extinguished. This of course is unqualified opinion based on disappointing attempts to satisfy selfish pursuits. There are numerous methods of suicide without mortal consequences. Hence I write…

    • It is true that taking meds reduces or some cases, like me, totally remove any creative inspiration or motivation, People mourn the passing of their creative process but to be honest to a great extent I am grateful to be well, rather than painting, writing, acting at a frantic pace. I do however miss painting but I know my ability to paint will never really disappear. For the record I take 1000mg of Depacote and 30mg of Cipramil per day for Bipolar. I seem to remain in a permanent low state but I have good and bad days.

  8. I have not been able to write one piece of music, one poem or draw one sketch since I went on mood stabilizers. I barely make any crafts even! I used to be quite prolific – depressed or hypo-manic, or in between. My psychiatrist agrees that my lack of creative drive is most likely the lamotrigine, of which I take the lowest dose. I have been considering going off of this and staying on the antidepressant, but I make such ridiculous decisions and do and say and behave so weirdly when I am hypo-manic, that I am afraid to.

  9. I start more creative projects when manic, but I finish more when I’m stable. Matter of fact, I don’t finish much of anything when manic…

  10. Psychiatric Medicine did ruin my creativity in some ways. Not to burst your bubble or to attack you, its not personally directed towards you. This is my experience in which I have experienced it and therefore that’s what it is. Most of us, perhaps have started out drawing and painting before engaging in other mediums and other artistic endeavors. I was selected in the top 20 to study painting with Janet Fish in Colorado in some art program for high school students. So that means my painting skills were not bad when I was 17. I just barely started taking psychiatric medicines then. However, as time progressed, trouble started. I started smoking cigarettes, and not doing my martial arts. Some of you may logically say its reasonable for anyone to smoke or to quit doing karate. The thing is I was super-humanly good at karate/martial arts at age 17. I believe my true path back then was to follow the footsteps of Bruce Lee and make artsy ninja movies. Of course, most artists don’t see marital arts of art but then again, theres no reason not to make art out of anything. What I did was, influenced by the ‘depersonalization” caused by psychiatric medicines, not only did I quit my marital arts discipline, but painting as well. Strangely, I was swept into the “pretense” of video art, and making shitty video art in the 90s with retro VHS and stone-age slow computers. Instead of making beautiful paintings and developing my skills and craft of painting, and acting pretensey about being an artist instead of BEING MYSELF. Instead of being myself making artsy ninja movies, I made crappy pretense video art. You could logically say it was my choice? But was it really? The sexual side-effects was horrible. I had a girlfriend in high school and she wanted to give me awesome blowjobs, but I turned her down and broke up with her and masturbated instead. Psychiatric medicine ruined my sex life. Instead of getting awesome blowjobs and having hot sex, I masturbated. I didn’t have sex for 13 years. I finally had sex with some girl I didn’t like, for 1 week, and so far I haven’t been able to have sex for 10 years. Psychiatric medicine has caused me an incredible cluster-fuck load of problems like opening a pandoras box of demons. I took it from 92-00 and had sex in 04, but still am trying to have sex since 04 and haven’t. Furthermore, my art sucks ass. My art has suffered, my paintings suck, my drawings suck, my life sucks, thanks to shitty psychiatric pills. If something has a suicide-side effect, and if you don’t kill yourself, there are other things you’ll do yourself, like being your own worst enemy.

