This Glorious (March) Madness!


In light of the recent seriousness on my blog and in the world at large (Japan, Libya), it’s time to focus for a moment on the positive.  Not only is Kentucky in the Final Four, but also bipolar disorder, a form of March Madness all its own, has a benefit, namely mania, or what’s called “hypomania”—a mild form of mania—mania during its first act, at least, during the first scene of the first act.  (It’s often down-hill from there.)

But, good God, that first burst of energy and enthusiasm is intoxicating, and one of the reasons so many with bipolar disorder are unwilling to compliantly take medication, drugs that would  even out those moods—not only eliminating the lowest of the lows, but also amputating the highest of the highs.

It does feel good to feel good, at least for a while, until it starts feeling bad and weird and crazy.    Then the picture darkens quickly.

But mania can be connected with another benefit, the ultimate gift for some—namely increased creativity.   Though artistic output can increase in depressed moods, as well, a mood in the gutter is less likely to inspire creativity than an elevated one.

Not a lot is understood about this.  No one knows for sure why so many with this diagnosis also happen to be über creative, but there seems to be a link.

For example, a number of writers, including Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Ernest Hemingway were believed to have suffered from the illness, as was artist Vincent Van Gogh and composer Ludwig Van Beethoven.  Edgar Allan Poe once wrote:

Men have called me mad but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought—from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.

(For a great book on this link between manic-depression and creativity, take a look at Kay Redfield Jamison’s  Touched with Fire.)

Although I’m far from an artistic genius, I have had my moments of creative output, at least bursts of something akin to creativity both visually and verbally—writing poems like this:

psychosis and human growth

the earth is melting
     beneath us
                            and we
                            are
 
becoming
                            fish
 
everything is in reverse
      and we are moving
     backward
     through time
 
i want
             to stop this
             process of
 
unbecoming
  

And drawing pieces like this:

And this:

So here in Kentucky, though we may be mad about our Cats this March, this Kat(hryn), in particular, is not always, only, and forever sad about her bouts with bipolar disorder.

To say I’ve learned a lot would be an understatement.  I’ve grown because of this illness.  I’ve broadened my horizons, built a deep and enduring empathy for those who are marginalized my illness, set aside by poverty, shaken but not broken. 

March may be about a mania, of sorts, but this March, in particular, I’m grateful to have lived and loved and learned from the rigors of my own (at times) glorious madness!

32 thoughts on “This Glorious (March) Madness!

  1. You’ve touched on a really interesting topic here. I really believe that any disorder which affects the brain, can lead to increased creativity. I’m not creative in the artistic sense, but when I have bad migraines, I definitely think more “freely”. And then often make connections which I hadn’t thought of when I’m pain-free. I think it’s partly because one lets go of any inhibitions or preconceptions.

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  2. You just furthered my argument that perhaps bipolarity and other mental “illnesses” are simply a different way of seeing and of being. I would argue that many creative people have a touch of bipolarity and maybe don’t even know it. Look at me over the past few weeks. I would have to argue that I entered a manic phrase of creating, with two attempts at art (one still in progress) and a few posts that came from somewhere unknown. Then yesterday, crash down into a truly deep depression. Many of the most creative people I know live those roller-coaster lives. You are one of the most creative people I’ve met in this blogging world–maybe you just see the world of extremes more clearly than others.
    (Personal note, Nathan didn’t get the job. Boo!)

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    • I actually couldn’t agree with you more! I see this pattern over and over again, as well.

      Can’t wait to see your work in progress! (And sorry about Nathan’s job! It would have been great to have you in Lexington!)

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  3. One of the issues I have with defining mental “illnesses” is that they are defined by a statistical norm. But who is to say that “normal” is actually the ideal? Just because ones brain works differently than another’s does not mean they are “”ill, or even disadvantaged. I agree that many with such differences tend to be very creative people, often brilliant in some ways. Take “savants” for instance. Their brain is wired differently then most (as with any in the autistic spectrum), and while they may not be able to interact in certain ways as others do, they still can do things that most can not. I dare say when we try to “fix” many “illnesses” (mental and physical), we may be interfering with the very process of evolution.

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    • Wow, this is a fascinating look at mental illness–one that would drive psychiatrists, with their medical model, mad. I love the idea that there might be a way in which I am better off because of this. But, God, it can be scarey too.

      However, the idea of working against evolution is such an interesting one–truly!

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      • It is an idea I have had for some time. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share it … as well as the means. Maybe the subject for a future blog post 🙂

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  4. beautiful–the creative outpouring…
    (please tell me you’ve bought your copy of Next to Normal…)

    (you will find such affinity with it! come on–it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner!)

