Through the Green Fuse: Bipolar and Creativity

"Creative Thinking" by BKnight

I have been given a creative spirit, and this spirit has been influenced by the emotional highs and lows of bipolar. I think that feeling deep sadness and pain -- and joy -- calls me to express myself. Anecdotally, I know many other people with bipolar or other mental illnesses who also are called to express themselves through art. We are a creative bunch.

I notice that when I am on an emotional high -- when I am what is called hypomanic, a state just below full-blown mania -- my writing becomes very lyrical and poetic. But it also becomes much harder to follow. I have difficulty expressing myself in a way that makes sense to anyone but myself. A writing instructor once said to me, "You are writing only for yourself." And that is a legitimate type of writing -- journaling -- but, at the time, I wanted to be able to reach others, and hypomania prevented me from doing so. Only when I was treated with the proper medication did my writing fit into a genre that spoke to other people.

For a long time, I mourned that loss of lyricism. It was lovely while it lasted. But, in turn, with the proper medication, I discovered that I could write for newspapers, marshal facts and figures and quotes onto paper. I served as a good journalist, double- and triple-checking my facts before going to press. Over time, as I wrote more and more articles, my writing began to change, becoming less image-driven and more cut-and-dried, more conversational. I found that I could write quickly, in short bursts. I produced vast amounts of copy--good, clean copy.

People with bipolar who create art are sometimes tempted to stop taking their medications because they believe medications inhibit their creativity. But over the years, I have come to believe that medications enable me to produce art that reaches a wider audience. After all, the art I am interested in -- piano, photography, writing -- takes a level of technical know-how. You must practice and give yourself to the craft. Flights of ideas are all well and good, but they only take you so far, and often they don't translate beyond your own head. To really speak to other people, you can have your head in the clouds but you must have two feet firmly planted on the ground as well. Only then will you speak an artistic language that will translate.

But "through the green fuse drives the flower..." Dylan Thomas wrote. Bipolar can be a "green fuse" of energy that drives a gorgeous, wild flower. The emotional intensity of the illness pushes those who suffer it to look for outlets for self-expression. We are called to stay with our pain, not to numb it, but to feel it and then to translate it. We also have the privilege of translating great joy.

For me, translation has meant dedicating myself to art forms that take technical know-how. Medication enables me to learn and grow as an artist by giving me what it takes to stick with a subject, to practice and to persevere. I am not "fly-by-night" with a subject anymore: I have been writing creatively since 2003, taking photographs since 2011. I hope piano, which I have just returned to after years of being away from, also will become a lifelong passion.

Art requires patience. It requires dedication. As much perspiration as inspiration, to paraphrase Thomas Edison. To create art, a person must be firmly rooted. To create art, a person must know who she is in the world.  Creativity springs from the deep wells of self -- and it is the healthy artist, the one who can speak to the pain she endured in the past from a place of present stability, who is truly powerful.       



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