Many people with bipolar disorder are gifted with extraordinary creativity but what happens when the creative well runs dry?
By Beth Brownsberger Mader
I suddenly thought of this topic while doing my morning yoga sun salutations. I was bending over, palms to the floor, observing through sleepy eyes my dusty area rug, pondering nothing.
Oh, thank goodness. Something finally occurred to me to write about. I popped up, dashed quietly across the dim living room to scrawl my thoughts on a note pad before they escaped me. Whew. At last.
Many of us with bipolar/mental illness are gifted with extraordinary creativity. Only fair, I think. I mean, gosh, when you spend a good portion of your life with your mind on fire, then caught in thunderstorms and under clouds, it’s reasonable that you then get to express it better than most. Further, we know having the inherent ability to create visual, written, performing or other forms of artistic communication can ease symptoms of our illness, help us cope, and teach us, and others, each and every day more about what we live with. Awesome.
So what about when our creativity ebbs? What about those times when no ideas come, nothing flows, and it just all seems to go away?
I haven’t drawn a line in over six months. I haven’t posted to my personal blog in, like, three or four. I only picked up my personal journal a couple of weeks ago after not touching it for nearly a year. Sure, I worked on my memoir all spring, but I haven’t looked at it since May. I have not been depressed, really. Blah, maybe. Stressed, for sure. Tired. I’m not sure if my lack creativity has a lot to do with any of it. But if not creating lasts long enough, it can lead to depression.
I was getting a little concerned about the dearth of ideas in my life. Ordinarily, on any given day, regardless of my mood, I hear music in my head all day long. I parse out words in my head, which leads to full sentences, then to whole concepts for complete pieces. Or I make up titles for works throughout the day. I make visual observations, and work them through my head for hours into other visual compositions. It’s play, it’s creative living, it’s passion, it’s my fundamental existence.
Instead I had a feeling of dead space. No music. Few sentences and titles. Not many images. There was flatness where the creativity normally lives.
However. It has happened before. And I am old enough now, and experienced enough with art, creativity and mental illness to know and trust that creativity returns. When it does, it does with fervor, as if it never left.
About a week ago, I got a (non-manic) wild hair and re-arranged the living room. Besides the fact that it totally needed it (including the area rug that I learned, while face-down, still needs a deep clean), re-arranging gave me an opportunity to look at the area, my furniture, and my collections. I got rid of clutter, made more open space, re-hung pictures, and moved plants and sculptural elements. The new design means I can breathe better, and can literally do those sun salutations, now wide and broad. The dog loves to spread out, too (really, gotta get that rug cleaned).
Doing the room was the first step in a return to creative expression. In hindsight, it’s no surprise that I finally feel like I can write, or that some music in the back of my mind has returned.
The coping strategy I’ve developed is in trusting patience. Because that is what it takes, just like when being in the throes of creativity itself: patience is the master of the muse.
Beth Brownsberger Mader was diagnosed in 2004, at age 38, with bipolar II disorder and C-PTSD, after living with symptoms and misdiagnoses for over 30 years. In 2007, she suffered a traumatic brain injury, compounding bipolar recovery challenges that she continues to work on today. Since these diagnoses, Beth has written extensively about bipolar, its connection to PTSD, physical illness, disability, and ways to develop coping skills and maintain hope. She also writes about bipolar/brain disorders and family, marriage, relationships, loss, and grief. Beth finds the outdoors to be her connection to her deepest healing skills, where the metaphors for life, love, compassion, and empathy are revealed, and how her bipolar and other challenges are faced head-on with perseverance and determination. Beth served as a contributing editor/featured columnist for bp Magazine from 2007 until 2016, and as a bphope blogger from 2011 until 2016. She returned to blogging for bphope in 2019. Beth continues to work on her unpublished memoir, Savender. She holds a BA from Colorado College and an MFA from the University of Denver. Beth lives in Colorado with her husband, Blake, and her service dog, Butter. Check out Beth’s blog at bessiebandaidrinkiewater.
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