  11. I have been thinking about the loss of creative urges and inspiration in myself ever since my psychosis in 1996 and subsequent bipolar diagnosis in 2000 Tracey. I was acting and writing and thinking very grandiose thoughts in 96 and after my hospitalisation for 3 months I thought I would never be ill again. I was painting some really good landscapes and had exhibited in Bond Street, London. Got be honest I thought I was going to be massively famous. Inside though I was a train wreck waiting happen. After my breakdown and during my recovery after hospital, at home, I found I ‘couldn’t’ paint any more. My mind was silent, empty of thoughts. Everything was so slowed. And though there were odd things I did now and again creatively, there was no trust of ideas, no energy or spontaneity to be creative in any way. I was so distraught. Like my inner true self had been wrecked by dulling meds. Sure they stabilised me but they also robbed me of what I ft I could give creatively. And I feel that to this day. I am bipolar 2. 38 years old now and a director of a company in London, nice house, married, no kids yet. But what really is the point of it all when I know who is really inside is massively creative?? I don’t write or paint or act anymore. The times I have tried reducing my citilopram and depacote I feel racing thoughts coming into my head and depression coming back fast. It’s so frankly pitiful for the cause if being creative. It does feel like god gave me some gifts but also cursed me with illness. And almost like a medical conspiracy to sap my creative powers lol. I say to myself, what would I rather be? A commuter with a car and house and directorship or a pained artist who might have made it big? Did I pick the road least courageous? I think I did. I get awfully depressed thinking about it all. This winter just gone has been especially difficult. One day I dream of slowly coming off all meds to become a writer/painter, to turn my back on business, which is mostly inhabited by bores in any case. Tracey, thank you so much so writing what you did. I am stuck between the stable man who makes boring sense and my other self who teachers said should do an art scholarship, who went on to get into drama school before having an acute psychotic breakdown…who had he been able to somehow control his artistic fire a bit better,, might well have ended up doing his true self proud.

  12. Creativity hampering meds are of course a myth, I’m an artist and I’ve been on meds when things got a bit rough, but fortunately my creativity survived.
    Creative people are always more receptive and sensitive to the environment than others. It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time. The problem isn’t whether meds help or not. They sometimes do. But for how long? People don’t commit suicide out of the blue. It’s a slow decline, many times imposed by external factors like stress, fear of abandonment, work or illness related. Both my dad and my grandma committed suicide while under medication. It helped taking them for a while, than it didn’t.
    On one hand I agree that meds don’t kill creativity (because creativity itself -contrary to what people think- isn’t spontaneous, but part of a learning curve that takes years to perfect), on the other hand I don’t think meds would have done much difference in the above mentioned cases. McQueen didn’t kill himself because he wasn’t on meds, he did it because he couldn’t cope with his mother’s death. Was Marilyn Monroe receiving treatment? Yes, and the meds killed her.
    And about hypomanic people believing they’re all geniuses… First of all, there’s no such thing as a genius. A good writer becomes a genius if some dumb producer in Hollywood decides he’s going to make a saga out of his quasi-unknown trilogy. He becomes a genius because people think that. Ask Salvador Dali. :)

  13. Its kind of funny what we think is brilliant at the time of writing or painting, then in our sane moments it reads or look like an alien took over our brain. Which is kind of true. Someone pointed out just how few regular artist make art that sells, and Bipolar artists have an even more difficult time. Granted I’m not as creative in a normal more as what I call a mini mania. It’s hard road, but one that I find rewarding. It helps me to focus on life rather then my Bipolar.

  14. So let’s cut through your list:

    Silvia Plath? Treated.
    Hemingway – killed himself as result of brainfry… pardon, ECT destroying his abilities (so to use him on the list is slightly…. counteproductive).

    Kurt Cobain… drug addict and had Courtney Love for wife. I think all meds in the world would not fix bad marriage.

    Alexander McQueen… has been treated too.

    Then again… do we know how long could these people go on if they didn’t have their creativity? For many… it’s creativity that saves lifes. So we fear losing it. Because when pills kill part of ourselves… it’s so tempting to take enough of them to kill the physical body. That’s why artsy people cling to their artsy site “irrationaly” (but hey rationality is in eyes of beholder).

  15. Well,I am a musician and I have OCD,recurring thoughts and anxiety…..I’ve tried SSRI for 3 months,all my emotions went away…. then I took
    the decision that if I had to exchange my feelings (good and bad) with “being normal”,I’d rather suffer my whole life but at least FEEL SOMETHING when I play music !

    • Hi Andrea,

      Of course, being on any medication means weighing the pros against the cons and maybe the cons win out for you, I can’t say.

      What I will say is that “not feeling” is not the case for everyone on medication and generally suggests that you’re not on the right medication or the right dosage for you.

