Friday, May 4, 2012

Crazy Creative: Creativity and Bipolar Disorder - A Patient's Perspective

Bipolar Disorder and Creativity
There have been loads of of famous, artistic people diagnosed as bipolar. But many more of us live in relative obscurity, slogging along, outside the scope of the public eye. Famous or not, are all people who have bipolar disorder especially creative?

What Is Creativity?
By creative, I don't necessarily mean painting priceless works of art, or coming up with a nifty idea like Disneyland or Facebook. I am talking about the need to make something that did not previously exist (like my bipolar medication smiley face :). Turning ideas into reality. Creating at its most basic level.

Hypomania and Idea Flow
For me, this need to create is associated with hypomania, the bipolar state where I spend  most of my time. When hypomanic, ideas often come faster than I can implement them , and they're generally good ideas. If I don't write them down immediately, my old ideas get swept away by the new ones. The flow of ideas, and the will to implement them, only stop when I become depressed.

Bipolar Creativity & Obsession
If I am not creating something that I value, I feel like I am wasting my time, and that's not necessarily a healthy way to evaluate what is important in life. I have a family with young children and am also a writer, teacher and avid gardener. I am constantly creating new teaching tools, revising old, writing new pieces and adding to, or changing, my garden.

If there is something in particular I am working on (and there almost always is), I have a goal in mind, and feel self-pressured to work on the project continuously until it is done. Often this is impossible, such as when I'm working on a major project that will take months to complete. In that case, I devote every spare moment I can to the project, often neglecting important things, like family, friends, household chores, exercise. Here's an extreme case of this: At the time I was either truly manic or very close to it. I painted the basement walls overnight, by myself. This is a bizarre example, but it represents the type of tunnel vision I often experience when working towards a goal.

Bipolar Hypomanic Life Balance
Many of the things that are most important in life don't have a specific, clearly attainable, goal attached--an end point that you eventually arrive at. Although I certainly know how important family and friends are, and I do love them all very much, I really need to stop, pull myself away from the any project at hand and mentally tell myself to play with the kids or call a friend. And when I do those things, I still am usually devoting a little bit of my attention to what I am working on, maybe mentally going over my To Do list, or working on a title.

Part of how I deal with this is to frequently remind myself that my kids will grow up quickly, that friendships don't maintain themselves. I know these things are true. Yet it is not always easy for me to act on this knowledge. Maybe some decorative reminders around the house that refer to family and friendship might help as reminders to focus on what is important (Note to self: Put trip to Hobby Lobby on To Do list).

Bipolar Fun: Assess Your Personality Using  "The Sims"
Right now I can't imaging making time to play a computer game, but at some point in the past I did. I played The Sims for a while, obsessively, like I do most things. Whenever I made a Sim, I always made it the same (so eventually I lost interest in the game). My Sim was always a Virgo, with learning/knowledge as the personal goal. She spent all of  her time learning things, and only socialized, relaxed, cleaned, or slept when absolutely required (when her bars were getting low). Sounds like someone I know...If you have never played Sims, try it, and think about the kind of Sim you create, and how you invest their time. I believe it's a good tool for learning about yourself.

Please, Post a Comment
So I'd like to start a conversation with any followers, or others who stumble across this post. Are any of the things I described here something that you experience as well? Do all bipolar patients have this tendency, or is more of a issue of personality rather than mood. Are personalty and mood wired in generally the same way for those with bipolar? Let me know what you think.

I'm going for a bike ride!

Today's Bipolar Stats:
  • Level of Mania (on scale of 1 - 10, with 1=none, 10=practically levitating): 6
  • Level of Depression (on a scale of 1 - 10, with 1=none, 10=can't get out of bed): 1
  • Medication Compliance (0 = not taking, 5=taking some, 10=taking all): 10
I am recording my mania and depression bipolar data separately because I often have mixed episodes where manic and depressive symptoms occur at the same time.

This blog is for informational purposes only, it is not intended to be used for the treatment of mental illness. If you are having emotional troubles, please see a mental health professional, not a computer.


  1. I'm a very creative person who also has bi-polar as a life long companion. Although I am just beginning to get know this companion. I too become obsessive when working on a project and have to tell myself that I need to make time for my family. I have to set goals for how many books I must read with my boys or what activities we will do each day otherwise a whole day can go by and I realize I have hardly interacted with them.

  2. Thanks for your comment Shanbrosia. It's good to know that I am not the only one with this challenge. Today I just happened to learn about the Touch-a-Truck expo in town (this travels all over the country). Kids get to hands-on explore a bunch of different kinds of trucks. I'll score some big points with this one! My husband is usually the one who discovers most of the cool things for our kids to do.

  3. Thank you for posting about the Sims. It seems really silly to say, until someone else does, but I've learned a lot about life balance when playing Sims too.

  4. If the information I have is correct, we can influence what is wired into our personalities by monitoring our thoughts and actions. In other words, our DNA is listening to us!
    Barbara altman. author of recovering from Depression, anxiety, and Psychosis, available on amazon.