I feel this is a question constantly fueled by confirmation bias. That is, we believe that this is true, or want to believe so, and so if we are an artist or musician or whatever, we say that yes, a lot of our most creative works comes from our struggle.
My personal experience has been that there are moments where my creativity is boundless and other moments it is stagnant. It depends on my mood or my thoughts, and I think that’s how it goes for a lot of people.
I think why people get this impression is that those of us who have struggled with our mental health, in any form, are often forced to look at life and existence differently. We’re going to have some trippy insight or thought provoking ideas because we think a lot, too much most of the time, and we’ve investigated many different avenues for many different perceptions.
In the past, my depressive episodes consisted of no showers, too much food, sleep at peak sunlight hours and awake at peak sleep hours. I also wrote a lot of poetry.
I hate poetry.
Okay, that’s a strong word. I don’t hate poetry. But it’s never appealed to me as an art form. I could stomach reading really beautiful poetry, but if it wasn’t unique and full of meaning I didn’t like it. And so to belt out poems about sadness and the crushing weight of reality was very unlike me.
I wouldn’t say the depression enhanced my creativity. I would say it pushed me into another realm of expression. And really, poetry saved my life many times.
My psychosis introduced another art form I’d never considered: wood carving and burning. I designed, carved, burned, and painted the pieces for a good two months after getting out of the hospital. Something about following the lines and having that strict order, something to focus so heavily on, let my thoughts wander freely while keeping my body anchored and centered. When that form of expression was no longer needed, I just kind of abandoned it. I haven’t touched the equipment in over a year.
I did a lot of nonsense writing as well. I made dark drawings of creatures created in my mind and discovered when I focused, I could whip out some detailed designs. I don’t draw, either
And so what I think happens is our mind is so starved of understanding when we’re in these states because we fight it so hard. We fight the depression to stay happy, we fight the psychosis to say coherent, we fight the anxiety to stop shaking, we fight the mania so we don’t break the bank. But, in a way, these states are a type of expression. And when we stifle that expression, it finds another avenue. For many of us, we translate that struggle into music or art or writing or projects and hobbies. It makes us look like creative geniuses.
What could depression possibly be expressing? What could psychosis? It was only a few decades ago that psychiatric professionals believed delusions completely incoherent and meaningless. It’s only been recently that studies and observations have hypothesized that many delusions and ramblings are indeed coming from real pain and fear anchored in the patient’s past or present, or from something witnessed in the world.
For example, my “delusions” often revolve around possession. In the worst of it, I feel everyone is an imposter, that everyone is lying, and that if I let my guard slip I will be harmed. My soul will be stolen and trapped in the deepest depths of the most hellish hell.
None of that, so doctors say, is reality.
But, I grew up in a very unstable household with one parent heavy into mind altering substances–hard drugs and alcohol–and so one moment could be full of laughter and joy, the next full of tears and violence. And because I was quiet and sheltered, I never really interacted with other children to learn I could trust them. So instead, I learned to trust no one.
My lack of trust is the foundation of every delusion I’ve entertained. Now, when my thoughts turn in this direction, when everything is a message, when every death is a sign, when dead celebrities are lifting me up and pushing my career forward to trap me, I don’t try and reason myself out of it because I’ll only reason myself into it. Instead, I focus on trust. What, besides someone being possessed and meaning harm to me, is another reason I’m having trouble trusting and interacting with this person?
This steals a lot of power from the delusion sometimes, and also helps me notice that my brain is jumping to extreme conclusions as a way to express its distress. And that means I should pay attention.
Our brains are always finding weird ways to exist in this life. Humans are inherently creative, but we sometimes categorize said creativity and contain it. Instead, we should see it from all angles, even the dark ones.