I’ve got a bad habit of being non-compliant with my psychiatric medications – I rarely refill my prescriptions on time. Days, sometimes weeks will go by before I get myself to the pharmacy, and by then my mood is unstable: I’m irritable and my brain chemistry is off, the anxiety and depression having settled in again. It’s an awful feeling, being out of control of my mood like that, so why do I let it happen so often?
Part of it is my laziness, I can admit that. I don’t drive, so it takes a little extra planning for me to get to the pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions (which, by the way, are wicked expensive – another deterrent). I think the bigger part of the why is fear: the side effects freak me out, the lesser-known long-term effects worry me, and the very idea of being dependent on pills indefinitely makes me extremely uncomfortable.
As a creative, I worry a lot about what being medicated will do to my writing. I’ve had a hard time writing lately, and my mind immediately jumps to the conclusion that it’s the pills: Being stabilized has dulled me. My creativity has become diluted and washed out. It sounds silly now that I’ve written it down, but it’s true – I’m scared of what being medicated long-term will do to my creativity. I’ve pulled so much inspiration from my “dark place,” from living with mental illness.. if that’s taken away, will I not be as good a writer anymore? How can I find my muse and inspiration not from a place of illness but rather a place of wellness? What does it mean to be creative and medicated?
It’s well-known that many of the literary greats suffered from mental illness – Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf – and it’s no coincidence, either. The link between creativity and mental illness goes back to the time of Aristotle, who had written that eminent philosophers, poets, and artists have tendencies toward “melancholia.” There have been modern studies that back this up, suggesting that writers and artists are more likely to have a mental illness as people with certain mental illnesses (such as depression and mood disorders) are more likely to be creative. Psychologist James Kaufman has dubbed the link “the Sylvia Plath effect,” and he’s theorized that “creative people – specifically, eminent female poets – may be more prone to mental illness if they are more vulnerable to extrinsic motivational constraints, such as interpersonal relationships.” (source)
I’ve been on a variety of medications for years now and it’s been okay, although my spotty refill habits have thrown me off a little. If I get more consistent with my meds, maybe things will get better. Perhaps being medicated will enable an uninterrupted flow, a chance for my energy and creativity to come a lot easier than before, and I simply haven’t given it that chance yet. Or maybe it won’t do anything at all. It’s important for me to remind myself that I’m not creative because of my mental illness or even because of my medication, but because that’s who I am and who I’ve always been; my writing is a part of me that won’t change.