If you’re paying $120 per session, the last thing you want to hear from a shrink is “Oh well, you’ll probably always be a bit disturbed”. Some days I’m almost sure I’ve morphed into Stevie Smith, the subject of my Ph.D. thesis. Some days I think I would even consider performance poetry if I could dress as a schoolgirl with conviction and sing my poesy in an off-key caterwaul, just like Stevie did.
Some months ago I perused an article in The Age about how psychiatric diagnoses are best used to ascertain how much your doctor likes you. If they find you endearing, they’ll tell you it’s bipolar like Ben Stiller; if you’re a prima donna then you must have borderline-personality disorder like Marilyn Munroe is speculated to have had. The neurological phenomenon synesthesia is reserved for crazy artists and musicians, including Franz Liszt and Wassily Kandinsky. The rock stars are depressed and/or drug-addicted, think the 27 Club: Joplin, Hendrix, Jones, Morrison, and Cobain. My favourite is this New York Times article about poets tending to die young. It reminds me of Anne Sexton’s poem Sylvia’s Death, where the poet divulges a groupies-for-suicide scenario the two women drank to – references to death as “our boy”, so beloved.
In a lecture I gave earlier this year on writing poetry, to a first year creative writing cohort, I conducted a little experiment. I asked everybody to close their eyes, and raise their hand if they’d ever suffered from depression, anxiety, addiction, self-harm, insomnia… At the end of my list the students opened their eyes to find a room full of raised hands, everybody in there had experienced their share of the crazies.
So, do you have to be mad to create? Can you write better on a good day or on a bad day? Might medication for a mental illness alter the creative process? How does writing impact your mental health? Most importantly, what’s crazy, anyway?
Over and out.
PS. I have a new poem up at http://taramokhtari.wordpress.com