Is Creativity the Birthright of Madness?


Recently friends brought to my attention some ballyhooed revelation that creativity and the mental illness, Bipolar are bedfellows.  It’s my hope that those friends shared this breaking news with me to reason that, unlike my unwavering conviction that my creativity was silently passed along, from parents to offspring, like the gherkin relish tray at the adult table at important, big family get-togethers (however, the gherkins moved at an amazing clip, almost airborne, poked at like beach balls at raucous college sporting events).  But I fear their enlightenment is more of the matchmaking variety: Madness meet Creativity.  Since, it seems, that the gloves are off, I feel a certain responsibility to share with you that I am, do, have, live with, suffer from, and occasionally profit at the expense of a clinical mental illness, specifically Bipolar II and a pervasive compulsion to create.

Being bipolar, a creative thought percolator, borne on the wings of madness then expressed while crushed by despair sounds all too familiar and resembles my earlier creative periods.  Creativity requires release; if not via the artist’s typical delivery, then some other way.  Creativity does not hesitate at the foot of convention; Creativity demands the artist to forecast; Creativity dwells beyond reason; Creativity as action produces unexpected consequence throbbing with life.  Madness, freedom unhinged is the luxury to produce or destroy anything; it’s also a tortuous paradox: mired to the present by sight and coaxed toward absurdity by vision.

But being mad, the vanilla “any mental abnormality prefixed by psy” variety doesn’t guarantee creativity.  I’ve known many lunatics, and while their realities are certainly untethered and bobbing about in a sea of chaos, they are afloat and lost, utterly incapable of calibrating their degree of sanity, and just like the fair weather kite that’s caught off-guard by fast-moving fronts, their unpredictable lucid episodes prevent them from the digestion and regurgitation of discovery or hypothesis or experience as comprehensible expression be it visual art, literature, science or mathematics.   Conversely, I’ve known scads of artists: the fresh who dare; the weary who retreat; the working who struggle.  And while they may live with significant clinical mental illness, it’s my assertion that less than ten percent have developed the access to their demons, running madly to the lair’s entrance, seduced by the height of their mania and reduced by the depth of their depression.

I recall being quoted once, “I have the unfortunate opportunity to live life twice: First by surviving it; and second, by recalling the first, twisting it by ten percent which ensures a skewed vision of life that is palatable to even the most inert audiences.”  Madness tried a hostile takeover in 2008, acquiring shares of my sanity for pennies on the dollar.  And the moment it assumed control as majority it struck such a blow that even my foundation shook.  What it wanted it took, leaving little, enough to make a small pile of what ninety percent of people would call rubble.

The other ten percent would call it “page one.”

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