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Writers and Mental Illness: Is There a Relation?

July 19, 2010

What is it about authors and mental health issues?

Is it a prerequisite?

A social trend?

A way to draw attention to their work?

This is a subject I have a serious interest in. I have been diagnosed as being bi-polar, with manic tendencies. That means some days, I swing better than Tarzan!

Looking back, this is something I have had most of my life (and with the current knowledge of today, can see it in past generations of family.) What was passed off as me being a ‘brat’ as a child, to a ‘moody’ teenager, on to an intelligent adult with anger issues, was later still mis-diagnosed as ‘depression’, ‘manic depression’, bi-polar type 2, leading up to my current diagnosis.

After much studying, three things bout this subject struck me as being profound.

1. In these enlightened times, people are STILL ignorant of mental health issues.

2. Many great authors, past and present, have either shown signs of, or have been attributed with some form of mental illness.

3. People – including many writers of today, are ashamed of their diagnosis, and live in fear of their peers or publishers finding out. They suffer alone, in silence, with no support.

Why?

Why is there a such a strong bond between writers and mental illness?

And just what is the connection that binds mental health and writing?

Scientists believe it’s apart of the creative process, how artistic, creative people (including writers, artist, dancers, singers, musicians, actors) think ‘outside the box’, thus making them different from others.

Imagine, if you will, that the left and the right side hemispheres of your brain are like two trains, traveling side by side. They have these little ‘connectors’ between them that not only communicate, but feed each other as well. If certain neurons have not developed properly to stimulate both sides of the brain, odd things can occur. One of the ‘trains’ jumps track, throwing everything off. Neurons mis-fire’ or go into a state of under production and over production of the brain’s chemicals. This results in our mood swings and left unchecked, can result in chaos.

In each person, this activity is on a different production level, releasing or ceasing at different time intervals. It all depends on DNA, outside stress factors and the personal health of the individual.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Did you know famous writers throughout the ages have always had issues with what is now classified as “chemical imbalances within the brain?” They just didn’t know what to call it, other than ‘odd’, ‘peculiar behavior’ or were misdiagnosed with other illnesses.

Such symptoms as long bouts of insomnia, mood swings of anger, depression, or euphoria, crying lags, extreme eating habits or money management problems (over spending, gambling), unnatural amounts of sex and even issues such as the now labeled ‘OCD’ or ‘ADHD’ were a problem then, as they are today.

Not knowing what to do, authors in the past (especially men) would “self-medicate” their manic behaviors with alcohol and some drug use (in the higher classes) or perusing their sexual/spending appetites at an alarming rate. Then, either in guilt or despair, lock themselves away to write.

However, that was then. What about the professional pens of our modern society?

Unfortunately, because of our isolation as writers (though it is better in this day and age of the internet) we are still susceptible to depression and its many forms. And, as in the past, this problem continues to be misunderstood.

Pride gets in the way of taking the diagnosis seriously (if one chooses or can afford – on a writers salary – to see a doctor at all.) Finding the right medication to fit your affliction can take years — with constant tweaking. Even on medication, there is no guarantee that “everyday” will be free from melancholy. Or swinging. Or the chronic, repetitive behavior.

So we writers sit, day in and day out, alone in our worlds, dealing with these behaviors the best we can and hope it doesn’t interfere with our works in progress.But it does. Look at our reactions to writers block. Deadlines. Conferences. The way we treat our family members. The way we react to rejection letters or submission acceptance.

As for my own story, I’ve been diagnosed since 1989 (24 years old) – and although it was a relief to know it was a legitimate medical condition bearing no fault of my own, it still took me years to take it seriously. I was ashamed (fortunately, the more educated we are as a society, the better we are. However, old habits die hard, and Joe Q Public will take any mental illness out of context and frown upon.) Family members didn’t help, as they truly didn’t understand what I was going through.

I wasn’t faithful staying on my medicine, either. At one point, I was convinced my doctor got his medical degree from a Cracker Jacks Box. After being on the medicine for six months and flourishing in a euphoria of well-being, I would convince myself I was ‘cured’, therefore, I’d trash the pills. Six months later, I would find myself worse off than before as I continued to spiral down deeper into the dark abyss. I repeated this cycle of self-abuse several times. (I never claimed to be the brightest Skittle in the rainbow!)

Then, a concerned friend told me: “You know what the definition of insanity is? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Ouch! That hit home. All those years of denying I was ‘crazy’ – and here I was traveling in a vicious circle doing the same damn thing over and over. I was still ashamed. I mean, I may be wild and crazy, but to be classified as mentally ill? That label carries huge amounts of stigma. (Up until 1973 – homosexuality was classified as a mental health disease.) I didn’t want people to know.

An other friend pointed me in this direction. “If you have a heart attack, you go to the heart doctor. If you have lung cancer, you go to a specialist. If you need surgery on your knee, you go to a knee surgeon. Heart, eyes, knees…they’re all an important part of the human body – and if these parts get sick or injured, you’re expected to take care of them with medication and what ever.

“…So, what about your brain? The most important, complex organ in your body. If it gets sick or hurt, you need to take the medication and see a psychologist. It only makes sense.”

After that, I refused to be ashamed of my Bi-polar and manic depression. I openly talk about it, hoping to educate a few minds along the way. I even make jokes about my medication – which rattles some folks, but we gotta do what we gotta do, to be at ease with our bodies. I finally learned to accept my cross in this life. I have bi-polar. It is also complicated with manic tendencies. It’s not going away, and I need to be on medication in order to live a productive life. So far, I’ve been on my medication for 3 years straight (the longest ever.) It’s a good thing, but still, even on medications, I have my ‘days’ where ‘impending doom’ looms over my head, and I just want to crawl into a hole and disappear forever.