    (I’ll stop bugging you once I know you have it…)
    (maybe)
    (because, then I’ll want to know what you thought…)

    blessings
    jane

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    • Okay, Jane, I must confess–I’ve not bought the cd yet. I’ve put in my official list for the next time I go out! I’ve loved the recordings you’ve linked me to in the past, though. They were incredidible!

      Thanks so much for pushing me toward this purchase. I promise, my friend!

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  5. What an interesting look at bipolar disorded! I never stopped to think that parts of it could be somewhat positive and hard to let go of, but after reading your description of the energy, the creativy and high of it, I can understand why someone would be sad to let that go! Great post!

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    • Yes, bipolar disorder is a hard one to give up, as sometimes it feels so good–that is when it’s not feeling really, really bad. As the name suggests, it’s one or the other–nowhere really in between.

      Glad you enjoyed this one!

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  6. I love the last piece…the black and white one!

    Edgar Allan Poe wrote one of the scariest pieces I’ve ever read: The Pit and the Pendulum. It doesn’t surprise me that it may have been the product of a mental illness.

    Hugs,
    Wendy

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  7. The poem really says so much! And I also particularly like the black-and-white piece. I have strong ups and downs, myself, though not clinically bi-polar (and not as much as in adolescence and early adulthood, thank God!) and some OCD tendencies, which I first realized years ago when designing a counted cross-stitch piece for a bat mitzvah gift for the daughter of a guy I was dating. At about 3 in the morning, when I finally got it right, after hours of plotting and erasing and re-plotting, it dawned on me. And, since I’ve been out of work, I’ve done a fair amount of freelance proofing, and, after a much-praised print quality check, the director of printing and production said, “You’re just what I was looking for: really anal-retentive!” and I laughed, if slightly uncomfortably. Still it is wonderful, for a change, to be praised instead of criticized for “nit-picking”.

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  8. First, about those Cats! As much as it killed me to watch OSU fall under the mighty claws of the Big Blue, I’ve gotten over it and can get back to happily cheering on one of the classiest teams around. Go Cats!

    As for the other March Madness–Kathy, your poetry, I swear.–It’s creative and emotional but somehow understated and tangible. Such a fabulous balance. Well done.

    I had a friend in high school–and uber-talented artist who also happened to be bipolar. I could always see her hypomanic phases beginning because she would start to dabble in something new, she’d approach it with curiosity, and she’d produce the most genius work. But then she’d become obsessed with it to the point where she’d make herself miserable. I always prayed her hypomania would be long and the phase after that would be short. It was hard to see her so euphoric but still so unhappy.

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    • Ah, Maura, I have to admit I thought of you when we beat OSU and wondered where your loyalties were these days–with Ohio or Kentucky.

      Hope your highschool friend is doing okay these days. Hypomania is great–the rest, though your mood is sky-rocketing, is all down hill!

      Hope your week is going well!

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  9. Hi Kathy! Just catching up on missed blog posts due to an awful cold virus. Thought I’d start here and work back. Many years ago, a friend had a friend who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Apparently, this guy was a creative genius as well and invented many wonderful things. I only met the guy once, but heard a lot of interesting things about him. I can only imagine the challenge both situations would present. Good for you for talking about it.

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  10. Fascinating post as usual, Kathy. I’ve always wondered about the connection between bipolar disorder and creativity, mainly because my partner is very artistic! 😉

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    • It’s a fascinating phenomenon, really. And the strange thing is that I was not exceptionally creative before I became symptomatic. It was bizarre how the two accompanied one another–opposite sides of the same coin.

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  11. This was interesting to read. I know I tend to be at my most creative when my energy is on the manic side (although there is the down side to that, which is the crash & burn — depression — later).

    Your artwork — in words and pictures — is amazing and wonderful.

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  12. Well! Kathryn, I am a 19 year old guy from India! I liked your wonderful post about bipolarity!!I was a severe patient of the same last year! I study in an engineering institute in India.Well at its extreme it was really disheartening for me and my family and those who are concerned with me..At the end I got medication and got into normal zones of brain functioning..And yes when I was into it, it was amazing to feel the freedom of myself..although I am a bit reserve kind of man .. but then I was extremely extrovert .. and became known in a big community of my college!! Nice to read your post!! Please clarify the creativity dimensions of it victims more.. Am I creative .. shortly or long life!!?? 🙂

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    • Thanks so much for reading! Where are you from in India? I was in Delhi last May.

      Sounds like you were manic last year. I can’t know for certain how it will be for you, but I have been creative ever since I first became ill 25 years ago. So you may indeed have a creative life ahead of you for a good while, if your expereince is similar to mine.

      Thanks so much for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. It’s great to hear from you!

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  13. Pingback: Waves on my serenity | The odd ramblings of a mind that does not quite fit

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