Before I get going with this post, I feel that I need to offer a little disclaimer. I am not a student of Psychology or Sociology and have no qualifications in these fields, so the opinions that follow are my own, uneducated observations, unless I link directly to something written by someone with a greater knowledge in the field of the mind than I. With all that said…
Creativity and Mental Health
At various points in my life, I’ve had conversations with friends, colleagues and even some strangers about the links between creativity and mental health. The image of the ‘tortured artist’ is prevalent in society to the point where it has become somewhat of a cliché. Are we all tortured though? Do we have to be mentally ill to write, paint, sing, compose, draw or do anything creative? Obviously, the answer is no. I am pretty sure that there are plenty of creative people out there who are of sound mind and body. There is some interesting evidence linking mental health to creativity out there though.
Some of you reading this will know about my own personal battle with depression that’s been going on for years now. It’s not an easy illness to live with and it can make me not only suicidal, but incredibly self-destructive too. Despite all the drawbacks, I did find that while I was in one of my lowest phases, I was writing an awful lot of poetry. Yes, the poetry was dark and sometimes depressing, but it was helping me to express how I felt in the only way I knew how.
There have been a few studies done over the years to try to establish if there is a link between mental health problems and creativity. Most notably one conducted in Sweden, which found that creativity and mental illness do not necessarily have a link, with the possible exception of Bipolar Disorder and the possibility that writers tended to suffer from depression more than other creative types.
The problem with these kind of studies is that the notion of ‘creativity’ can be very subjective. The Swedish study didn’t properly define what they considered creative, except to say that scientific creativity consisted of doing research and teaching at universities. Furthermore, they didn’t specify a difference between artistic creativity with the exception of writers. Finally, even if they had specified between artistic creativity, their idea of what that creativity is might not necessarily be the same as everyone else’s.
The American neuropsychiatrist, Nancy Andreasen conducted a study of the writers of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She conducted first person interviews with them regarding their personal struggles with mental illness. She discovered that the idea of the ‘tortured artist’ wasn’t necessarily true, that these writers had become successful despite their mental illnesses, not because of them. They overcame their struggles and even mentioned that while they were in a period of depression, they found that their creativity was stifled by the illness. Andreasen documented her findings in the book ‘The Creative Mind‘.
So what does all of this mean to me?
Since the Andreasen study seems to show that the Iowa writers overcame their mental illnesses in order to become successful, I think it’s fair to say that the ‘tortured artist’ cliché is just a myth. It’s certainly true that at first, my own depression was adding fuel to my creativity, inspiring me to write quite a few poems in a short space of time. I think though, that for me this process was a cathartic one. It helped me to take stock of and understand the emotions I was going through at the time. By interpreting those emotions into words and putting them down on paper, I was able to look at them, analyse them and see what was going on in my mind. Sort of like an emotional ‘selfie’, which I guess most poetry is anyway.
The thing that stands out the most to me is that after that initial flurry of creativity, I stopped almost completely. Perhaps, as the Iowa writers attested, my mental illness had become a barrier to my creativity once I had poured my feelings out. Certainly my attempts at writing since then until now have been half-hearted. Now that I know that my mental illness has this effect on my creativity, maybe I won’t be so hard on myself in the future if I’m feeling down and finding it hard to write. If that’s the case, maybe that can help me in controlling my depression by introducing another positive thought into my CBT bat-belt of tricks. That can only be a good thing, I think.
In conclusion, while nothing that’s been said above can definitively answer the question regarding the link between mental illness and creativity, I think that, wherever your creativity comes from, whether you’re artistically creative, scientifically creative or creative in business, as long as you’re taking risks and dreaming your dreams, that’s all that matters. So while the answer to our question may remain ambiguous, it does seem that you don’t actually have to be mad to work here, but in some cases, it might help!
When the girl first opened her eyes, all I could see was the fear. It was palpable; pouring off her with the rapidly dispersing mist of her death-caul. Not long after the fear, came the confusion. Where was she? Was she dead? Is this heaven? Hell? These would probably be the first few questions that new mouth of hers would ask, had I not chosen that very moment to speak. Continue reading “Remains”→
Wild doe eyes darted back and forth, scanning the room in front of her, hoping she was alone. She couldn’t see very well, the darkness had clawed its way through the kitchen slowly, transforming it into an unknown and danger filled maze. The windows and patio doors were stark and black, the gloom outside promised to spill forth more of the unbelievable horrors she had seen tonight. Continue reading “Alone In The Dark”→
When I think about what books mean to me, I always remember back to when I was a child and my parents had a few books from the 1950’s full of amazing facts about how things worked. These books were my first experience with the potential of the written word; they showed me all of the things I could discover about the world around me and more importantly, they showed me worlds that could be my playground. Places I could only dream of flowed from the pages and into my imagination, inspiring me to dream of far off places and of goals worth fighting for.