And as I have been more open about this malady – many other writers (aspiring and professional) have contacted me, admitting they too, have been diagnosed with some form of mental health issue. And they are bewildered. Ashamed. And afraid of what it will do to their careers if their publishers or their readers found out.

I believe with all my heart, this has gotta stop!

Writers with depression symptoms – or any mental health issues, need to support each other. In fact, I would love to see a workshop on it someday – or even a website/yahoo group. You know, a place for writers who suffer from the many forms of depression (from the PMS, postpartum, going through a grieving process down to the Manic to the full-blown Bi Polar) would benefit from having a place to share with others in the same boat.

I mean, nobody understands better than somebody who has been there, done that, and still has bouts. Double therapeutic if the persons they talk with are also writers, going through the same thing. Mental Health issues touch us all, whether we are writers, have family members who are diagnosed, or suffer ourselves.

Are you (or do you know of) a writer who has mental health issues? It could be just depression, or it could be bi-polar, or a number of other oddities. How do you (they) handle it? Do you think the time has come for writers to face this demon? Do you think a writers group for mental health would be a good thing, or would it harm the authors career?

I’m curious to see some answers on this topic.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Porelli permalink
    July 19, 2010 5:31 am

    Hi,
    Being kind of “poly-creative” and always having been around creative people I think it’s more to do with creativity in general than exclusively a “writer thing”. I can’t actually think of very many artists, writers or musicians I know who haven’t had some kind of mental health issue at some point in their lives.

    Creativity is also strongly linked to intelligence … as are certain mental illnesses … among them bi-polar II and treatment-resistant depression (which in turn appear to be linked to each other). I’m not aware of any research having been done into mental illness in creative people specifically, or of any support groups or even discussion forums, so I think you could be onto a really good idea with such a group (the other side of depression is that it fills you with self-doubt and stifles any real will to sit down and write anything just because you can’t bear the idea of yet another knock-back … that’s where I generally am and just a bit of pushing on and encouragement works wonders).

    Mental illness is so shockingly misunderstood in our society that belonging to a group may “stigmatise” members in some way, but on the whole I think that is the way to tackle things … from the inside out … make it more understood by talking about it, even publicising it and definitely by being open about it.

    Kate

    • george allwynn permalink*
      July 19, 2010 11:06 am

      Hi Katie

      I totally agree with you. And it’s not something ‘every’ writer has issues with.

      It was an generalized observation at on odd moment in my life. Sorta like the realization that a majority of writers have a thing for cats… (but that is for another blog…)

      It has just been within the last year I (in a ZING moment) realized how many of my ‘all time favorite writers’ had some kind of addiction of sorts, or had behaviors that sounded so strong of what we now know as Bi-polar, that I went ahead and did an informal research of some other ‘great’ writers.

      After having some time to digest it all, I was truly blown away. However, I believe finding so many writers afflicted with similar maladies helped me to accept my own mental health issues.

      I would love to see a support group for writers with mental health issues. I know there are days I could really use one.

      • Kate Porelli permalink
        July 19, 2010 12:03 pm

        A sort of sideways thought occurred to me earlier … could it be that there’s a tendency if all’s not feeling right in somebody’s head for them to be drawn into spending a lot more time than normal on their own, then some sort of creative outlet being a way of “talking” without having to deal with other people, or at other times as a means of escape?

        What made me think of that is that I’m writing a sort of journal at the moment to get it straight in my head how I’ve arrived at my current stage of life before I move into the next one … like getting it out of my mind and onto paper so I can then put it at the bottom of a drawer and it won’t bother me again (and possibly also as a way of saying to people “look, I don’t really want to talk about things … but you can take that away and read it if you want”).

        K

  2. July 19, 2010 8:36 am

    Incredibly powerful post, George! And one in which I can relate. Yes, I think you are dead on that most writers (and like Kate said, most creative people in general) may be a little off in one regard or another when it comes to mental health.

    I have a friend who is bi-polar and while I can’t say I ever know what she’s actually going through, I can say that I see her struggle if she misses just one dose of her various meds. It can put her on a spiral for the whole week. Her pre-teen daughter was diagnosed recently and is being treated now.

    I went to a therapist a few years ago, convinced I was possibly pi-bolar or going crazy. For years my husband has lovingly (and sometimes not so lovingly) told me I was a bit of a “freak” and that I needed to understand my brain worked different than others. How right he was in his layman’s, slightly jerky, way!

    I was depressed and had been swinging from one extreme to another – but what the therapist helped me most with was acceptance. The things that drove me crazy, that continue to drive me crazy at times, were inherent in the makeup of who I am. She gave me a personality test, which was quite fascinating and when I get frustrated I often look back on it to set myself straight, and told me I had a mild case of OCPD (not the same as OCD).

    What I found helped me the most – and it sounds like someone who resists meds in a cycle can relate – was acceptance. I am who I am. I won’t make excuses. I’ll apologize if I hurt or offend someone inadvertently, but overall, I’m a “take me like I am” type of person.

    As far as a group to chat with on yahoo – I’m not sure. It sounds like a nice idea. I’ve found having friends that listen and accept you for you with no strings is the best type of support there is. But if you’re game to form a group I’d say go for it!

