American clincial psychologist Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, the foremost expert on bipolar and herself a manic-depressive, brings up this ethical question in her memoir “An Unquiet Mind.” Jamison worries we could “risk making the world a blander, more homogenized place if we get rid of the genes for manic-depressive illness.”
I’m the daughter and granddaughter of bipolar. My maternal grandmother was and mother is the life of the party, creative souls who expressed themselves by painting.
My youngest daughter is a creative, more specifically a singer-songwriter. She was born with a need to express herself through lyrics and with an innate musicality showing incredible depth for a young girl. She is highly emotional, a gift when it comes to self-expression through music. I just pray not too emotional.
I will always worry about inherited mental illness and mood disorders.
Experts believe that of all mental health problems, bipolar disorder has the greatest linkage to genes. Creatives are up to 25 percent more likely than noncreative people to carry genes associated with bipolar.
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I escaped the bipolar legacy and consider myself a creative; always writing and cooking. Mental illness does not have to be present for creativity to exist, but there is no denying what Aristotle, the father of western philosophy observed decades ago:
“No great genius has ever existed without a strain of madness.”
For those diagnosed with mental illness, they should find solace knowing they are in the company of greatness.
Genius existing with madness seems like a vast generalization, until you look at a list of creative bipolars.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Francis Ford Coppola
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jesse Jackson, Jr.
Kay Redfield Jamison
Edgar Allen Poe
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Vincent Van Gogh
These creative bipolars pushed the boundaries of the norms. They gravitated toward a life of artistry, where there has long been latitude for extreme mood and behaviors, fiery thoughts and heightened imaginations.
Like bi-polar suggests, extremes are polarized and polar opposites. During hypo-mania bipolars experience an increase in energy and a change in their sleep, which can lead to productivity and mania igniting to create moving artistic expressions. On the far end of the other side of the spectrum, when the pendulum swings to debilitating depression, their human experience is illuminated. They ease depression through their form of expression, where visceral emotions and beauty mix with heartache.
Light needs shadow to nuance life, where beauty lives.
With the light comes the dark that can feel pitch black. When I think of how my mom and grandparents suffered from mental demons, I question if I’d wipe mental illness genes off the face of the earth forever if I could. If I never had to worry about inheriting or passing along mental illness, would I?
After all bipolar is a mood disorder that can lead to self-harm and suicide. Isn’t Western medicine’s goal to rid dis-ease?
If I could eliminate the chaos mental illness created while keeping the artistic self-expression curated from deeply emotional souls, I would.
My mom is a fighter, who has struggled with the reality of having an unquiet and fiery mind most of her life. She self-medicated to the point of danger and considered suicide before being properly diagnosed and treated. Just like Dr. Jamison had, she resisted taking medication to rid her natural highs, until her life spiraled out of control. She worried her creativity and eccentric sense of humor would be dimmed if she took mood stabilizers.
After a psychotic breaking point and a threat for hospitalization Mom stopped resisting treatment. She’s now taking proper psychotropic medications while also seeking therapy. She’s more grounded and slightly less eccentric. We both know there is no real cure for mental illness, only moments of recovery. Mom’s creative work brings her joy and is her means to express herself, which helps with her mental well-being.
Mom’s granddaughters love her artwork, her painting lessons and her life lessons to follow their creative passions. My daughters are following her lead; making pottery, scultping, drawing, cooking, writing stories and songs, playing piano, ukulele, guitar and singing.