      – Natasha Tracy

      • Natasha,thank you for your kind answer . I think you’re right about a too high dosage….I will talk with my doc again about this..btw what she gave me was Daparox and the OCD went away (together with creativity) that’s quite a big compromise isn’t it ? But maybe I could try something else…I wish you a beautiful 2013

  16. Hi great article well written & funny. Glad to see you still have your talent.
    And yes if you are dead you cant write!
    Great points!
    As a child pstchotherapist i work with really young kids starting with babies 5 mn & up to help parents learn how to teach kids emotional intelligence and how to regulate mood. Research shows the correct teaching of Emotional intelligence skills prevents disorders . Just one point a whole family of sucide doesnt neccesarily support genetics:). It also means the family of ofigin never knew how or never taught the understanding or recognition & regulation of emotions.. Skills where not tuaght not just genetics. They internalize feelings leading to depression. Instead of externalizing in a healthy fashion like talking about it.

  17. Hi Natasha,

    I really like your article!

    I too was hypomanic and FELT like I was a genius because I kept on writing reams and reams of poetry. Like you, I just had too many ideas that while I’m writing one poem, many other ideas are rushing into my brain, pressuring me to transform all of them into full length poems.

    When I first went on medications, I too lost my passion for art–writing and reading. I felt horrible. I felt like I wasn’t myself anymore. Soon enough, I sunk into depression and had constant suicidal thoughts.

    But now the doc lowered my med dose, so my depression is gone, and my art passion is back. I get a lot of inspiration and ideas again, but now it’s much much less, much more manageable. So now I can control my life and choose when I want to study and when I want to write. My art can’t overpower me and endanger my school life anymore—I do care a great deal about my grades after all.

    Your note about Virginia Woolf and that DEATH is what destroys your creativity really touched me.

    Thanks again for writing this counter-convention article! I’m show this to my friend who also had mania.

    • Serena,
      Thank you so much for your detailed description and contribution. It always helps to hear others’ similar stories. Sometimes I go weeks without doing art (I still think about it) but usually it’s because of work. Those times I still question my artistic passion. Still a work in progress. Take care!

      • No problem! To keep my art going despite the school workload, I make myself write at least one sentence or jot down one idea for my story, and I make myself draw at least one line on my sketchbook. That way, I make daily progress on both my stories and my drawings. Maybe this will help you too.

  18. Hypomania is quite a rush. I remember once when I had a hypomanic episode and believed I had found the cure for autism, and was going to apply for a research grant and start a huge clinical trial. (First off, I am not a doctor, nor do I have much education about autismj, second it’s an idea that has no research basis at all). The things that I come up with sometimes are… crazy to say the least.

    I have found that since I’ve been on medication I’ve been a bit less creative in the ways I used to be. I used to write a lot of poetry, and since I’ve been medicated I’ve nearly stopped entirely. I still write for a friend’s blog, though it’s more commentaries on other articles than sheer creative material. However, with the medication I’ve started to get into other creative activities that never interested me before. In a way, it’s a bit of an exchange. I miss being able to write creatively, but I’m doing a whole bunch of new things that I would have never tried otherwise.

    • Hi Ash,

      I agree, hypomania _can_ be quite a rush. Sounds like you had quite a significant one there.

      “I’ve started to get into other creative activities that never interested me before. In a way, it’s a bit of an exchange. I miss being able to write creatively, but I’m doing a whole bunch of new things that I would have never tried otherwise.”

      Yes, I agree, it’s a bit of an exchange. We can all be sad over what we’ve lost, that’s normal, after all, but there are good things we have gained too.

      – Natasha Tracy

      • Well well. Here i am a damn wreck!! Medicated since last Friday which I was off my meds for a week and lemme tell ya, I was on a roll. Art was pouring out of my skull. Music was being created as well. Now look at me. I’m a pitiful lump of unmotivation. While sitting here trying not to cry or punch a hole in the wall, I honestly don’t know where this all ends. I NEED to create. Now I am halted. I hate this but I want to live but living is pain but then again I don’t want to hurt the ones I love. Whatever. lol. bunch of babble anyways.