    I’ll be the one wearing the t-shirt that says: I am a freak. Stop staring and move on. I have.

    • george allwynn permalink*
      July 19, 2010 11:22 am

      I’m glad you liked the post, CJ.

      I was a little hesitant on posting it. Not because I’m ashamed (anymore) of how my brain works, but because I usually pen on the less intensive side of topics.

      Sometimes, when I write on the serious side, it gets a bit too heavy – almost gloomy. And I really didn’t want to come off too dispirited, lest I make a poor reader/writer feel worse!

      I know many writers (or creative people) are not ready to talk openly about it. And I completely understand. But even if there were such a support group or website geared towards the special needs of writers – some self help could be achieved for the many who drift among the halls of lurkdom.

      If you don’t mind me asking, what is OCPD? I don’t think I’ve heard that one before.

      • July 19, 2010 12:44 pm

        Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder here’s a link if you’re interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsessive–compulsive_personality_disorder , but I swear I’m not as much as an asshole as the article sounds. I’m aware of what I’m doing and I have a mild version. I have just enough knowledge to try and keep it in check when I see it. But it can be hard at times.

        And please, hold back from the obvious teasing about the blog schedule and my lists and things when you read it ;-). It’s SO obvious for people who know me well. The flip side is, the Lyme Disease I’m suffering from has made me forget a lot – including my lists, schedules and need for order.

        A book (Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsey) with an in depth test my therapist gave me revealed I was composed of the letters ENTJ, which this books describes as a “Field Marshall” (hold the laughter to a minimum or I’ll get my gun) or “the leaders of leaders”.

        Reading the information contained in the book takes time – it is not written for a layperson, but for someone in the industry. But I did learn a lot about myself and learn to accept what for years I was told to squash.

        More amazing is the fact that my husband took the test and is the absolute perfect match for a Field Marshall, called a “Healer” with the letters INFP. He often calls the traits I posses my “superpowers” (every now and then he says one that makes me smile rather than the previous freak comment :-D)

        Overall, the book has cool info and is really neat if you want to do in depth character studies of your book characters!

  3. July 19, 2010 9:49 am

    Very courageous post, George. It is indeed something I don’t think people like to talk about, yet it probably has affected all of us in one way or the other. We hear so much about our dependency on medication to get through the day, like it’s a negative thing, I think people are a little afraid to explore something they aren’t sure about, or can’t be measured like a disease like diabetes, where specific monitoring is done. And even diabetics go into denial sometimes and don’t take their medicine or eat properly.

    It is a minefield – you go along excited about your work, and yet we deal with rejection all the time. Even successful authors worry about their next book, or worry about sales and future contracts. Any good artist does. We want to do our best.

    But when is plain disappointment or self-doubt become something other than that? Just like writers, there are good Drs. and bad ones. And while a certain medication might work for one, it may not work for another. It would be nice if the stigma of mental illness were lightened, and we had some clearcut way to get tested and get the meds we need, if necessary, to improve the quality of our lives. I wonder how people who have to worry about whether their kids will come back safe from the store in battle-torn parts of the world. I tend to write off my own stress as saying it isn’t relevant. “Just put on your big panties and deal.” And for some, that isn’t nearly enough.

    Thank you for trying to tackle this difficult issue.

    Sharon

    • george allwynn permalink*
      July 19, 2010 11:55 am

      Hi Sharon,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      I was one of those who for years was in denial. Writing is a lot of mental work. If my brain is sick – what does that say about me as a writer? And who would want to read a book by – or publish a book by – someone so obviously sick in the head, they have to medicate themselves to think straight? Yeah – you get the vicious circle my thoughts would take. Not a pretty picture.

      It was also an eye opener to see how mental health is passed down through the family, cementing the fact that a majority of this disease is hereditary. I mean, just take a look through the Ernest Hemingway family tree. You’ll see a pattern.

      I can relate to the generational thing. My brother (who died at 49) denied his mental health. It was alright that I (the younger, abnormal sibling) had a crutch – but him? Naw. He was too smart to fall for sh!t like that.

      My mother (who died at 56) used to tell me it was all in my head. She also said the same thing for herself, when she suffered from, what she felt was a ‘seasonal disorder. (read about it in the National Enquire.) She never sought out help, feeling ‘this too, shall pass’ – and would CONSTANTLY keep herself busy with outside work.

      In retro respect, my mother’s father (who died at 54) was an alcoholic, though everyone in our family swore my grandfather was a wonderful, brilliant man, who ‘suffered with periodic bouts with alcohol. (in which he would turn into a depressed, S.O.B.) Was he using alcohol to ‘self-medicate’ during his bi-polar episodes?

      Even today, with all the information out there, and a parent who advocates for mental health issues, I have two adult children who have been diagnosed with bi-polar. My daughter (26 years and mother of my two grandsons) self medicates by working herself to the bone (like my mother) and my son (27 years) denies he is too much of a man to have a problem, and self medicates (unfortunately) with alcohol (like his great-grandfather.) Both of them know better, however, each one of us has to go through a period before we reach the point of being comfortable of accepting we are not the perfect person society wants us to pretend to be.

      When I look at my family – who by all society standards, was a morally, intelligent, middle class standard family, there is no doubt in my mind bi-polar is part of our DNA.

      I am happy you can right off your own stress – and I am thrilled for those who have had a bout of depression or grief, used the medication or counseling, and came out of the other side, stronger and more centered, without needing to continue.

