Depression and Bipolar Disorder Stoke Creativity

Christopher Lukas Health Guide
  • When I left my analyst’s office for the last time, way back in 1963, he told me one thing to keep me going. I was heading back to New York City, where I’d been born, after six years in California, learning my craft of film-making.

    “Keep doing creative things,” he said.

    I took that statement for granted. How else would I ply my trade if I didn’t do “creative things?”

    But the good doctor meant something much deeper. He meant that my particular depression could be kept at bay if I was active, and active in a creative way.

    Over the years since then, I have realized the truth in that advice many times. Of course, it’s not easy to find creative things to do all the time, and I’ve reflected often on just how he expected me to be creative when my ideas might be rejected by employers, or when no “genius thoughts” came to me.

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    The beauty of his advice, however, is that it doesn’t require a genius thought to be active, nor indeed to be creative.

    Many experts have written lately about the relationship between creativity and bipolar disorder. Some of the most important artists and entrepreneurs of the centuries have been assumed to have bipolar disorder. Not that one could wish that disorder on anyone, not even if it made you into a Leonardo or a Handel, but the connection is well established: many artists of one stripe or another have had the energy and creativity during the manic phase of bipolar to become extremely active and extremely good.

    Because I’m not bipolar, I’ve often wondered where my creative gene comes from, and it has occasionally struck me that maybe the experts have it the wrong way around. The fact is, as my doctor suggested, my creativity and my activity helps me alleviate the depression I feel. Perhaps it’s the creativity that makes the bipolar bearable, not that the bipolar disorder engenders creativity.

    Putting that thought aside (and I’m no expert on bipolar disorder), the idea I’m generating today is one that might be helpful to those of you who suffer from dysthymia (mild depression) or more serious depression. If you can just get up in the morning, you’ve won a piece of the game; if you can perform some activity, you’ve won another piece of the game. And maybe, just maybe, if you can find some “creative” work to do, you’ll win a bigger piece of the game.

    All of which is easier said than done. I know, because I’ve fought suggestions from friends and family all my life. “Just get out there and do something,” they say. And I get furious. “Don’t they understand just how awful I feel!”

    But the fact is, for me at least, that any creative act (writing an email to my daughters, taking a photograph, baking bread, generating a proposal for a tv show) can begin to lift the shadow of depression that sits on my shoulders, my heart, my bowels.

    And lifting it even one little bit is a great relief.


Published On: May 24, 2007