Do Psychiatric Medications Destroy Creativity?

That is the concern I hear the most often.

Psychiatric medications will take away my talent, X.

X could be comedy, it could be visual art, it could be musical talent, it could be writing ability, or any number of creative endeavors.

The guys over at Penny Arcade (a rockin’ webcomic I’ve been following for 10+ years) have often been both open and candid about their various experiences with these sorts of medications, inspiring a huge number of people in the gaming scene to seek psychiatric help on their own. I really can’t give them enough props for that!

One of their recent comics this month, Bedeviled, muses on this subject.

(Please note before visiting the Penny Arcade website that these comics often contain mature themes and I would particularly like you to note that the article about this comic shares a page with the annual “dickerdoodle” -yes, that’s a genital themed, cookie making contest. You’ve been forewarned.)

It seems like a justified worry though, doesn’t it? After all, we’re told that these medications affect our brain, which is where all this creative stuff comes from, right?

Another argument is that our creativity comes from the illness itself. If a long list of people with bipolar disorder were famous artists, would we be safe in assuming that bipolar disorder might have something to do with it? In that case, the concern about medication still comes up. If I’m stifling an illness that makes me more creative, would I then be less creative?

At this point there is no right answer. We don’t really know.

Personally I feel, if anything, bipolar disorder works against my creativity. I know there are people that don’t feel that way, but for me any motivation mania might give me is completely overshadowed by the long periods of depression where I can’t create anything at all. Maybe that’s just because I’m not one of those people who can brood, and then create. Stability is by far my biggest creative state.

So I don’t think that by suppressing bipolar disorder, I’ll suppress my creativity.

And as far as the part about messing with our brains, that’s something I think turns out a lot like Russian roulette for creativity. There is so much trial and error that occurs with psychiatric medications today that, at least in my case, I was bound to find one or two that pushed me down into the depressive side of things. If I’m depressed, I’m not going to produce anything, so maybe it wouldn’t be my creativity that is altered but my motivation. In the end, if production using my creativity is the end game, then it is being affected, and not for the better.

One of the biggest issues I’ve talked to people about with this situation is that after starting a combination of different medications, most doctors seem content to leave bipolar patients in a mildly depressed state. After all, they’re stable right? Many of these people have then been told that what they’re feeling is in the realm of normal, they just aren’t used to going without experiencing big mood swings.

That, my friend, is a lie. A stable state should include happiness. Obviously not, “I’m the king of the world” manic happiness, but it should still be there all the same. There should be more than one feeling, but some doctors feel fine leaving their patients with a single feeling: bland. Everything gets muffled out, numbed, and instead of extreme emotions there are none at all.

In this case, your creative endeavors will take a hit. How couldn’t they?

There are thousands of combinations of medications out there, there is no need to settle for a cocktail that leaves things flat. Make sure your doctor knows your priorities, and if they disagree then find another. Life is too short to spend it suspended it a depressed state, even a slight one.

I’m a firm believer that with the right medications, talent X wont be affected. Don’t put your health on the back burner out of fear of losing yourself. It isn’t impossible to have your cake and eat it too, sometimes it just takes a while to get there.

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13 responses to “Do Psychiatric Medications Destroy Creativity?

  1. Great post on a very necessary topic.
    I think some people don’t realize just how bad depression can be. It’s kind of like “Why do you take the medications is they slow you down?” and I think “…I just clawed my way out of a seemingly endless lightless abyss… I’ll stay here for a while thanks…”.
    Also thanks for pointing out the “many different cocktails” issue. People miss that a lot too.
    Cheers!

  2. I think about this subject all the time. When I started lithium I felt nothing for a while and now I am more up and down but I have started to realise that even ‘normal’ people feel up and down. It also means I can write again.

    Great post and I love the way you write 🙂

  3. Cronically Mildly Depressed. No creativity. Patient Stable. Such Bullsh*t.

  4. A lot of people have similar fears when it comes to stabilizing emotions. Will this have me experience emotional deadening and flatness? Most people would rather suffer the disorder than be devoid of emotion completely.

    Walk the line. Bipolar Disorder requires a careful balancing act. Daily, it feels like a tight-rope walk. Some people are weighted. Some people have a net, and others don’t. The fall can be short or it can be far. But always, always a particular balance between all things.