        • Hi Lon,

          I’m sorry to hear you’re having such a hard time right now. We’ve all been where you are. On new meds sometimes the brain turns into a rock. Or putty. Or some other useless material.

          But what you’re aiming for is a balance, nothing “pounding out of your skull” in either direction. It means the _right_ medication at the _right_ dose. And it means patience. It can take a long time to get there, but you can live without pain without giving up your creative spark.

          – Natasha Tracy

          • Thanks Natasha. I’ve been taking these meds since 2007 and it has been a roller-coaster but for the most part, I’m not this life of the party guy and then wanna come home and end it all. So in that aspect, I feel better. I guess if I have anything to contribute is that if we all know that being on our meds affects us drastically sometimes where we don’t even feel alive, then we have to force ourselves to continue working. I think this one lady said she stopped painting for years. Hell no! If I do that, I will wither away and die. It’s so late here. I need sleep.

          • Hi Lon,

            A roller-coaster is pretty much how I would characterize the illness too. I’m glad to hear part of you feels better, even if it isn’t perfect.

            “our meds affects us drastically sometimes where we don’t even feel alive, then we have to force ourselves to continue working.”

            I’m not sure if this is what you mean, but I read this to mean, “continue working to find the best medication for us.” Because it takes a lot of work, effort, strength and courage to do that.

            If you’re a painter, and want to paint, then you’ll paint. It might not be exactly the same, but you will find your way artistically.

            – Natasha Tracy

          • That’s interesting Natasha.
            “our meds affects us drastically sometimes where we don’t even feel alive, then we have to force ourselves to continue working.”

            I’m not sure if this is what you mean, but I read this to mean, “continue working to find the best medication for us.”

            I read it to mean that even if we feel dead, nonemotive, unartistic, unable to do anything meaningful, we still have to create, keep on working, just keep going because eventually things will come around. It’s the same as not letting our disease get the best of us, not curling up on the couch every time we feel like doing so, not letting our lives drift away. It’s so “easy” for me to follow the flow of bipolar to rule me like a jellyfish. I’ve had to work hard to keep doing the things I know I want to do even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

          • Hi Meredith,

            “I read it to mean that even if we feel dead, nonemotive, unartistic, unable to do anything meaningful, we still have to create, keep on working, just keep going because eventually things will come around. It’s the same as not letting our disease get the best of us, not curling up on the couch every time we feel like doing so, not letting our lives drift away.”

            That would be another good reading and you’ll get no argument from me on that. For the record, my couch see way too much of me.

            – Natasha Tracy

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  20. I agree with what Meredith says in her first post, “when I first got on meds, I stopped doing art.” I find the same thing has happened to me. I don’t think I am any less creative because I use my creativity in other areas of my life everyday, but I think my need to use art as a way of coping with my overwhelming emotions has gone away. When I was not on medication, creating art was the only way I knew how to escape the horrible feelings I had, therefore I had a huge drive to produce lots of art. However, now that the medication has helped with my depressed emotions I find my drive to make art has pretty much diminished…kind of sad, but true. This doesn’t mean if I didn’t make the time to sit down and think about creating a piece that it wouldn’t be as great or even more creative than the pieces I made while not on medication, it just means my drive to actually do this isn’t really there anymore.

    • Hi Jessica,

      “When I was not on medication, creating art was the only way I knew how to escape the horrible feelings”

      Yes, I agree. Art can take people away from the pain, or express it, which can help.

      But when you’re well, there are so many things that can enjoyably take up your time that outlet looses some of its importance. One could view that as sad, but I’d rather be a happy non-artists than a non-happy artist any day. Happy people get to be happy about more than just art.

      Thanks for the comment.

      – Natasha Tracy

  21. Natasha,
    I agree with both sides of this. I strongly believe that I must be medicated. I can’t however say that I have ever had extra ordinary creativity with or without medication.
    I respond here bc I read:

    “Virginia Woolf, suicide at 59, part of her suicide note to her husband:
    I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. . . I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. . . I can’t read.”

