Can a Mental Illness Make You More Creative?

What is feeding your creativity?

We can all agree that mental illness is a terrible thing, can’t we? Plenty of lives are destroyed by bad brain chemistry, abuse, or environmental issues. Ask anybody who has mental health problems, and no one will tell you they are glad they are ill.

But what if one small part of being mentally ill was a blessing in disguise? What if there was one thing that would at least make you think that everything about your illness was not all bad?

That would be crazy, right? But, it’s exactly what we are going to explore.

When you think of the news reported every day, you can’t help but notice that creative people have a lot of issues. You hear the stories about writers, actresses and actors, musicians, fashion designers, artists, chefs, and photographers. They fall victim to mental illness at an alarmingly higher rate than other groups of people. Suicide, addiction, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are all mentioned in the same sentence with famous and artistic people.

You must have seen the news about Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Anne Rice, Carrie Fisher, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Mark Twain, Demi Lovato, Kendrick Lamar, Wayne Brady, Kristen Bell, Lady Gaga, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Kurt Cobain, and Chester Bennington — do I need to go on?

Is it because these people were famous and we are more likely to hear about it? Or is it that creative people suffer from mental illnesses at a higher rate?

What if?

But what if you thought about this in a different way? What if it’s a fact that people with mental illnesses tend to be more creative? What if the disordered thinking and mixed-up brain chemicals are the way that evolution has developed the creative mind?

I realize you may think I’m stretching things a bit. Since I started researching mental health all those years ago, I’ve been looking for a link between a disordered mind and the creative process.

I’m not the only one. Do a search on Google for “creativity and mental illness.” You’ll find others talking about the same thing:

“Since ancient times, the observation has been made that extremely creative individuals were unusual in many ways and it has been suggested that psychological processes akin to those observed in madness might be an important component of the special abilities of genius.” — Creativity and mental health: A profile of writers and musicians

“Psychiatric diagnoses of eminent people have been derived not from clinical sources but from general and popular biographies revealing apparent clay feet of creative heroes, unproven gossip and hearsay, and a field called pathography, in which both literary and psychological analysts describe correlations between artists’ psychological constitutions and pathological elements they see in subject matter or characters. Other studies have purportedly found psychopathology in people attending art or writing classes or achieving positive scores on various creativity measures.” — Creativity and Mental Illness

“The notion of the tortured artist is a stubborn meme. Creativity, it states, is fuelled by the demons that artists wrestle in their darkest hours. The idea is fanciful to many scientists. But a new study claims the link may be well-founded after all, and written into the twisted molecules of our DNA.” — New study claims to find genetic link between creativity and mental illness

It’s not a new idea. Scientists have been working to prove a link for many years. Now, I’m no scientist, but this idea has been an obsession for me for quite some time.

Image for post
Image for post

Think about it

Many people with mental illnesses have racing thoughts. The thoughts follow them wherever they go. I’m much the same way.

Since I was a child, my mind has been sprinting from idea to idea — from thought to thought. I’ve only ever been able to document a tiny percentage of the strange things that my mind devises. Somewhere around six years old, I started hearing voices talking to me. These are different from the running dialogue in a normal mind. These voices were addressing me directly.

They’ve kept me company for most of my life. There was a time medication suppressed them, but the high doses took a toll on my body. I finally learned to live with them.

I have little idea about what they are, but I guess they are another way to process everything that is going on in my mind. The voices have never scared me; in fact, some of my best ideas come from them.

I don’t talk about the voices in polite company because I find that people become very afraid. Even my wife had a hard time handling the realization that her husband was not like anyone else. Most of the time, I can talk and act like a “normie.” If you met me in person and didn’t know anything about me, you would guess that I’m well-adjusted. You would think I am a nice guy who takes care of his family and works hard.

You wouldn’t know I struggle to function with all the noise in my head. I have social anxiety and panic attacks. I can’t tolerate large crowds of people close to me. I am very sensitive and value personal space. Too much noise makes me lose my composure.

Image for post
Image for post

But these are exactly the kinds of things that make many of us creative! Where do we get the ideas for the stories we write? Where do musicians get the lyrics and music for the songs they create? Most have some of this going on in their heads at all times, but for some of us, it’s a rush of ideas, images, thoughts, and feelings.

Imagine a torrent of water when a firefighter opens the water main. Our minds are gushing all the time.

For some, it’s what gives them their genius!

The things that make us creative are the things that also kill us

The things that cause us to be creative are torture to endure. The constant rush of ideas can cause anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, overthinking, psychosis, mania, and even self-harm. Many of us turn to substances to calm our minds, and it’s the reason that so many creatives are addicts.

Sometimes we do whatever we can for a quiet mind.

One day, we will learn to use our minds to their fullest extent without falling into disordered thinking. Either evolution or medical science will solve it. One day we will figure out how to be creative without dying for our art.

But, I’m not saying that mentally ill people are the only ones who take up creative pursuits. Plenty of well-adjusted artists are geniuses in their own right.

But what if there is a reason we are the way we are? For me, I feel better knowing that my disordered brain is somehow feeding my creativity. It somehow makes living with a mental illness a little bit better.

It explains a few things that I haven’t been able to figure out. And until I know the truth, I am going to continue looking for a way to live with a mind that never sleeps.

I hope that it gives you some comfort too.

Did you like this? Sign up for my newsletter on Substack!

Jason Weiland is a writer, blogger, vlogger, and mental health advocate living a dream life in far-away destinations he only dreamed of as a kid. He talks about difficult issues but has never lost his sense of humor or willingness to understand others and help when he can.

He would love to connect with you on social media.

YouTube | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Substack

Writer | Essayist | Video Content Creator | Future member of the two-comma club | Dreamer - I am doing it my way and it might take a bit longer. Don't wait up.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store