This Madness Does Not Burn Bright

Kicking out a fire at Point Woronzof, Anchorage, Alaska
Somewhere, somehow, we all learned that a creative with a mental illness has a sort of a divine gift, a madness that fuels the creativity in ways that the average man could never achieve. We learned that madness equals creative spark, that depression equals the downside to the artistic peaks, and that the more an artist suffers from a mental illness, the greater the art. We learned that the medications will only dull the artistic temperament and dam up the divine flow of burning creativity, that art was the best therapy for this divine madness, and that the artist might burn away young, but they would burn oh so bright.

We learned line after line of this script, of this caricature. We see it in movies and hear it in books. Our great masters of the arts are our once living proof that madness shares a bed with creativity and their conjugal relation will bring about true art.

We learned that the madness burns bright when all the time it was simply a humanity consuming fire of illness.

We all learned a lie about creativity and mental illness. There is no divine connection between the two. There is nothing that supports that the more someone descends into madness, closer and closer to a psychotic break, the better the art that they can create. Mental illness does not tap into some hidden well of creativity. Mental illness kills, even the creative.

Here is the truth: my creativity suffers because of my mental illness. The days and weeks and months of depression robs me of inspiration and the ability to plow through the work, ass in the chair, slinging words. And while mania may make my thoughts race, they are scattered, unfocused, and over all I become unable to coherently capture my ideas.

I don’t know why the lie of the mad artist persists, but it does and it’s time to kill it. Mental illness isn’t some divine burden to bear for the sake of art. It is an illness, a disease, a killer. My creativity isn’t linked to my bipolar, no matter what my mania and depression lie to me about or what culture tells me. I’m not a bipolar artist. I am a creative person who has been diagnosed with a mood disorder. They are two separate things. One of them is about my identity and the other is a condition I have. They are not intertwined and woven into some core of who I am.

The more someone like me believes the madness fuels creativity, the less likely we are going to seek treatment, get help, and find healing from our illness. That is a problem. We need to encourage people to find help, not trap them in their own sickness. Buying into the lie of the mad artist is just another way we stigmatize mental illness and lock it away in some category we can control.

Let the creativity run free and be bold, but let it be free of the madness. Let the artist find healing and health in the treatment of the illness that plagues mind and body. Let me find stability and wholeness, and from that center let me birth the art and word that speak powerfully of my experiences.

This madness doesn’t burn bright, no matter what stereotypes and lies we have bought into. Let’s stop keeping people in their sickness for the sake of their art.

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