Day THREE: April A-Z Blogging Challenge
“Men have called me mad but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is, or is not, the loftiest intelligence–whether much that is glorious–whether all that is profound–does not spring from disease of thought–from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.”— Edgar Allan Poe.
Mental Health and Creativity seem to be oddly paired at first glance, but it is like a public secret, a fact that is well-known but not overtly acknowledged. Many, many famous and successful people like artistes — poets, writers, musicians, theatre actors, screen heartthrobs and divas, comedians, dancers, painters, mathematicians, scientists, world leaders, to name but a few of the different streams of creative expression — have been known to have suffered from one or more forms of mental disorders. Names that come to mind include poets like Shelley, Keats, Byron, Coleridge and even Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath; writers include Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemmingway, William Faulkner, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Amy Tan, painters like Paul Gaugin , Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, musicians like Beethoven, Mozart, Kurt Kobain, Britney Spears, scientists/mathematicians like Isaac Newton, John Nash (remember the book and Russell Crowe in the movie, ‘A Beautiful Mind‘ ), actors like Catherine Zeta Jones, Carrie Fisher, Linda Hamilton, Mel Gibson, Robin Williams, Kishore Kumar, Meena Kumari, comedians like Jim Carrey, Stephen Fry, and well, Florence Nightingale, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill to name just a few. The list is endless.
The reverse is often almost true too! Look around and if you can identify someone who you feel might be prone to a mental problem — whether relatively minor symptoms like anxiety, insomnia or depression, or more serious including manic depressiveness , paranoia, eating disorders, addictions, OCD (Obssesive Compulsive Disorder), Bi-Polar disorder, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Schizophrenia, or any other, then chances are that these persons also show flashes of creativity. Newer forms of research down the years have uncovered how brain functions are very similar in people who are extremely creative and in those children and adults with known mental health issues. The two seem inextricably linked. You can refer to this enlightening article here, called Creative minds mimic schizophrenia.
Access to more sensory impulses, ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, over-sensitivity, high levels of focus, risk-taking, obsession to details, all these traits are common to creative people as well as those with mental health issues. The two seem related in more ways than one. Increasingly, studies of brain functions reveal that physical factors like chemicals secreted in the brain affect biological rhythms and have an impact on the emotional life of people that manifest as hyperactivity, irritability, paranoia, mood swings, anxiety and other such symptoms of psychological and emotional distress. But these factors also create geniuses and extremely bright and creative minds.
While medication might be necessary for severe symptoms of mental illness, another soothing and non-numbing approach would be to encourage creative pursuits in the person. Creative expression or the appreciation of it channelise energy into non-destructive paths and help in regulating the mind and emotions. J.K. Rowling, the creator of the Harry Potter series was in a period of deep depression when she wrote her first book in the series. The books then went on to help her out of the depressive state.
COPING with COMPASSION is another key ingredient for mental health. Often the most mis-understood members of society, those afflicted with mental health problems need to take it easy. Compassion, like charity begins at home. Have compassion for yourself, love yourself as you are and do not beat yourself up over perceived and imagined flaws. Do not go by the opinions of others and of a society that increasingly lives and thrives on appearances. Give yourself a chance and if you are a parent or a teacher, give your child a chance to grow at his/ her own pace. In the final outcome, marks in board exams won’t even be remembered. A school year lost is nothing much in the larger scheme of life. But the wounds inflicted on the fragile psyche of the human being through insensitivity and mental cruelty can ruin a life, whatever the amount of clinical treatments.
Treat these souls with gentility and love. Even plants are said to respond to love, then why not a human being? For this, societal and familial expectations may have to be laid aside. Give up the ordinary for the extraordinary! And later on, one might well be surprised by the blossoming of a creative outlet. Love is its own reward, as is patience! Beneath that irritable exterior may very well live an ‘old soul’, a being of light, who when released from strictures and structures of society may have something unique to contribute to this world. Do not shut out that light before it can shine through and illumine itself and the world around.
© Lakshmi S. Menon & VOICE’nVIEWS