    It stopped me cold. I read this for the first time here in your article. I feel those words. I have thought them so many times before. I am not medicated for of my husband, I medicated for me. But if I allowed myself to become unmedicated I feel this would be a real scenario in my life. I almost cried when I read it.
    No one should have to feel that way. Unmedicated we do. It’s so sad.

    • Hi Sarah,

      I agree, the suicide note speaks for many of us. Suicide notes aren’t generally available to the public, but I think if they were, many of them would be like this. The kicker to me is “I can’t read.” As I writer, that speaks volumes as to what she must have been living with.

      “No one should have to feel that way. Unmedicated we do. It’s so sad.”

      Yes.

      – Natasha Tracy

  22. when I first got on meds, I stopped doing art. That was almost 6 years ago and I am still dealing with the effects. But I was not creative because I was bipolar. The creativity is me. It just so happens that every time I got crazy, the only thing that would calm me down or ground me was going into my studio. Not to say that everything I created was worthwhile in the artistic sense, but it was worthwhile in some sense. Anyway, I create for different reasons now, not because of the angst; the change has taken time to adjust to. And nothing screws up my creativity like a little mania or depression. When I’m manic, I have trouble keeping still long enough to decide what to create, let alone create anything.
    Thanks for the post, Natasha. As usual, you’re right on the pulse!
    My recent blog happens to be about art but not in a bipolar way: http://bit.ly/jjjrzt

    • Hi Meredith,

      “The creativity is me.”

      I like that. It’s like saying, “I am art,” but not so pretentious.

      “And nothing screws up my creativity like a little mania or depression. When I’m manic, I have trouble keeping still long enough to decide what to create, let alone create anything.”

      Yes, I didn’t mention it but one of the things that happens when I’m hypomanic is I start a lot of ideas and never finish them. I have lots of book-parts and article-parts and whatnot from all those times. But hypomania never really completes a thought before it’s on to the next one. And I have those times too when I feel like there are so many thoughts I can’t get them down at all.

      I’m glad you could identify. I wasn’t really sure how this one was going to be received.

      – Natasha Tracy

      • Natasha,
        Yes, I would imagine you might feel iffy about this as so many people associate the good creativity with bipolarity when the artist is labeled bipolar. (I wonder how much Jamison’s book has to do with that.) Rarely do they get that it goes both ways or only the other way. It was only after I was medicated that I could deconstruct my issues with my own creativity. It was only because I was medicated that I could see how my nonmedicated self was too scattered as you mention to get much accomplished. Thanks for the great post!

        • Meredith,

          You’re welcome!

          “Rarely do they get that it goes both ways or only the other way. It was only after I was medicated that I could deconstruct my issues with my own creativity. It was only because I was medicated that I could see how my nonmedicated self was too scattered as you mention to get much accomplished.”

          I think that happens for more people than are willing to admit it. Bipolar creativity is terribly romantic. Who doesn’t want to believe that the illness secretly makes them great?

          – Natasha Tracy

          • Indeed! Although a friend of mine and I had been discussing the outrageous notion that this disease is responsible for us being great! We’d rather be great on our own. Right?

          • It’s not so much that we don’t want to be great on our own, it’s more that we want to believe this awful disease also gives us something, like some sort of reward.

            (A woman told me there’s a special place in heaven for people with bipolar disorder. That sort of thing.)

            I find the notion ridiculous, personally. What’s the reward for a paraplegic? They never have to stand in line?

            (This is not to suggest that there’s anything wrong with being paraplegic, I’m simply making the point that life is not a balanced equation. Just because you’re given crap on one front doesn’t mean that magical greatness appears on another. Crap is just crap. We all deal with it the best we can. I don’t need a fairy tale about some supposed “gift” to make that happen.)

            – Natasha

  23. Because you know what really kills your creativity?

    Death.

    That has to be my favorite part. I hear people say that a lot (I won’t be creative on meds), but if you’re talented, then you’re talented; with or without meds. I think the biggest reason people are against meds is fear. Even though crazy is crazy, it is known. But meds are unknown so we/people fear it. Fear what we might become. Fear the feelings that begin to flow through us as the meds start to sort out the bazillion thoughts flooding our brains. Silence and normal thoughts take time to get use to. There is an adjustment phase people must go through and during this time they might be less creative or maybe more, but still it is unknown and often the knee jerk reaction is to fear and run from the things we don’t know.

