Bipolar disorder is a disabling mood disorder characterized by extreme mood swings, but are creative-types with the diagnostic label more likely to be genius? This is an empowering train of thought for those smacked with the side effects of something that may be less of a curse and more a gift. The concept of madness and art has been discussed since ancient Greece (Margenthaler ix). However, to this day, the line between ingenuity and insanity is blurred.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by mood fluctuations of mania and melancholy. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a manic episode (and often a “mixed episode”) is a period of elevated, expansive, and/or irritable mood that lasts a week or until hospitalization is required (Diagnostic Criteria 169). These periods of mood are marked by an inflation of self-esteem, which could cross the boarder into grandiosity and delusion. Bipolar people experience a decreased need or desire to sleep. They talk more, with an increase in the pressure and speed of speech. Bipolars often feel a flood of thoughts, which can race beyond control. These thoughts are a “flight of ideas” (Diagnostic Criteria 170). There is an overarching increase of psychomotor behavior and distractibility, perhaps due to the lack of sleep and the racing thoughts. Those experiencing a manic episode tend to incline to work towards goals. Could this increase in goal-oriented activity relate to their inflated self-esteem? Pleasure comes into play at the most primitive level with mania in that sexual promiscuity increases. Pleasure of spending and “foolish” business investments are both symptoms of mania and perhaps pleasure with a societal perspective. As the manic or mixed episode escalates the bipolar person could reach a point where social and occupational functioning is impaired. Mania is a form of psychosis and as it progresses, auditory and/or visual hallucinations can occur (Diagnostic Criteria 169-170).
What is the interrelation of mood mania and behavior in terms of expression and creation? What propels a person into mania? Perhaps it’s the person: the maker, the musician, or the mathematician. Whatever gets a person going, can get a person going- sometimes beyond control. At what point does sleeplessness turn into psychosis? “Freud and the photographers that followed him equated the artist with the patient and the artwork with a dream or symptom” (Margenthaler x). Today’s psychiatric doctors ought to understand that symptoms and personality traits are intertwined, not items on a checklist. Is bipolar a chemical imbalance or a personality trait- or both? Is bipolar within the genome or a learned behavior? It could be that bipolar is a higher level of the ability to be inspired; bipolar might be genius in disguise.
Creative-types might equate the natural high one gets from creating to the energy one gets from sleep, happiness, or exercise. For bipolars, the ability to abandon sleep might be linked to their tendencies to find other ways of moving forward. Does this make a genius?
What defines ingenuity? Genius is the ability to make intelligent work that is highly valuable often ahead of its time, yet it is subjective- and a relationship between the beholder and society (Hershman 7-8). Nobody is a genius until they are acknowledged as such (Hershman 8). The concept of the troubled artist can be traced back to ancient Greece. Plato said that artists are gifted with a “divine madness” (Magenthaler ix). The relationship between struggle and the ability to create great work made its way to the present. “According to the Romantic view, there was no genius without the manic depressive’s wide-ranging and unbearably powerful emotions” (Hershman 9). That said, could the curse of genius be a causality or correlation to bipolar disorder? Which one? Maybe it is that the human genome project will unveil the secret to genius: a simple encoding that links the power to be energized by one’s work in solidarity with the genetic sequence for bipolar disorder. According to Hershman, there has been a connection between genius with blood and endocrine glands (Hershman 10).
“During the nineteenth century clinical diagnosis confirmed the precious assumption of an alliance between genius and madness” (Wittkower 99). According to a psychiatric medical record, a person diagnosed with bipolar:
“…was brought by an ambulance after [he] called 911 as the patient was acting more impulsive and erratic… On the exam in the CEC, the patient was yelling and quite out of control. At times, the content of his yells included “Kill Sarah Palin!”, “marijuana should be legal”, and “orange juice!” The patient then tied a towel around his forehead and would pull his shirt up numerous times at staff…Inventory of Assets: Bright/Articulate, social/family support… He will be placed on 15-minute checks, sharps supervision and hall restriction. He says, “Being famous on the internet is hard work… The patient expressed numerous delusions about [celebrities], his fame, the internet, etc… [The patient is] dressed flamboyantly wearing reflective sunglasses, earrings in each ear, a babydoll sewn dress out of the American flag, a wig, cowboy boots, and with [an inverted] cross drawn on his forehead in magic marker. He is fairly cooperative with the interview. His eye contact is intermittent as he is often wearing his sunglasses and looking elsewhere. His behavior is nonthreatening. His speech is fluent with an appropriate rate and tone. He is occasionally sarcastic. Mood is “amazing.” Affect is expansive and somewhat irritable. Thought process is linear, but frequently scattered as the patient becomes distracted while answering questions” (Hospital Progress Notes Record, 06/07/2011).
The record indicates classic symptoms of a manic or “mixed” episode. But what are the patient’s intentions? What’s in the mind of the beholder? It could be that this patient is so gifted that logic has flown the coup due to many sleepless days. In this case study, the person is “dressed flamboyantly” (Hospital Progress Notes Record, 06/07/2011). However, it could be that the outfit was carefully chosen and each garment was meant to symbolize something. The record fails to take this into account. Could the future of hospital records contain “genius” as part of an inventory of assets determined by a simple blood test? If so, would it reveal a correlation or causality- or both- to ability to create work that is smart, coveted, forward, and acknowledged as ingenious? “…Artistic talent and genius are dependant on a precariously balanced type of personality” (Wittkower 98). One question remains unanswered: why must the genius be troubled? Wittkower argues that “More often than not psychologists, sociologists, and, to a certain extent, art critics agree that certain marker characteristics distinguish the artist from ‘normal’ people” (Wittkower xxix). If that is true, does that mean that this idea of normalcy correlates to a lack of being in touch with the creative self?
If the act of making sparks the flow of endorphins, maybe mania is just inspiration in disguise. So much inspiration that logic begins to degrade and psychosis comes to play. It is my belief that the bipolar person’s “Delusions about [celebrities], his fame, the internet, etc.” (Hospital Progress Notes Record, 06/07/2011) are not delusions, but dreams: lost to logic, heightened from a flood of inspiration, and resulting from a flight of ideas.
Bipolar disorder is just genius with a heaping serving of passion. Makers of art with this label are more likely to be genius because of nature or nurture (or both). It is not a question of “if” but a question of “why”. Perhaps it is a chemical imbalance; perhaps it is the type of personality. It is important to understand that the symptoms of a manic episode are relevant to the side effects of sleeplessness. Is there a difference between sleep deprivation and mania, a form psychosis? Bipolar disorder is simply the curse of ingenuity. A creative-type with the diagnostic label of bipolar disorder is more likely to be considered a genius because of their extreme emotions and passion.
Diagnostic Criteria from DSM-IV-TR. Arlington, VA: Psychiatric Association, 2000. 169-72. Print.
Hershman, D. Jablow., and Julian Lieb. Manic Depression and Creativity. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1998. Print.
Hospital Progress Notes Record, E. Leibson, 06/07/2011.
Morgenthaler, Walter, and Aaron H. Esman. Madness [and] Art: The Life and Works of Adolf Wölfli. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska, 1992. Print.
Rubinfine, David L. “Depression and Mania: Psychoanalytic Theories.” The Encyclopedia of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Psychoanalysis. New York: Henry Holt, 1996. 163-64. Print.
Wittkower, Rudolf, and Margot Wittkower. Born under Saturn. New York, New York.: New York Review, 1969. Print.