      But you are correct. For some, those things aren’t nearly enough. And like you, I wish the veil of secrecy would dissolve so ALL creatively intelligent people could live life without the fear of the mental illness stigma.

  4. george allwynn permalink*
    July 19, 2010 12:01 pm

    Oh – and for what it’s worth here’s something extra on the topic…

    The GLBT community also sports a high percentage of bi-polar individuals. Contrary to popular belief, this is not related to their sexual orientation. A great amount of GLBT folks are highly creative and very intelligent.

    Just some food for thought I wanted to throw out as a snack, as it didn’t fit into the blog post of writing and mental illness.

    I thought it was important enough to note, as a great many of our past, famous authors of literature were presumed to have homosexual tendencies – and had to hide it because of the times…

    • July 19, 2010 12:25 pm

      I don’t know who the hell could think sexual orientation is associated with a mental illness. Lots of twisted people with moral attitudes that like to spew hatred at the general public… ah, great world we live in.

  5. July 19, 2010 12:46 pm

    I think in the end we all want to be accepted and loved. And that has nothing to do with sex, but it can be one way to express it. I think the criticism we get for our work is sometimes difficult to take. And sometimes it’s not criticism, but just a big fat silence, right? I think that scares me more than anything else. Sort of “what if you gave a party and no one came” type of thing.

    Look at what people do for acceptance, and not money. I’m guessing a lot of really creative people desire that acceptance, even if they aren’t financially stable. And I can see the addictive behaviors such as overspending, overeating coming from a place of wanting to make myself feel better when I don’t get that acceptance. I know I take it more personally than I need to, which probably puts me in the crowd George was talking about. Plus, had a grandfather who tried to commit suicide several times and wound up staying at home to raise my father while his wife went to work. I hardly ever saw him out of his pajamas. He would spend days at a time in the bedroom with the blinds drawn. My brother and I would wake up sometimes at 2 or 3 am when he would make Grandma play the piano and he would sing Tennessee Ernie Ford songs until he could get back to bed. We just thought it was odd, but with that special protection children sometimes have, just accepted it, as we never felt in danger.

    Until she died, my Grandma said he was the greatest man that ever lived. His life would have been totally different if she wasn’t a part of it, I’m sure.

    This discussion, while maybe difficult, is one that should be had, in the open, in the middle of the day, in the sunlight. Not locked in the closet of dark family secrets. So, as I said before, Thank you. And thanks to everyone who had the guts to post as well.

    • george allwynn permalink*
      July 19, 2010 1:14 pm

      Sharon, you are welcome. I can only hope that by more folks being open, we can help others heal as well…

      PS Your Grandfather sounded really cool – just the way he was. I am so glad he had someone like your grandmother to love him…

  6. Kris M permalink
    July 19, 2010 12:49 pm

    George,

    Great posting – but then I’m biased. I got your little comments about the yahoo group — I’m starting one I swear !!! It will be a group for writers who suffer from mental and/or physical disabilities and who are still creative in spite of it… BTW you will be a moderator with me. Just so you know… LOL

    As you know, I too suffer from depression and anxiety disorder. As writers, especially us aspiring unpubbed ones, it can be very hard on our writing. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed let alone write..

    You are totally right, that writers need to come to terms with their mental illness and not be afraid to talk about it. I think that there is a connection between writers and mental illness – but I think it is more that mentally ill people are either more creative because of their mental illness, or have more time to write – being unable to have/hold a ‘traditional office’ job – we tend to work from home and isolate ourselves.

    Some days when I’ll feeling down and depressed I try to write the scenes from my book that are emotional and I find that being in ‘that state of mind’ helps me develop characters and show their vulnerabilities better than if I wrote them on a day when I’m feeling all is right with the world. In the same manner, when I’m feeling down, it’s really hard to write the happy scenes in the book as well.

    There definitely is a connection between family history as well – I too have gone back and looked at earlier generations. I see the anxiety disorder in my mother, my maternal grandmother and with two of my maternal great-uncles – one who committed suicide and one who was an alcoholic. They lived in the late 1880s and early 1900s so of course there was no ‘label’ for it.

    I embrace my mental illness and no longer feel like I have to hide it – though I’ve been told that I should because publishers won’t sign you if they know. Well for me – sorry — but after all the progress I’ve made I’m not about to jump back under my turtle shell. At the same time, I’m not going to take out a billboard in Times Square on New Year’s Eve proclaiming my illness either.

    But YES I believe that there should be a support structure for mentally ill people to congregate and be free and open to talk about anything.

    As for harming a person’s career – it shouldn’t and if it does then the publisher that says ‘no’ BECAUSE of my mental illness, wouldn’t be the right fit for me anyway..

    Yes we need a place to unite. And I will create one. I’ll email you the yahoo group link when I do so that you can post it here or elsewhere.

