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Exploring the Mad genius phenomenon
To understand the connection between mental health and creativity, one must first know what creativity is. It’s not just the ability to come up with ideas, but the ideas must be simultaneously unique and functional. A good way to determine creativity would be to present an item to a group and have them propose various ways to use the item. You would then compare the group’s answers and tally them up by number of idea and uniqueness.
For example, you gave a brick to twenty people. All twenty of those people proposed using the brick as a doorstop. Useful? Yes. Unique? No.
One person proposes the brick be used as a shoe. Useful? Not really. Unique? Yes.
Then the star of the group suggests the brick be pulverized, dissolved into a liquid solution, and used as an additive to color paint. Useful? Yes. Unique? Yes.
There’s your creative person.
Scientists have broken down human personality into five major groups: Extraversion, Openness, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, and Agreeableness. Each is then broken down into sub-categories. The sub-categories for openness are intelligence and creativity.
Of course, at first glance, everyone would want to be high in this category of openness. But if you’ve been reading my blog for long, you will know that being super high in any of these categories comes with its own set of problems.
A person high in openness generally enjoys exploring new ideas, loves variety, and frequently gets lost musing about fantasies or what-if scenarios. They value beauty and aesthetics in daily life. Their limitless creativity also sees the merits in having flexible social constructs and laws.
A person low in openness, however, prefers a more practical approach to the world. They are not given to flights of fantasy, but prefer concrete tangible ideas. They are not easily moved by music or art, nor do they require thrill to keep working. They are more likely to stick to principles they’ve learned from childhood rather than to be easily swayed by a new idea.
Keep in mind that trait openness is not trait conscientiousness, although there is some overlap. A conscientious person is high in orderliness and industriousness, so some things that are interpreted as rigid and lacking in flexibility are manifestations of the ‘black-and-white’ phenomenon where the person believes things should fit into orderly boxes.
So, what is it in a creative person that leads to struggles of mental health?
There’s a lot of speculation on this, but my personal theory is the rapid speed at which the mind of an open person flows. With so many thoughts running through the mind at a given time, is it any wonder they may feel anxious? Or as they find themselves moved by the arts and stories around them, is it a wonder their mood changes so easily?
Not to mention that a person with bipolar in a manic state show extreme levels of creativity. It’s like something in the brain switches over allowing them to pour forth all sorts of ideas and new creations.
But what happens when the body is exhausted from this continued ‘pouring forth?’ What goes up must come down, and heightened levels of anxiety often lead to depression. In fact, some speculate that it is rare to see anxiety without depression.
So should the artist turn in their paintbrush, the writer turn in their pen, and strive to close off their minds? I know if I did, I’d be miserable.
But it is good to be aware of our tendencies and the things that make us tick. If as a creative you need help, get it. But keep in mind that thing that causes you to stumble might also propel you to greatness.
Puder, David. “Episode 098: The Big Five: Openness.” Psychiatry & Psychotherapy Podcast, Psychiatry & Psychotherapy Podcast, 17 Oct. 2020, www.psychiatrypodcast.com/psychiatry-psychotherapy-podcast/ne883a0toywa842v8ibc6htc7qw9ay.
RW Hague is a registered nurse with over eight years of experience within the medical field. Using her medical expertise, she writes stories that are gritty and compelling.