Creativity – Part Two – Madness and Trauma

We’re continuing to muse today on the nature of creativity. Where does it come from? As for what it is, please read part one for my own definition. We also talked about whether creativity is inborn, whether in everyone or in certain individuals. The next question to pop into my mind is whether creativity and some form of mental disturbance are linked.

I’ve heard it said quite a lot. It’s called Van Gogh Syndrome in some places. The more borderline insane you are, the more creative you are. But is this the gold side to the black coin, a true link between the two, or is it simply that a person living with some kind of mental disorder is more ‘free’ or ‘open’ to his creative side? And is this link a real thing at all?

First, let’s define our terms. When I say mental disturbance, I’m not talking about someone who can’t tell reality from what’s going on in his own head at all, someone drooling while he gives himself a great big hug in a canvas coat. I’m talking about a person who has some situation in his mental processes and/or brain chemistry that does affect his quality of life, but doesn’t prevent him from living it without aid. (But wait, I hear you say, doesn’t that include almost everyone? Maybe, but remember, the majority is always sane….)

My ex husband suffered from a fairly serious form of bipolar syndrome. They say a great many people have this and don’t know it, because their mood swings are slow and infrequent, perhaps blending into SAD, seasonal affective disorder, where you’re down in winter and up in summer. My ex tended to whiplash back and forth within an hour. He was a very creative person, an artist both with pen and paper and with computers. Unfortunately he suffered from the usual bipolar problem of never being able to finish much of anything, but he was extremely creative, and also highly intelligent.

For myself, I’m not borderline insane at all, but very intelligent, very creative, and very–disorganized. I’m not good at mailing things out, keeping track of the details, budgeting or following through on sending out agent queries, which is why I’m only now getting published at 41. Even more than borderline insanity and substance abuse, disorganization is linked in the cultural mind with creativity. Is there something to it?

Anecdotal evidence, as you can see, from my own life points to yes. But I’m well aware that anecdotal and subjective evidence does not a case make.

Are those with mental difficulties simply a little more free of social binding, or responsibility to material things, or whatever else gets in the way of the creative process? I certainly don’t find this true for disorganization…

Another assumption is that writers are working out trauma from their own lives, putting such things into their stories as a means of informal therapy. I will freely admit that happens in some of my stories. But not all of them. That’s not the whole story, as it were. I don’t think any one factor can ‘explain’ creativity, and if so, certainly not this one. If the theory is ‘all writers are working out trauma in their lives’ then the corollary is ‘all writers are traumatized people’. Aren’t we all? Every human could find something to call trauma in their lives, I think. But I don’t think all writers have a disproportionate amount of unhappiness that causes them to become writers. We’re not all drunk, wasted losers either. One doesn’t have to Suffer to be a writer.

So once again, it seems these assumptions have some grain of truth in them, but aren’t the whole story of creativity. What do you think–anyone out there who is primarily using their creative outlet to work out trauma? Or who finds their borderline mental difficulties to be of great use in writing–or a great obstacle?

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sunfaerie
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 19:08:55

    Wow. This is seriously worth thinking about. I know that “Quicksand” was therapeutic for me, even though I didn’t finish it. Maybe it’s time to finish it…you should read my posts today. 😐
    *hugs*

  2. asherose
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 19:32:13

    Thanks for commenting babe. Looks like you are having a really hard time… I wish I could help. Hope you can find something that will. *hugs*

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