    I have created some incredible things in states of severe depression and suicidal ideation. But, the production isn’t consistent. (As if it ever really is.) I am at my most productive in a hypomanic state, but once I’ve reached the apex, most of it is coming out as garbled garbage. I don’t discard anything. However, some things are archived faster than others.

    The flame is manageable in a stable state. Yes, I do feel there are times where it hinders me. However, there are moments where it helps to have my brain clear, and working at a pace that I can keep up with.

    Where does the creativity spawn from? I don’t know. It’s been there since birth for me. I’ve been singing since before I have any solid memories. Music was always there. Language was always there, so writing eventually came. Was it because I was born with a brain wired to set off the bipolar bomb when the conditions were just right? Maybe. But, an artistic streak runs through my family. That might have been there independently, and when the bipolar bomb went off, they found a way to feed from each other. Imagination is key for delusion.

    Anyway, back on topic. If I thought that I was losing my creativity resulting from medications, I’d probably cut back a little. I wouldn’t advocate that for anyone else, but my field requires the balance between stability and creativity. I have to strike it somewhere. How do you know where to find the gold until you start picking?

  5. I love the post.

    I would have to say that medication definately stifles creativity. That my creativity is spawned by my manic moods I have no doubt about…it also, in the same breath, sabotages it.

    Doctors have told me on many occasions that it is a case of choosing the “lesser of two evils”, taking whatever good I can get from the medication in exchange for the more minor side-effects. My psych even told me that he preferred me in a situation where I am more depressed than manic (even though I have had several suicide attempts) due to the fact that my manic mood is even more damaging in terms of long term situations.

    I have had one experience where medication was a total success (but as usual, it only lasted a couple of months) and this was when I first went on Lithium.

    • Wow..

      “Walk the line. Bipolar Disorder requires a careful balancing act. Daily, it feels like a tight-rope walk. Some people are weighted. Some people have a net, and others don’t. The fall can be short or it can be far. But always, always a particular balance between all things.”

      So true.

  6. Is creativity not an essential part of being human? But so is the fear of loss, death being the loss of all things.

    I remember reading that people always have that fear at their core, the existential problem, and indulge in distractions to ease the burden of it. This is similar to the addiction model that suggests that our addictions are temporary, non-productive attempts to mood alter away psychic pain.

    To ease ourselves into the fact that our existence is finite, we busy ourselves with stuff. It may be this busy-ness that stifles the fundamental human creative faculty. Someone who may have accepted that life is more than motion and possessions forgoes busy-ness and allows peace and creativity to arise.

    Are Tibetan monks Bipolar? Are they creative? Are Bipolars more or less busy or creative when high? Are Bipolars more or less busy or creative when medicated? I dunno.

    Here is a link to Victor Frankl, his life and his ideas on this. It’s worth a look. http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/frankl.html

    • Interesting concept, I’ve never heard of that idea, and though I’m not sure I agree I will definitely check it out!

  7. I googled this topic and your post was the first that came up. I was diagnosed a few years ago and am now finally on a stable cocktail of meds. Overall, I’m a happy person now but my creativity has definitely suffered. I used to write short stories and now I no longer have the inspiration or the motivation to write fiction. I write in my diary but that is more stream-of-consciousness stuff.

    I’ve reached a point where I miss that creative urge. I used to draw (badly, but I enjoyed it) and I no longer do that. I used to do a few other creative things but now no longer either. I’ll be honest, sometimes I miss my hypomanic states. I’d feel alive with ideas and the words would just flow out of me onto the page. I wish I could just have that back.

    • I think some people would suggest that your lack of a creative urge may be an indication that even though your medications are making things stable, they aren’t quite landing you in the right place emotionally. I realize that is a much easier thing to say than miraculously fix, and many people struggle with the notion of changing a stable cocktail vs. having a lack of creative motivation.

      It is also really common for people who have withdrawal symptoms from hypomania when it is no longer prevalent in their lives. If you feel inclined to try and make a change, it is perfectly reasonable to bring these issues up with your doctor! It is your life, after all, so it is up to you what you do with it.

      Take care!

  8. I loved this thoughtful and intelligent piece. Thanks.

  9. I loved this thoughtful and intelligent piece. Thank you.

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