When I Realized I Don't Have to Be Manic to Be Artistic

Lately I’ve been pondering what a beautiful thing it is to be a creative person. To think that I’ve created literally thousands of original works between my poetry, blogging, essaying, music reviewing and drawing, and not one of them is exactly like anything anyone else has ever created is intriguing, to say the least. And that’s not tooting my own horn or bragging about how amazing a creator I am — there are too many who are better at their craft than I am to even begin to count — but it is a neat thought to me, nonetheless.

Many prominent researchers have made the connection between mental illness — bipolar disorder, in particular — and the creative bug. I’m an artist and a writer, and have been both of those for most of my life. And if I’m being perfectly honest, much of my earliest “good” art (i.e. that which doesn’t make me cringe when I take a look at it) was a product of mania. I was unmedicated and the elevated mood took unbridled hold on me the summer before my sophomore year of high school, causing me to toil away on charcoal drawings into the wee hours of the morning every single day for weeks on end.

It seemed muses were inexhaustible and that ubiquitous “creative spark” was an undying blaze.

As a result of this, I believed I wasn’t a good artist well after the sickness faded; I was convinced I just got lucky with my bipolar high. But as time went on, I was adjusted to the right cocktail of meds and found the right therapist, and reached my version of normalcy. When I began getting back in touch with my artsy side, I realized I still have it in me, always have, even in my healthy periods. Mania might provide a surge of ideas and the laser focus and drive to make those ideas a tangible reality. It does not, however, provide innate talent or a deep-seated passion. I have been drawing ever since I could clutch a crayon in my little kid fist and scribble on a page. It’s just something that’s in my soul, and no amount of medication can change that.

While mania admittedly makes creating pretty things on a page more of a breeze than sanity does, my best written work found its genesis when I was at my healthiest, sanest state of being. When I’m biochemically high, there’s no way I can concentrate on a piece long enough to make it coherent and well-written. I flit from project to project and my mind is spinning too fast to make sure the storm I’m typing up is actually solid and making sense. This is not to say, however, that my mental abnormalities haven’t contributed to the “wordsmithing” side of my creativity. The majority of my writings are inspired by my struggles, and they wouldn’t be there if I didn’t have a life riddled with mental health issues.

There’s a chance I wouldn’t be the highly creative individual I am without the madness that takes up a decent chunk of my headspace. Beyond the mental aspect of creativity, my work is essentially an expression of my innermost self and a product of my experiences and point of view. If I didn’t go through what I’ve gone through and continue to experience what I experience on a day-to-day basis, I wouldn’t be myself. My art, in turn, wouldn’t be itself, either.

Ultimately, I believe that creativity is such an integral part of who I am that mental illness or not, I would always be this way. But maybe I wouldn’t have the same things that beg to be expressed, maybe I wouldn’t have the same intensity about my creative process. And because of that risk, I’ll keep the mental illness.

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