Bipolar and creativity

It’s a common perception that people with bipolar (and other mental illnesses) are creative geniuses. You see it in all sorts of places, people’s opinions, articles, fictional book characters, films etc etc. Whilst I think its fantastic that its written about, it is not accurate. It romanticizes and glamorises the relationship between mental illness and creativity, which can be potentially dangerous. Not all mentally ill people are creative geniuses, and not all creative geniuses are mentally ill. There are studies to say that bipolar people are more likely to be in creative fields, but it’s just that – more likely, and we are not all geniuses. Bipolar may be more common in creative people, but bipolar doesn’t make a person creative.

The idea that creativity is unleashed in hypomania or mania, is not true. Sure at the start we may be more productive, but the ride often does not stay that way, personally I may start a load of projects, flit between each one and hardly finish any, sometimes I get them all done, some may seem amazing, but are actually rubbish, or done so fast it’s no good! Then the ride moves on and can turn nasty. Depression isn’t just the tortured soul, romantically sitting writing poetry about it, I can hardly do anything let alone create! I think that this contributes to the common worry that people have, that by taking their meds it will limit or squash their creativity completely, yes you need to find the right meds, and whilst you may feel ‘grey’ its a learning curve to live in the less extremes, and in my experience this ‘grey’ feeling does go away. Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, who are thought to have been bipolar, and were quite obviously incredibly talented, seem to have been their most productive between episodes. Virginia Woolf apparently didn’t produce anything when she was unwell. It was a source of inspiration for when she was well. But it didn’t make her creative.

I struggled with this belief, I knew little about bipolar when I was diagnosed, I only knew what was readily available to the average person, not looking for information on bipolar. I am not exceptionally creative, I’m not uncreative, but I’m not special in that respect. I felt like I had been cheated. I have this hard to live with, destructive illness and I didn’t have the good part. I had no huge creative talent. Did someone make a mistake? Would this awesome creativity hit me soon? Please let it hit me soon. What was wrong with me that I wasn’t like that?

Obviously it never did hit me! Looking back I couldn’t see how good I was at the things I was, I was in a creative field, but my illness definately hindered me, and played a role in me leaving and never returning to it. However I was not, am not and will not be the next big thing.

Yes some bipolar people are creative geniuses, I don’t believe it’s because of the illness though. They would be creative regardless. Maybe being mentally ill helps you to tap into that creativity better, or provides more inspiration. Or maybe not.

As far as I’m concerned the sooner this common preconception disappears the better. It is damaging. We are who we are, and we have bipolar. That doesn’t mean we are the same or have the same talents, or are indeed all geniuses!


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