    BTW George my buddy – you are getting pretty damn good at this blogging thing….. 🙂

    Kris

    • george allwynn permalink*
      July 19, 2010 1:33 pm

      george allwynn PERMALINK*
      July 19, 2010 1:29 pm
      Kris,
      (Hugs to my Ethel) – you brought a couple good points to mind.
      In the state of Michigan, did you know that if you are on anti-depressants, or have, in the past, been hospitalized for depression or got a diagnosis of bi-polar, MOST caseworkers will not allow you to become foster parents – even though you showed the maturity and the responsibility to take this into your hands and take care of it?
      Also, if the foster care system thinks you are trying to cause trouble with them (aka – like if a case worker has it out for you) – they can hold all this against you and refuse to allow you to adopt, just because you are on mental health medication – no matter how well behaved, how well you have responded – or even with reference letters from your therapist or doctor supporting you and your decision making abilities ?
      In both cases, I personally have known several folks this has affected.
      The US Post Office can use this same info against you, no matter how pristine your work record was. Currently, the post office is downsizing – and they are trying to use this as an excuse to get rid of workers, especially older ones. (Of course, the union is getting involved with this one, and several cases are waiting on aberration.)
      And, while doing a class on becoming a Private Eye, I have been told the state of Michigan will not issue you a permit to carry a concealed weapon if you are currently on anti-depression medication (even though you have passed all the hoops to become a PI) — now, I haven’t had the time to research this, but it was mentioned by a police officer I had dinner with.
      In my humble opinion – how can we expect the general Joe Q public to accept mental health issues without shadows, when our own government is still treating it like it’s a plague?
      I mean, to be diagnosed and NOT taking meds is one thing – but being responsible enough to take meds faithfully and get counceling – it seems people are being punished for doing what is right. And that, my friends, isn’t kosher with me.
      It is because of things like that, people are still afraid to come out and get help that could only benefit the quality of their lives…
      And Kris… to quote the great F. Scotts Fitsgerald (who had mental illness) – “…build it and they will come…” (*grin)

      • July 19, 2010 1:48 pm

        Am I allowed to disagree without getting stoned? Let’s keep in mind some laws try to help, even if in some cases they hurt.

        Think about this – if they did allow a concealed to carry gun permit for someone on anti-depressants, and they went off their meds, think of the lawsuits and ramifications of the fact that the state knew and gave them a permit to own the gun they used to carry in public to kill themselves in the town square – or worse, kill others.

        And honestly? If BOTH parents were on mental health drugs then I could see a reason to wait or hold off on allowing foster care or adoption (But mind you, I said BOTH parents). Read back here on all the abuse people have personally related from their youth and you can see why the law is in place.

        It only takes one person who goes off their meds to destroy the life of a child entrusted to them, by the state that was set to protect them, for these harsh laws to come into place.

        And the post office? Those people are still the brunt of jokes and the term “going postal” is well known for a reason. We may not be happy with the laws made, and most times they are too harsh and not open for case by case determination – but they were put in place because something happened sometime and someone is trying to think of a way to stop it in the future.

        I feel the same way about epileptics given a driver’s license too close to a recent black out and/or seizure. If you would take a license from a person driving drunk why not from a person who can have a seizure and run into other cars and kill?

        The government has many flaws, and LOTS of laws are sweeping generalizations, but they try and things evolve over time. It’s better to try to get things clarified in a case to determine the future of the law than bash the law altogether.

        Okay – let the rocks fly. I’ll run for cover.

      • george allwynn permalink*
        July 19, 2010 2:20 pm

        Hey Ellison –

        No rocks throwing here (possibly rotten tomatoes though.)

        Seriously though, I understand where you are coming from and agree with you to a point.

        The point I can’t get past is the foster parent and the postal service – because those are two things that have affected me personally.

        Even though I have never been in trouble with the law, or have caused bodily harm to anyone, and was on my medication faithfully (and the only one on medication) – the state of Michigan and the Federal Government were able to use my honest and truthful answers that yes, I was on medication, and had verification through insurance, doctors and councilors references and drug testing that I was indeed, taking the helpful medication faithfully – and had a sterling work record as well as reputation with the DHS office.

        Yet, when push came to shove, both branches of the government were able to use this against me in a court of law. In both cases, it was proven discriminatory – but the damage was done. I may have won the battle, but I lost the war (I lost 4 special needs boys I’d had as babies and raised for 3 years – and 3 months before their adoption to me and my partner, a caseworker interfered. The court case took two years and the boys were adopted out within months of being taken from us – even though we proved we were right. The post office one is still on going, – it has been proven they couldn’t release because of the medication, so it has gone to step 3, trying to get my job back and secure my retirement benefits/medical insurance after serving 23 years.)

        So, as I said, I can see your point and can even agree with you on certain terms. However, with what I have experienced personally, it is hard to divorce my feelings from a couple topic points at this time.

      • July 19, 2010 3:35 pm

        What hell, George!! Messing with benefits and insurance after 23 years service? That is a load of crap. I wish you the best in that fight and I’m sure the government isn’t going to make any step easy for you.

        The part about the foster kids – Geez louise I just about started balling my eyes out! There are no words I can ever offer to ease the pain and heartache – or even imagine the depth – to which you and your partner suffered at the hands of such injustice.

        So in the end you won – but it’s not like you could take the boys back from their new homes, so it’s an empty win.

        You’ve moved recently, right? I hope it’s to a state that has more tolerant and intelligent policies, if any exist (and hopefully better caseworkers). Although, no new town or home can ever take away such heartache.

  7. July 19, 2010 1:00 pm

    Bear with me while I try to sum everything up as quickly/shortly as possible. My mother was 41 when she had me – everyone told her I’d come out with Downs Syndrome or somesuch, and when I didn’t, she was so completely, fanatically convinced I was normal, that she would never listen when something was actually wrong. Doctors and teachers tried to talk to her. Other kids’ parents tried to talk to her. Words like bipolar, Autistic, Aspergers, and even skitzophrenia were thrown around. Mother abjectly refused to listen.

    Combine that with a father who believed all physical maladies were “in your head” and you can imagine what a fracked up mess I must’ve been.

    Fast forward to my eighteenth birthday – you know what I bought myself? Counselling. Anger Management. I always knew something wasn’t quite right with me, and I was determined to get answers.

