AdviceArts and Culture

Emotional Problems and Creativity, a Concise (and Un-Scientific) Guide

Updated: Feb 20, 2016 06:41
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Before you consider an MFA or a fellowship, take a second look at a time-honored alternative–mental illness. Not all mental illnesses inspire their sufferers, and not all mental patients make good art, but some disorders do have a strong correlation with creativity, and emotional turbulence is often what drives someone to make art in the first place. Here is a concise (and un-scientific) guide to help you choose the emotional disorder that’s right for you.


Loneliness is deep. Loneliness is universal. Deep and universal is what you’re going for when you make art. From Proust to Prince, there’s a lot of great work out there on not getting what you want and wanting what you can’t have.  Loneliness is a reason to make art in and of itself. Art can give you a way to communicate and feel a part of when other channels have failed you. As a muse, loneliness is scalable. Unlike poverty or injustice, loneliness will stay with you even when you’re  celebrated and over-sexed (see: Janis Joplin and Lord Byron.)


 We’d be here all night looking at examples of art influenced by ‘artificial paradises.’ D.A.R.E, on the other hand, has yet to produce a Rimbaud or a Jimi Hendrix. Research supports  the link between drugs and creativity: substance abuse shuts down that party-pooper, the pre-frontal cortex, and opens us up to improvise without shame. This is especially helpful for jazz musicians.
The trouble with drugs and alcohol is that they work until they don’t. Burnout and death are often preceded by creative blocks, shitty work, legal headaches, kidney problems, and incontinence. If you are an addict / artists lucky enough to get help, the rigorous honesty of twelve step work may lead you to your most lucid creation. It worked for John Cheever and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

If you don’t have any emotional problems or addictions, drugs are a great way to simulate them for a few hours at a time. Have fun, kids.


All your love isn’t enough, maybe she’ll change for you, it’ll be different this time, he’ll never do it again, if only he knew how much you care, you can’t leave her now…You may find your masterpiece on one of your trips around and round on this vicious cycle–at the very least you’ll have someone to do your laundry. Like heroin without the abscesses and tooth decay,  codependence will teach you to sing the blues.  ‘If only…’  will be your refrain, and the big question at the heart of your work.

This one puts you in good company: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Keats, Tina Turner, and Elliott Smith. They’re your real friends.

You could find your artistic calling somewhere between staring out the classroom window, drumming on your desk, and drawing in the margins of the class notes you’re not taking. The upside of this sucky diagnosis is it tends to lead you to your passion, since everything else gets tuned out. ADHD kids and adults bring an energy and originality to their craft that can’t be taught. For whatever reason, a lot of drummers have it.
This is the polio of generation X, you can either be a statistic or the voice of your times.


Louis Wain’s cat paintings got weirder as schizophrenia tightened its grip

Now let’s have some fun. Schizotypal personality traits are to schizophrenia what Aspergers is to autism. You can enjoy all the mind alterations, paranoia, and delusions without the whole break from reality mess. Schizotypal personalities are more open to  sensory experience and can enter flow state with ease.  Schizotypal traits have been read into the works of James Joyce and Henry Miller. In Capitalism and Schizophrena Deluze argues that the schizophrenic mind is more or less impervious to advertising.


Just Google ‘depression and creativity.’ There’s more than enough already out there on this one, including a lovely piece by Broke-Ass’ own Jordannah Elizabeth on surviving writer’s depression.
Like ADHD, depression can give you a first hand look at the pharmaceutical industrial complex–handy for a novelist or cultural critic I guess. Mostly it’s just a drag, I’d try one of the others first.
Check out this BBC radio program, hosted by Will Self on the 25th anniversary of Prozac:

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