I guess this is a fairly basic question to ask on a blog about writing. It’s a question that I’ve never actually asked myself in the past, so I thought that I might have a go at answering it now.
The Origins Of My Writing
It’s hard to say how young I was when I first realised how much I liked writing. Now, when I say writing, I don’t just mean fiction, I mean writing in general, the whole process. From scrawling my left handed, messy handwriting across a page (and getting the inevitable ink smudge marks on both paper and skin), using the weird computer/typewriter hybrid my mum and dad got me later on, to more recently typing away on a bright blank word processing document. I love everything about writing.
I must have been about six or seven when I actually realised, for the first time, that I enjoyed putting the thoughts that were in my head down on paper. I can’t even remember now what things I wanted to share with the world at that age! I do remember writing things down when I’d played a particularly cool game with my toys and I wanted to remember the specifics so I could play that game again.
That, I guess then, is the origins of my writing. I’d often use toys in different ways and for different roles than they were originally bought for. So from time to time, my Star Wars figures would have different names and personalities, my He-Man action figures would be strange alien creatures on a newly discovered world. Everything could be anything, depending on the ‘game’ I was playing. Thinking back on it now, I think a better term to use would be the ‘stories’ I was telling. I would write down who the characters were, what the planets and places they visited were called, everything. Well, maybe not everything, a lot of my playing when I was a kid was improvised and done on the fly, but sometimes, if it was cool enough, I’d make a note of it.
The Wasted Years
I amusingly refer to my teenage years as ‘the wasted years’ because I did spend rather a lot of time drunk in those, fragile, formative years! Because of that, not very much writing got done by me at all, and that which was has rarely survived to see the light of day today. This might be a blessing in disguise, but as with my younger years, it would have been fun to see what occupied my teenage mind!
Even though I’ve said that I didn’t do much writing during my teenage years, it would be a lie to say that I put my imagination to rest and dulled it with alcohol, because I didn’t. My teenage imagination was mostly preoccupied with tabletop role-playing games. Yes, like Dungeons and Dragons, but no, not Dungeons and Dragons. It still amazes me even now that you could tell someone you once took a dump on a cat and they wouldn’t flinch, but tell them you’ve played D & D and they look at you like you just slapped the pope. Tabletop RPG’s are amazing and really, really good for your imagination. I thoroughly believe that more people should play them!
Anyway, these games always helped to fire my imagination and gave me worlds in which to stretch the wings of my imagination and create stories and worlds for my friends to play in. These places were filled with action and angst and humour and I loved every second I was gaming in those worlds. One of the parts of the course I’m doing is called Speculative Fiction and covers creating these types of game, amongst other things. Needless to say, I am very excited about that part of the course and can’t wait to see what kinds of things I can learn.
The Responsible Years
Very, very little writing got done during my twenties, I am afraid to say. This decade of my life consisted mostly of settling down, getting a mortgage and a reliable, safe job with which to pay that mortgage back. Looking back now, it’s very easy for me to see why I didn’t write very much in this period of my life. I was very uninspired at the time. If it sounds like I’m ungrateful for the years I spent settled down in my twenties, then I don’t mean it to. I had fun, I had friends and a partner. I went to lots of places and did lots of things.
Hindsight (and much, much soul searching) has shown me that perhaps that kind of life is not for me. I was denying myself the happiness that I was looking for, even though I didn’t know it at the time and was happy in my twenties. You can only lie to yourself for so long though before your true feelings will make themselves known one way or another and whether you like it or not. That’s why as my twenties came to an end and my thirties began, I found myself living a very different life than the one I had become accustomed to.
As the saying goes though, ‘One door closes and other one opens’ and I found myself at a loose end one night, when a friend of mine, Louise Fazackerley (if you’ve never seen her perform before, you owe it to yourselves to do so, she’s amazing!