    So…present day. I’m bipolar. I’m not at this time on any medication, for the basic reason that most of my doctors have decided – and I agree – that I have an impressive set of coping mechanisms. I’m happy, for the most part. Even during my boughts of depression, I am capable of realizing that it’s a symptom of a greater issue, and that I can be depressed and that doesn’t have to mean that anything is particularly wrong at the moment. Which I think is hard for people to grasp. You say you’re depressed, and suddenly people start fawning over you, going out of their way to do things for you. Which for me, just frustrates me even more. There’s nothing that will fix me, because I”m not broken. I’m just…me. I’m made differently. I just need time for the depression to run it’s course and I’ll be fine. Maybe that’s just my take on it, and maybe that’s completely wrong.

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that…people who don’t have these problems view those of us who do as these… I don’t know…freaks, I guess, for lack of a better word. But we’re not. We’re just…different. And there’s nothing wrong in embracing it, or talking about it. For Christ’s sake, if no one ever talks about it, we’ll get nowhere. I’ve never felt embarrassed about the way I am, I guess because I’ve always been this way. I’ve never known any other way. And my parents and family are all just as clinically off, so for me, this was normal. I grew up thinking that people just acted this way. People just got angry, flew off the handle, hit you, beat you, called you names. It wasn’t abuse, that I knew of. I was just normal. (I also had a very isolated childhood, so I wasn’t exposed to any normal people until school, and even then I wasn’t allowed to interact much).

    Something a friend said to me once, when I was bitching and moaning about my father leaving me this wonderful legacy: “With great madness often comes great beauty. Your dad gave you his crazy shit for brains mind, but that came along with an ability to tell tales like no one else can. To envision worlds and to hear with clarity the voices of the people in those worlds. How amazing must that be? To hear someone else, someone who doesn’t exist, and be able to make them real? To give them substance? You’re freaking Geppetto, man. I’ll never be Geppetto.”

    That really shocked and moved me. To think that someone “normal” envied me in a way.

    • george allwynn permalink*
      July 19, 2010 2:04 pm

      Hey DC –

      You made some interesting points. I want to address – but I need to leave for a bit. I promise to come back and talk about some things you mentioned. Thank you for posting…

  8. Thom Harrison permalink
    July 19, 2010 1:16 pm

    Great post, George. I think you have hit the nail right on the head (not on the highly vulnerable thumb as is often the case when people try to bring subjects out of the shadows and into the sunlight). Creative people are just that. Creative. And, as such, also require a response to their art (whatever it may be), whether positive, negative or ambivalent. They just NEED to know how others perceive their creations, and the waiting and wondering and worrying for and about that rersponse can be extremely tortuous, especially for one who has self-worth or self-confidence issues. The other mental processes are often effected by this torture as well, which (where mental disabilities or disorders are present) can feed an ever downward spiral which only makes things worse. This is an important topic and one that deserves more discussion. Also, if, as stated earlier, publishers discriminate against writers who have these problems, then something needs to be done in this area as well. What a case of throwing the baby AND the tub out with the bathwater. Well done.

    Thom

    • george allwynn permalink*
      July 19, 2010 1:37 pm

      Thank you, Thom.

      I didn’t know how well received this would be, so a positive note made my heart feel lighter and much relieved. And I’m glad I hit the subject on the head and NOT the thumb. Makes it kinda rough for a writer to type.

  9. judie stewart permalink
    July 19, 2010 1:27 pm

    Hi George,

    I loved this piece and you did your homework. You did a awesome job!

    • george allwynn permalink*
      July 19, 2010 1:45 pm

      Judy,

      Thank you for taking time and commenting.

      The research came about really odd – it actually started out reading a weird comment in an old magazine about Ernest Hemingways Transgendered son. From there, I started reading all sorts of things about the Hemingway family – how suicide has riddled it for generations. I then started to investigate other famous writers (past and present) on the internet. Not all at once – here and there – and chased rabbits from one website to another, until the idea just sorta started to cement it’s self.

      And like mentioned above, writers don’t have the cornerstone on this. Mental Illness can affect anyone. However, it seems to distinctively weed out the creative and the intelligent.

      A big group overlooked, yet deserves to be mentioned, are inventors.

      How many times have we read about inventions created in the past, their creators were either deemed mad, or lived as recluses because of having problems fitting into society?

      Once again, thank you for reading. I don’t feel as alone as I have in the past.

  10. george allwynn permalink*
    July 19, 2010 1:29 pm

    Kris,

    (Hugs to my Ethel) – you brought a couple good points to mind.

    In the state of Michigan, did you know that if you are on anti-depressants, or have, in the past, been hospitalized for depression or got a diagnosis of bi-polar, MOST caseworkers will not allow you to become foster parents – even though you showed the maturity and the responsibility to take this into your hands and take care of it?

    Also, if the foster care system thinks you are trying to cause trouble with them (aka – like if a case worker has it out for you) – they can hold all this against you and refuse to allow you to adopt, just because you are on mental health medication – no matter how well behaved, how well you have responded – or even with reference letters from your therapist or doctor supporting you and your decision making abilities ?

    In both cases, I personally have known several folks this has affected.

    The US Post Office can use this same info against you, no matter how pristine your work record was. Currently, the post office is downsizing – and they are trying to use this as an excuse to get rid of workers, especially older ones. (Of course, the union is getting involved with this one, and several cases are waiting on aberration.)

