An honest and refreshing take by James Rhodes on the old and frequently rehearsed theme of ‘madness,’ whatever that is, and creativity, was published recently in the Guardian. Below is a short extract: for the full article see link.
The mad composer. Note after excruciating note dragged out on to manuscript paper, 2 stone in weight lost while composing his latest opera, bronchial infections from the cold, absinthe on a drip. Mumbling to himself, shouting at strangers, scribbling bar lines on restaurant napkins, sitting at a piano, freezing and alone in a garret with “it doesn’t have to be mad to work here but it helps” written on the wall. In his own shit.
It’s a cliche as erroneous as it is widespread and it is, forgive me, quite maddening and completely false.
The truth is that there is no more a link between star sign and intelligence than there is between madness and creativity. That a link has been drawn between the two is, however, under–standable. How else can we explain the outrageous creative power of a Mozart or a Beethoven without resorting to some kind of brain chemistry imbalance? If these guys were as normal as everyone else, then where is the magic? It is the sad way of the world that someone doing something extraordinary (Beethoven) has to have an extra dollop of extraordinary (bipolar disorder) to make it, well, even more extraordinary.
Creativity is a broad subject. Musical creativity is what I know about. It’s my job, my passion, my absolute reason for being. And let me tell you something categorically: the great composers were not mad. Disturbed, sure. Angry, broke, alcoholic, anxious, neurotic, syphilis-ridden, depressed, grieving – often. As are most of us for that matter (minus the syphilis). But with the singular exception of Schumann, whose fictional characters Florestan and Eusebius were invented by him to depict in music his bipolar mood swings, there is not one big-name composer who, by today’s standards, would be hospitalised, or likely even diagnosed, with one of the more severe mental illnesses.
And I think that qualification of severity is the point – we are all, to an extent, a little bit mad. We are all most definitely diagnosable. I have not met anyone who does not tick most of the boxes in at least one condition set out in the DSM-5 (the diagnostic manual for mental illness so beloved of psychiatrists around the world). Glance at Twitter, look at the NHS stats on obesity or alcohol-relate illnesses, open a newspaper. We are the emotionally walking wounded. We also know very little about the mind. Keats saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with a “mental illness related to poetry” and I’d love to think things have moved on, but my experience is that they haven’t. Not really. Medication has got better, diagnoses are slightly more accurate (and expanded), Jeremy Corbyn has introduced a new shadow cabinet post for mental health, stigma has been reduced. But I think that if we were really to understand just how little our doctors know about the workings of our mind as they prescribe yet more meds for us, we’d be absolutely terrified. I’ve been diagnosed with at least seven different mental conditions over the past 10 years and it scares me that, simply put, all or none of them could be true.