creative genius and bipolar disorder

I always find it interesting the connections that are made between that bipolar disorder (among other mental illnesses) and creative brilliance. It certainly seems like quite a few of the great creative minds of the past can be sort of post-diagnosed with manic depression, and some of the great living artists have been diagnosed with it, but is there a causal connection? Multiple studies say yes, and its not hard to see why (even for an dilettante psychologist like me): living life constantly in extreme states, fluctuating between despair and mania, creativity can often be used as a coping mechanism. During manic states, creativity is almost an impulse (and isn’t that what mania is all about?), energy is boundless, limits seem nonexistent, and the potential for out-of-the-box thinking and creative leaps is heightened. During depressive states, creativity can be used to express feelings that are powerfully destructive and maintain a sense of self and a connection to the world. The ability to feel things deeply is a crucial part of being able to create work that affects people on a complex level. It makes sense.

Here is a partial list of writers and artists who have (or were thought to have had) bipolar disorder. I’m not a big fan of diagnosing someone after their death (because its easy to manipulate the evidence to suit multiple theories), so I’ll include only those who have compelling evidence:

Jeremy Brett
Brian Wilson
Stephen Fry
Graham Greene
Edvard Munch
Edgar Allen Poe
Kurt Vonnegut
Beethoven (This one is iffy–some people now think that ingesting high levels of lead caused his lifelong illnesses and may have affected his mood.)
Tom Waits
Robert Lowell
Hart Crane
Sylvia Plath
Johann Goethe
Graham Greene
Virginia Woolf
Honore de Balzac
John Keats
Leo Tolstoy

(On a related note, it has been argued that Van Gogh was not bipolar, as it was thought up until recently. Two researchers, Dr. Loretta S. Loftus and Dr. Wilfred N. Arnold, have suggested that he suffered from acute intermittent porphyria–the same thing that caused ‘the madness of king george’ and a disease I only know about from watching House, MD. It seems to fit the symptoms well, although it is an inherited disease and there is no evidence of the illness in either of his parents. This is why I’m skeptical of post-mortem psychological diagnoses.)

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  1. Interesting info on Van Gogh.

    Add to list:

    Carrie Fisher, writer and actor. She has a great blog!

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