    And, while doing a class on becoming a Private Eye, I have been told the state of Michigan will not issue you a permit to carry a concealed weapon if you are currently on anti-depression medication (even though you have passed all the hoops to become a PI) — now, I haven’t had the time to research this, but it was mentioned by a police officer I had dinner with.

    In my humble opinion – how can we expect the general Joe Q public to accept mental health issues without shadows, when our own government is still treating it like it’s a plague?

    I mean, to be diagnosed and NOT taking meds is one thing – but being responsible enough to take meds faithfully and get counceling – it seems people are being punished for doing what is right. And that, my friends, isn’t kosher with me.

    It is because of things like that, people are still afraid to come out and get help that could only benefit the quality of their lives…

    And Kris… to quote the great F. Scotts Fitsgerald (who had mental illness) – “…build it and they will come…” (*grin)

  11. July 19, 2010 1:39 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I have two writer friends who are bipolar and one of them kept charts of his mood swings on the walls of his office for years so he could gauge the pattern of highs and lows. A former lawyer, he’s very open to talking about his manic-depression, a term he also uses.

    I struggle with depression and perhaps bouts of cyclothymia (can’t remember if I was diagnosed with that or if it was “under consideration”). According to my husband, who has PTSD, I also show signs of that as well. Basically, I shut down, sleep a lot, refuse to be around people, go on crying jags, think I suck as a writer/artist, and then feel guilty for not writing (i.e. working). So it’s a vicious circle. I’m trying to be more open and honest about my depression, but hate to admit to any weakness. Sorry, nothing personal. It’s part of my defense mechanism, and I’ve got plenty of them. LOL

    Has anyone read Dr. Fieve’s Moodswing? I read it years ago and it has several pages devoted to creativity. To be honest, I don’t know how well the book holds up now. My copy dates back to 1989.

    Personally, I would like to see more fiction with characters who suffer from mental illnesses. Maybe there are some, but I haven’t come across any yet. If you know of ones, feel free to give me a shout. 🙂

  12. george allwynn permalink*
    July 19, 2010 2:01 pm

    Hi Paula!

    WOW! What a neat idea! I never thought about charting my mood swings!

    See what we could learn from each other if we had somewhere to go and support each other?

    And just think Paula, if you hadn’t spoke up about that (or your friend kept secret his chart) – that idea would be lost to me and all the hundreds of lurkers out there…

    I’m not familiar with cyclothymia. Any chance you feel comfortable enough to give a small definition?

    PTSD (or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a biggie. I took training in it late in the 90’s because of a postal shooting and a bomb scare in a school in the metro Detroit area. Little did I know it would come in handy dealing with the 911 aftermath, as well as my own issues.

    And PTSD doesn’t have to be related to natural disasters, war or anything earth shattering on a large scale. It can be experienced by anyone, even if it only happens to you, such as – such as rape, your house burns down, a bad traffic accident you were in, being abused by a former lover, super bad discrimination on the job, being falsely accused of a crime and going through the courts, even being bullied by co-workers, neighbors, or classmates.

    PTSD is a legitimate diagnosis that falls under the mental health/illness. And unfortunately, is subjected to the same treatment everything else is under the Mental Health issues title.

    And thanks for the book reference! I haven’t heard that particular book, but I have the name wrote down and I’m gonna see if I can find it when I go into the big city this afternoon for group therapy.

    If not, I will check out amazon later tonight.

    Thank you so much for commenting. I learned a lot from you today, Paula!

    • July 19, 2010 5:57 pm

      You’re welcome. 🙂

      “I’m not familiar with cyclothymia. Any chance you feel comfortable enough to give a small definition?”

      It’s a milder form of bipolar disorder. Just like there’s mania and its little cousin, hypomania. 🙂 Of course, this is a basic definition.

      If I do have PTSD (& my husband isn’t the only one who thinks so), I don’t know if it’s related to being abused when I was growing up (which can be a catalyst for depression) or having a daughter with severe autism, although I guess there could be numerous factors. (And yes, I was also bullied at school. No wonder I turned to writing.)

      For me, being creative is a way to work through the pain and it’s also cathartic. I can retreat into my own world, and I don’t have to think about the here and now. (This doesn’t mean I’m detached from reality, however.) I guess it’s a form of therapy for me.

      • July 20, 2010 8:47 am

        I was bullied in school too! Small world, Pamela.

        I wish you the very best with your daughter. I know there is still so much they are learning about Autism and I sincerely hope you are able to find some relief to lessen the severity of her case in the future (if that is at all possible. I know new things are being tossed around in the news all the time, but one is always afraid to hope).

  13. July 19, 2010 4:05 pm

    Hi George, great post and you kicked off a great debate. There is fantastic potential for (artistic) genius on the edge of sanity! (And I do not make light of what you and others have written.)

    There is a great deal here that I can relate to. I have never had any diagnosis, but I know enough about my own life to understand, now, that I have developed some pretty impressive mechanisms for dealing with this and that. (But it was not always the case.)

    Thank you for your frankness. 🙂

  14. July 19, 2010 4:44 pm

    I was diagnosed as having chronic depression about 15 years ago. About 5 years ago, I missed a few days on my anti-depressants, went back on, and slipped into a 6 month period of hell. In desperation, I sought counseling and discovered that I wasn’t depressive, I was bi-polar and the meds had pushed me into a period of rapid cycling.

