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writing and mental illness

March 29, 2010

i’ve been thinking quite a lot about the link between writing and mental illness lately.

often, when i tell people what program i am in and what i do, they will make a joke about ‘being crazy’. i used to laugh it off, but now i’ve given it a lot of thought. i’ve also really started to observe the people around me – my classmates in this program, our instructors, other writers and colleagues.

as you may know, i did my undergraduate as a medial degree – half in english and half in psychology. in psychology i tended to gravitate toward the more trouble side of study – abnormal psychology, criminal psychology, etc. i did a lot of research on mental disorders. i know parts of the DSM-IV-TR by heart (gross). (i like, though, what this background has done for my writing today. while people often pulled faces at my odd combination of degrees, you would be surprised at how much the two mesh – at how often allusions to mental issues are brought up, even in classic works.)

do we, as creative types, have brain issues? are we a more prone community to developing mental disorders? or are we creative because we already had a seedling of trouble in our sulci and gyri? we will never be able to do a proper experiment and suss this out – it will always be correlational. there will always be some sort of confounding factor.

i can personally attest to mental issues. i don’t often talk about it, but my anxiety was very, very bad. i did do CBT for it, and that helped me, and i do have a therapist that is wonderful and who i go back to for “booster” sessions. people tend to assume that because i am younger, or because i appear to be blander, that i don’t have any of those sexy, troubled issues. i do – i just don’t speak of them so much. which does bring to mind another thing – do we writers wear our mental issues as a badge of honour? i like that talking about therapy/anxiety/ocd/cyclothymia/etc. doesn’t have stigma attached to it in our community – sort of the opposite, in that if you can finish projects and still have those ‘issues’ you might be accomplished and strong – but are we putting too much weight on sex-ifying our brain glitches?

it’s certainly something to think about.


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