    • Hi Maasiyat,

      I totally agree.

      “if you’re talented, then you’re talented; with or without meds.”

      I think so, yes.

      ” I think the biggest reason people are against meds is fear. Even though crazy is crazy, it is known. But meds are unknown so we/people fear it.”

      Good point. It is a lot about fear. And people even talk themselves _into_ this fear. I think the fear is normal and natural, but just because you’re afraid of something, that doesn’t make it so. I had many fears pre-medication. Some turned out to be realistic, some didn’t, but you really don’t know until you work through the situation.

      And I do agree there’s an adjustment period. We all know how complicated meds can be. It can take a very long time to find the right meds and while you’re waiting, you can, quite reasonably, feel stifled, but that doesn’t mean it will be that way forever and that doesn’t mean you would be any better off the meds.

      There are parts of us we misplace through treatment, but people are _resilient_. Our job is to do the best with what we have and not idealize some “brilliance” that we think we are without meds.

      Meds are incredibly scary. But it’s nice if we try to make them less-so.

      – Natasha Tracy

  24. I think artistic people are capable of deeper feelings, because one must be able to imagine in order to have a feeling. Thats why scientists today mark other mammals as conscious, but with a lot less capability to feel than humans. And depression more easily hits the more sensible creatures. That’s why today’s generation statistic from suicides is so high. In the past, say 5th century, people were more like animals, everyone trying to survive in every possible way. Nowadays survival is easy, we have stable society, but when “little things” get broken, people find it hard to overcome.

    Meds are better than death, but thats the western way of thinking. If you visit some small villages in asia, their whole way of thinking is other, so depression “don’t catch” them. Thats what we should try to research – better way of thinking, not miracle meds.

    • “Thats what we should try to research – better way of thinking, not miracle meds.”

      AND! How about better ways of thinking AND miracle meds?

      I’ve been through a serious depression before and I’m convinced that I’m alive today because I went on meds then. I found though that to get the kind of recovery I wanted I needed to also work on my ways of thinking. Eventually I was better and no longer on medication.

      Now, many years later, I found myself again in a serious depression, constant thoughts of suicide kind of serious. And I did not want to go on medication again. I didn’t like the side effects I experienced. So I chose to concentrate on getting better by working on my ways of thinking and equally importantly my ways of living.

      And it IS working for me, I am getting better, and I’m even getting better faster than I did the last time I suffered from a serious bout of depression. But I’m still very very grateful that people researched that medication, because I wouldn’t be alive to be recovering without it, without it.

      • Hi Edward,

        I’m all for better ways of thinking but honestly, we know a lot about that already, it’s called cognitive behavioral therapy. And interpersonal psychotherapy for those who need something more personal and in-depth.

        I’d have to dig up the research, but CBT, while useful to some and in some circumstances, has shown not to be useful in the _most_ severe depressions. In the most severe depressions, statistically speaking, therapy in general doesn’t work. (Of course, people are individuals. It’s not like it isn’t worth a try.)

        “I’ve been through a serious depression before and I’m convinced that I’m alive today because I went on meds then. I found though that to get the kind of recovery I wanted I needed to also work on my ways of thinking. Eventually I was better and no longer on medication.”

        And that’s a pretty good success story I think. You got what you needed from meds and you learned about yourself, and using those together, you recovered. (It’s a good example of how meds and therapy compliment each other.)

        “Now, many years later, I found myself again in a serious depression, constant thoughts of suicide kind of serious. And I did not want to go on medication again. I didn’t like the side effects I experienced. So I chose to concentrate on getting better by working on my ways of thinking and equally importantly my ways of living.

        And it IS working for me, I am getting better, and I’m even getting better faster than I did the last time I suffered from a serious bout of depression. But I’m still very very grateful that people researched that medication, because I wouldn’t be alive to be recovering without it, without it”

        And that’s a really great success too. Congratulations. I hope things keep looking up for your. Thanks for sharing.

        – Natasha Tracy