Bipolar and Creativity
Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "One must have chaos in one, to give birth to a burning star." More bluntly put, Lord Byron’s opinion was, "We of the craft are all crazy."
Those two were born over 60 years apart and were extraordinarily different, but both were discussing the same idea, one that resounds through the arts: the interweaving of creativity and madness. It has been suggested that although Nietzsche and Byron differed in many ways, they both suffered from bipolar, like so many other famous creative people.
Throughout history we can see the relationship between the artist and imaginative states. You can see the dramatic shifts in mood in Tchaikovsky’s compositions – most notably in Swan Lake, the changes in Plath’s poetry as she struggles to pin down her sense of self swinging between moods, and in the famous painting The Scream by Edvard Munch you can almost feel the emotions that were coursing through the painter. One could surmise that the ancient concept of being visited by the Muses and the subsequent madness is a historical reference to those with bipolar.
As Voltaire (who was himself rumoured to suffer with bipolar) said, "Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively." This is a neat summary of how many bipolar people may feel during an episode, and an overall insight into the creative mind.
How Can Bipolar Fuel Creativity?
Bipolar is a mood disorder, characterized by periods of euphoria, sleeplessness, intense energy and flight of ideas, followed by those of deep depression. In certain types of bipolar, there is the potential for full manic episodes, which can result in psychosis.
Hypomania, the stage before a full manic episode, entails a new and heightened insight into the world, increased enthusiasm, a stronger sense of self, and a euphoric mood. People in a hypomanic state will also sleep less, have greater fluency of thoughts, and be more open to discussion with those around them, which could lead to an increase in productivity and creativity.
An extreme manic episode, however, entails significant impairment in function, and brings with it effects too enhanced to be able to live a stable life, let alone produce creative works, and it may be correct therefore to assume that inspiration or drive for creativity is achieved mostly in hypomanic states.
The depressive episodes that also form bipolar have potential to aid in the creative process as well, as the feelings endured during such a time may provide inspiration for a piece of writing, music or art when the person with bipolar disorder is in a more stable frame of mind.
Whilst the two states correlate quite strongly in an increase in creativity and higher rate of work produced, it is interesting to note that many famous bipolar people have stated that they actually work best when in a stable state of mind, perhaps drawing inspiration from previous moods whilst feeling healthier. This is likely due to manic episodes leaving people too disorganized and chaotic to focus and produce work, and depressive episodes leaving the person too drained to create anything.
A healthy state of mind will allow for reflection on what has been experienced, and provide new insight into what they had previously felt, resulting in the potential for new pieces of work to be produced, and a greater sense of artistic ability.