Click on her name to visit her website and see where she’s appearing next!), suggested that I attend the open mic poetry night at the much missed Tudor House Hotel in Wigan. This fired my passion for writing again and the rest, as they say, is-well, it’s just below, actually…
Modern Day And The Writing Renaissance
So now we’re here, this post has meandered us back to the present day while apparently failing to answer the question posed by its title! We had fun though, right? As I sit here and write this and await my turn to plunge into academia, I am at a pretty good place regarding my writing. I’m sitting down and doing it more than ever, I have a keen interest in everything creative, not just writing. I have the support of wonderful friends and family and I have a lot of hope for my future in writing going forward.
The true answer to the question, ‘why do I write?’ is a simple one. I write because I can. I have a great, creative imagination and I love the idea that with writing, everything is possible. I can write about anything, anywhere, at any time. I can have dragons, and witches and robots and even ninjas if I want to. Hell, I can have them allat the same time! The point I’m making is that your potential as a writer is limitless, you can inspire and entertain, incite and defuse.
I think I also enjoy writing mostly for my own benefit. I like creating characters and stories, new worlds and interesting situations. Even though I would love to make a living using my writing, it’s never been the main goal to make money from it. I just enjoy creating things and watching them evolve and unfold in front of me, and I would love to think that one day, others can enjoy my work in the same way. Everything is anything, after all!
*Photograph of Louise Fazackerley taken by Richard Davis. Used with permission.
For those of you who know me and may have followed my other blogs, you’ll know that this is not my first time writing a blog. You’ll also know that those other blogs haven’t been updated in some time. There is a reason for that, and it’s not laziness! Well, it’s not all laziness!
Not long after I got back from America in 2012, the email account I was using to access all of my blogs was hacked and the passwords changed. This meant that I couldn’t get access to any of my blogs. That’s been fixed for the most part but unfortunately I still have read only access to my main blog, The Random Ravings of an Undercover Geek. This saddens me because the blogs about my trip across America are on there and I was hoping to maybe finish them one day before I completely forget everything that went on. To that end, I think I am going to rebuild the Random Ravings blog at some point in the future and move those blogs over to that and maybe, just maybe, I’ll even finish them!
So what’s this one all about then?
Good question, I’m glad you asked! I’ve decided to create this new blog as a way of sharing my thoughts as I move ahead with the next three years of my life. In September of this year (2015), I am starting at university for the very first time in my life. This is something that I should have done long ago but life has a nasty habit of sidetracking you with things that you think are important to you, at least at the time. However long it’s taken me to get here, I am here now and I damn well mean to make sure it counts.
So, to that end, I have enrolled on a Creative Writing degree at Edge Hill University, which begins in September. This isn’t a decision that I’ve made lightly, it means I have to give up my full time job for a part time one (possibly even a zero hour contract one) and it means that I will be poor and debt riddled for years to come, but in terms of self satisfaction and finding a job that I love doing and can be passionate about, this is definitely the way to go.
Yeah, that’s cool and all, but why another blog?
The reason this blog exists is because firstly I wanted somewhere that I can post about the things I’m learning regarding writing and all that entails, as well as having somewhere that I can share my thoughts and worries about the questions the course will inevitably pose (not just academically, but in regards to my personal life and personal growth too). Secondly, I need a few ways in which I can keep my writing skills sharp and, like any skills, they are kept sharp by using them and doing things with them. This is one of the exercises I’m going to use to make sure that happens. Plus, I thought that maybe some of you might just be interested in my thoughts and feelings about the world and uni life and everything.
So, that’s it. I’ve started this blog a little early I guess but I wanted to give myself time to get used to blogging again and mostly to try and remember to do it! Either way, watch this space folks, the next three years promise to be an interesting ride. Care to come along?
I press my face to the glass
And watch the world go by
Stiff fingers leave marks of desolation
Marring the wall with my presence.
It is not my world out there
It is not my life I see.
Not my life I ache to touch,
To taste, to breathe in deeply.
The world outside is vibrant,
Joyful, full of passion.
A merry-go-round of song and fun
Laughter and high spirits.
The ticker tape rain beats
A mocking drum on my window.
No, it is not my world out there.
I don’t belong with them
Those happy, shiny people.
The glass cage surrounds me
Keeps me apart, alone.
The glass cage is my world;
Cold, sterile, joyless.
I can shout and I can scream
Snarl and gnash and rage
Throw myself against glass walls
Cry at the injustice of it all.
In the end it does no good
There’s no-one here to hear
There’s only me. My four walls.
And the people outside?
Those brightly lambent souls?
They cannot help me
They cannot see, you see?
Can’t look behind the glass
And see the real me
They see what they want to see;
A reflection of me.
A reflection of them.
Outside the box.