    My therapist pointed out that many, many highly creative people are bi-polar, not just writers. I would be interested to see studies done on the link between creativity and BPD. Anyhow, since my mood swings are fairly mild and easily identifiable, I opted against medication and haven’t regretted that decision. I don’t chart my mood swings, but I do have a few warning signs that tell me when I’m about to go manic. One is that I get really chatty. Another is restlessness. When I know its coming, I can put my “rules” into place. No online shopping, think before talking/emailing, control my temper, exercise, etc. I deliberately avoid drugs, including caffiene and alcohol. I stock up on low cal food because I know I’ll binge eat. I get plenty of rest and regiment my writing chores.

    Since the diagnoses, I’ve always been open about it. I mentioned it on one group I belong to, the group had been bashing the bi-polar relative of one author. When I posted and jokingly mentioned that the discussion was making me uncomfortable, I was flamed by several members to the point that the moderator finally removed the discussion. It was rather shocking.

    Mental illness is still subject to socially accepted discrimination and bigotry. BPD in particular is viewed with such hatred and contempt. I don’t have a choice about being this way, but I can do my best to manage it and live a good, productive life. I don’t use it as a crutch for not achieving. My therapist was really wonderful in pointing out that the disorder gave me gifts that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

  15. July 20, 2010 11:14 am

    I truly believe that is the case for too many creative people, I was diagnosed this year with depression which I accept and get on with life. I do get ‘moody’ ‘angry’ and all that stuff and when I do I have to reign in those thoughts as I find that they tend to drive stories down dark paths (quite naturally).

    My wife suffered terribly with depression which doctors tried to ‘fix’ but only made it worse, she too is creative but struggles to allow her creativity flow as her mind tells her it is wrong. Anyone who has to live with is in for bad times and good, but we all need to spare a few thoughts for the poor buggers who share our lives and live on the receiving end of us.

  16. Robert C. Nelson permalink
    July 20, 2010 4:20 pm

    Welcome, George. What a dramatic entrance. I have PTSD, caused, I’m certain, by incidents when I served in Vietnam and early childhood problems as well. And I have also been diagnosed as being manic-depressive. I listen to the doctors trying to explain the differences, but depression is depression is depression. That’s the way my mind looks at it anyway. I honestly believe that those of us with these mind ravaging conflicts are likely to be better writers than those who are ‘ normal ‘ . We have a wellspring of inner feelings to share; our characters are richer; and our sensitivity is greater. Honestly: we are more humanitarian in our views of people and of life.

    I’m on kind of a watch list at the VA, but I humor them enough to where they won’t ship me off to some sort of inpatient program that could take months out of my life.

    Now I’m sure I’m going to get hollered at by some of you fine people, but I stopped taking my medication. Why? I was starting to feel like a fucking zombie. No, the VA doesn’t know about this, and I’m not about to tell them; I rely on the VA a lot for my physical problems. It’s not easy coping without the medication, but I do it. Some nights I get zero sleep. Last night for example. But I would rather deal with the complexities of my problems and keep my creative juices flowing at the same time. I used to have running as a means to lesson the demons, but with my physical problems right now, I can’t tap into that. Writing is my sole means right now, and I can’t do that in a drug induced stupor. Obviously, they goofed with my meds.

    This is truly an amazing number of people who have responded here. May we all do well.

    Thank you, George.

  17. Andy Bove permalink
    July 21, 2010 4:22 am

    I agree a great deal with alot that has been said and personally i have always been amused and have enjoyed the idea that the (author/writer/artist) suffers from some kind of derangement of the senses. It has often been said and thought that the more creative and or passionate one is then the more likely they are to be “screwed up” mentally and or socially.

    Romantics were often thought to suffer from some kind of brain fever because how could anyone realistically view the world as they do or see things as they see them. The artist/romantic are in fact one in the same. Now to everyone else we are disturbed or do not accept things as neatly or readily as the rest of the flock. The flock looks back at us and let’s us know how bad we or how wrong we are for this.

    From this though comes such powerful imagination, love for life, a means of understanding the human condition as others do not save those cut of the same cloth. My god such powerful intellects are found in such people. So powerful in fact are these intellects that they can cause others to fear or distrust us and lead to condemnations of many kinds. To have such tremendous gifts, outlooks, ideals seems to come with some price to it as history has shown. The artist it is said must suffer for or through their work.

    The question should be asked then. Why do they suffer as they do or to the artist/writer is it even sufferring in their eyes. Now a list of artitst/writers who shared in mental afflictions.

    Edgar Allan Poe-Severe Depression and savage mood swings

    Virginia Woolfe-Manic Depression and you could tell from her characters. In her time there was no real treatment for this disorder

    Emily Dickinson-Massive social anxiety and agoraphobia-fear of open places/spaces.

    Sylvia Plath- Hardcore depressive issues-suicidal

    Lord Byron-Massive attatchment and abandonment issues.Dark and disturbing passive aggression (emotionally).

    Truman Capote- Very poor self image issues as well as terribly low self-confidience and had a speech impedement.

    All wonderfully brilliant minds and talents and all sufferred with their “demons”. All created powerful, beautiful, and fantastic works.

  18. July 22, 2010 1:25 pm

    Excellent post, George.

  19. July 22, 2010 8:33 pm

    Your post is inspiring George. I know there is still a stigma against people who suffer from any type of mental illness. I’ve known people whose children suffered various types of ADD or ADHD and people look at them like they are bad parents. If their child had cancer or were in a wheel chair people would show compassion but when it is a mental illness, compassion goes to the dogs. I wish you well in your effort to change that stigma!

    Rhonda

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