When I encounter the occasional meditation or tome on the connection between madness and creativity, I become wary and weary. I don’t even bother to concern myself with opinions of those who have no history of mental illness, as I consider a history of mental illness to be inevitable in any critical mind. But if the work is written by someone who has known only anxiety or depression, I am less likely to connect with the work regardless of its validity. Bipolar writers can be grandiose braggarts or narcicisstic nihilists, depending on the day or hour of the day, and often annoy me too often for any identification. I have at times manifested aspects of each of these three. But in the end what I experience, the frozen days barely turning in bed and the noise and the breaks from everything real and the puppet strings at worst, is something schizoid. I see this problem as precisely that – a problem. When twisted by the minor gusts of eccentricity it is easy to glorify maladies. Staring down the devil himself it becomes harder to make madness into a blessing, qualified or not. And I have had that staring contest.
The worst symptom I know is deeply connected to my creative process. I hear voices. When I write it is often transcribing an auditory hallucination, and so I can sometimes write as fast as I can type if there is a character speaking to me. Sometimes it is all I can do to write to get the spirit out of my mind, and those writings rarely surface. I have favored the first person because it allows me to gather the voices of some spirit and spurt them onto a page, like closed captioning from a movie only I can see. Unfortunately, I frequently cannot turn the voices off before or after writing, and am so tortured by the haunting of some corner of my malicious and powerful imagination. Sometimes I think it is just that – that for whatever reason, when I grew up, I never lost the ability to lose myself in my dreams and mythology. I have frequently gone so deep into a character that within a few weeks I am the character, and its reality is real to me, like some bad comedy about a writer, only it is not a comedy, it is a tragedy, because the dreams don’t end with popcorn underfoot; they end with me being fired and checking myself into a mental hospital to try yet another feckless cure. Sometimes the pills even work.
My life of late has been lived well enough that memories of my shattering and piecing myself together again while cutting my fingers on the shards, that process again and again and again, feels as though it happened to someone else. I have been working and functioning and living like a human, not a mutant. Unfortunately I have also lost most creative connection. When the voices are gone writing is much harder. What I produce is often better, in my estimation, but it doesn’t burn me with drug-like joy, and it is hard to make myself do something hard when I feel less than nothing all the time, when I feel numb all the time. That is the best I can hope for and mostly how I am – numb. The good days are the day without any feeling at all. This makes it hard to love, hard to read, hard to feel much about anything, but the alternative and its months in hospitals and years in hell, is a fate far worse than hollow balance. I am assured at times by people who have never dealt with what I deal with but have studied it, that I am best off this way. Because of my implosions and explosions when off meds I do not consider that an option regardless of any opinion. So I push at the steady process of sane creation, the plodding struggle it is, pining for the passion that I cannot handle, whose minor variant the rest of the world can manage and enjoy.
I do not hold with those who feel that there is a connection between talent and insanity. Creativity and insanity, surely. Every horribly twisted mess I have spoken with over the years seems compelled to create, and I have met scores. I have also noticed that these creators are no more talented on average than, say, the students I have taught at a couple of different colleges. Being good at something and having to do something are entirely different qualities. There is a matter of subjectivity to what is good, of course, but I have a pretty good sense of what is terrible or just bad and most of what I have known from wide swaths of loonies in support groups and doctor’s offices and mental hospitals and adult foster homes are just that – bad. In a way, I wish I was categorically bad at all kinds of art, as it would be easier to walk away from the compulsion as just that – a symptom to be treated.
Unfortunately, I was given a measure of talent with words and other things. So I miss the spirits taking over my body and walking me through hallucinatory forests where angels and demons whisper and squeal, not because I enjoy feeling too much and too fully, but rather because there is tangible evidence that such an affliction offers rewards for myself and others. What I have resolved, in difficulty and at great pains, is that only art from a balanced place is worth its price. I cannot recklessly foray into the jungles of the heart and all their attendant darkness, not for fear of the stories but for fear of the horror. So I remember the pure bliss of dragon chasing heights not by the rise but by the fall, and the collapse. Better to be left behind by some beasts than to do battle with all its collateral damage. I write from a safe place, a quiet place, where peace is my castle and there is yet enough room for building a little world.