I saw an interesting half-hour programme last night on BBC4 about the death of Chatterton. Michael Symonds Roberts, whose Drysalter I reviewed recently, neatly debunked the myth of the tormented genius, while explaining that, in Chatterton’s case, it probably wasn’t suicide and also acknowledging that he was disturbed by so many having died apparently as a result of the myth’s influence. This piece in the Guardian last Wednesday by Hannah Jane Parkinson takes something of the same theme from a more personal insider perspective with refreshing honesty. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.
What do Britney Spears, Elgar, Jackson Pollock and Virginia Woolf have in common? The answer, should the question ever come up during a strangely morbid pub quiz, is that they all experienced bipolar disorder. That’s if posthumous diagnoses by media psychologists are to be trusted. Other artists touted as belonging to the bipolar club? Graham Greene, Dusty Springfield, Spike Milligan … the list is long.
Perhaps no surprise, then, that a new study says those with genetic risk factors for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are 25% more likely to be creative. The results, however, depend on the sturdiness of the science behind those genetic risk factors and, indeed, what one even means by “creative”.
I am aware that this is not the popular narrative. Instead, what we pay to see in the cinema, in countless biopics of tortured artists, is the poet, chain-smoking in his sepia study, grinding his fingers into his temples as the iambs flow, or the dancer, soaring on the stage, hallucinating in the wings.
That’s the acceptable kind of mental illness. The cool kind. The arty kind, the kind that comes with handsome, dishevelled hair and record deals, and brief stints in the legendary McLean Hospital. It’s not, however, for the majority of people with mental illness, a recognisable life. A mundane checklist of symptoms in a doctor’s office – suicidal ideation/feelings of emptiness/habitual crying – rather throws a more sober, bare-bulbed light on the romantic notion of doom.