Insane In The Membrane

Do you have to be crazy to be a great writer? I don’t mean a successful writer. I mean a great writer. There are many successful writers who are certainly not great writers *coughtwilightcough*.

It just seems to me that alot of our most brilliant writers have had mental issues to battle. I was thinking about this the other day, after watching The Hours, a movie based on a book of the same name by Michael Cunningham, in which Nicole Kidman portrays Virginia Woolf.

We all know that Virginia Woolf suffered from mental illness. She had severe headaches, depression and eventually took her own life. Another brilliant writer, Ernest Hemingway, suffered from alcoholism and depression and he took his own life as well. Sylvia Plath was also plagued by mental illness and ultimately died by her own hand. And lets not forget those who were overcome by drug and alcohol addiction, Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack London and so many more.

The connection between writers, depression and suicide is so prevalent that the American Suicide Foundation organized a conference called “Wanting to Die: Suicide and American Literature.” And Kay Jamison, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, says writers are 10 to 20 times as likely as other people to suffer manic depression or depression, which leads to suicide more often than any other mental disorders.

There’s the old saying, that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. But maybe they are one in the same. Maybe you need to have at least a little bit of insanity to remove that mental filter that often dams the creative flow. A writer can have no fear. No fear of offending people, of being censored, of going too far. Writers have been persecuted, exiled, committed, imprisoned, tortured and even executed for the words they have written. But the drive to put pen to paper overcomes even the threat of punishment and death. That seems almost a mental illness in itself.

I don’t consider myself a great writer (at least not yet hahaha), but I have dealt with mental health issues most of my life. Depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, low self-esteem, cutting, suicide attempts, substance abuse. I have also found that the harder I struggled with these issues, the more creative I became. The deeper I sank into depression and despair and the more I obsessed over my own death, the easier the words flowed from my pen. Back in the mid 90’s, during that period of time when I could write for days, hardly pausing to eat or sleep, I was in an almost manic suicidal state all the time. If it wasnt for writing I don’t think I would have survived it.

Is it possible to be creative and well-adjusted?

3 responses

  1. You are right, there are so many examples out there of creative people with at least borderline mental health issues – and not just writers. There is this beautiful quote I found somewhere: ‘the ability to lose touch with reality at least a little bit is crucial to producing creative art.’

  2. I smiled at that last line. I absolutely think it’s possible to be creative and well-adjusted! But that’s not the question you’re asking in the rest of your post. ;)
    One reason I think “insanity” and creativity often go hand-in-hand is that to be creative, you have to think outside the box: in other words, not like everyone else. And if you’re insane, you’re not thinking like everyone else, by definition.
    Beyond that, however, I’ve always advocated that all good writers have to be a little bit crazy. Whether “crazy” just means eccentric or something more serious like you’ve described above is a whole other story.

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