If any of you love to read… and especially psychology books, you would love “Touched with Fire” by Kay Redfield Jamison. She does a great job in her research of poets of long ago and connects them with a possible mood disorder based upon their writing, melancholy, suicide attempts, suicide deaths, and information gathered from their families/loved ones… where applicable.
It is no surprise that mental illness goes hand in hand with artistic talents… for some reason, more so with writers than other artists. There is a striking number of suicides by contemporary writers that goes on to help prove the point. Lord Byron is quoted as saying, “We of the craft are all crazy”. (Speaking of other fellow writers and poets).
During a control study, 80% of writers were found to have any affective disorder. Affective disorder is descried as ” mental disorder characterized by dramatic changes or extremes of mood. Affective disorders may include manic (elevated, expansive, or irritable mood with hyperactivity, pressured speech, and inflated self-esteem) or depressive (dejected mood with disinterest in life, sleep disturbance, agitation, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt) episodes, and often combinations of the two. Persons with an affective disorder may or may not have psychotic symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, or other loss of contact with reality.
Think about it… 80% is a staggering number of writers to be found with mood disorders.
Poets have the highest percentage of Bipolar 1 Disorder than any other writers/artists, and also have the highest percentage for suicides.
The more I am spent, ill, a broken pitcher, by so much more I am an artist – a creative artist. ~ Van Gogh
Kay Redfield Jamison says ” Artistic expression can be the beneficiary of either visionary and ecstatic or painful, frightening, and melancholic experiences. Even more important, however, it can derive great strength from the struggle to come to terms with such emotional extremes, and from the attempt to derive from them some redemptive value”.
Depression’s no gift from the muse~ Robert Lowell
The book also mentions the creativity of the relatives of writers, parents – 7%, while siblings were 20%…showing a pretty strong link to the genetic predisposition of Affective Disorders and creativity.
There is a wonderful graph in the book that I wish I could put in this post but it would be excruciatingly long and painful to do. However, you can see it here. In this chart is a breakdown of particular artists and their possible mood disorders. It gives the breakdown of why they were believed to have mood disorders, what type, and notes if they committed suicide. Strikingly, there is a high rate of mood disorders, suicide, and institutionalization within the group of poets AND their families. “More than one half of poets showed strong evidence of mood disorders… 1 in 3 poets likely suffered from Manic Depressive Illness, aka- Bipolar 1 Disorder.” (Touched With Fire)
Here is a list of artists believed to have some form of mood disorder:
John Berryman Honore De Balzac
Hans Christian Andersen Robert Burns
Samuel Clemens Lord Byron
Charles Dickens Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Isak Dinesen Emily Dickinson
Ralph Waldo Emerson T.S. Eliot
William Faulkner Victor Hugo
F. Scott Fitzgerald John Keats
Ernest Hemingway Edna St. Vincent Millay
Henry James Sylvia Plath
Eugene O’Neill Edgar Allan Poe
Leo Tolstoy Anne Sexton
Tennessee Williams Ezra Pound
Virginia Woolf Alfred Lord Tennyson
Emile Zola Dylan Thomas
Walt Whitman Michelangelo
Irving Berlin Jackson Pollock
Noel Coward Vincent Van Gogh
Stephen Foster Edvard Munch
Cole Porter Mark Rothko
Paul Gauguin Georgia O’Keeffe
Touched With Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison is a wonderful book and really helps to piece together these artists and their often melancholic mood noted in their works.
I leave you with words by Edward Thomas… for those of you with mood disorders, this will hit home with you… for those without mood disorders, this gives you an idea of what it is like to have one.
“I stay because I am too weak to go. I crawl on because it is easier than to stop. I put my face to the window. There is nothing out there but the blackness and the sound of rain. Neither when I shut my eyes can I see anything. I am alone…There is nothing else in my world but my dead heart and brain within me and the rain without.”