The myth of the creative depressive

This passage was so gratifying for me to read because it expresses an idea that's been percolating in the back of my mind for a while. I think Elizabeth Wurtzel says it just right.

"Madness is too glamorous a term to convey what happens to most people who are losing their minds. That word is too exciting, too literary, too interesting in its connotations, to convey the boredom, the slowness, the dreariness, the dampness of depression....The word madness allows its users to celebrate the pain of its sufferers, to forget that underneath all the acting-out and quests for fabulousness and fine poetry, there is a person in huge amounts of dull, ugly agony...

"Why must every literary examination of Robert Lowell, of John Berryman, of Anne Sexton, of Jean Stafford, of so many writers and artists, keep perpetuating the notion that their individual pieces of genius were the result of madness? While it may be true that a great deal of art finds its inspirational wellspring in sorrow, let's not kid ourselves about how much time each of those people wasted and lost by being mired in misery. So many productive hours slipped by as paralyzing despair took over. None of these people wrote during depressive episodes. If they were manic-depressives, they worked during hypomania, the productive precursor to a manic phase which allows a peak of creative energy to flow; if they were garden-variety, unipolar depressives, they created during their periods of reprieve. This is not to say that we should deny sadness its rightful place among the muses of poetry and of all art forms, but let's stop calling it madness, let's stop pretending that the feeling itself is interesting....Depression is such an uncharismatic disease, so much the opposite of the lively vibrance that one associates with madness.

"Forget about the scant hours in her brief life when Sylvia Plath was able to produce the works in Ariel. Forget about that tiny bit of time and just remember the days that spanned into years when she could not move, couldn't think straight, could only lie in wait in a hospital bed, hoping for the relief that electroconvulsive therapy would bring. Don't think of the striking on-screen picture, the mental movie you create of the pretty young woman being wheeled on the gurney to get her shock treatments....Think, instead, of the girl herself, of the way she must have felt right then, of the way no amount of great poetry and fascination and fame could make the pain she felt at that moment worth suffering. Remember that when you're at the point at which you're doing something as desperate and violent as sticking your head in an oven, it is only because the life that preceded this act felt even worse. Think about living in depression from moment to moment, and know it is not worth any of the great art that comes as its by-product."

- Elizabeth Wurtzel
   in Prozac Nation

This rings very true to my own experiences with depression, first- and secondhand. I think for some forms of mental illness, de-romanticization is the necessary companion to destigmatization.



Edge 3/28/2010 8:28 PM  

Agreed. I went through a rough spot (relatively speaking) of four or five months last year, which spawned all those dark/emo poems of a while back. While I did like what I wrote (as much I ever can), I'd have traded in an instant the experiences behind the poems for much happier.

gabi dickinson 3/29/2010 3:53 AM  

I love Wurtzel. My copy of ''More, Now, Again'' was read more times than any of my other books when I was sick. Except for the Bible, of course :)

{ I V Y } 3/29/2010 4:12 AM  

great blog. a deep post!

Erin 3/29/2010 8:57 AM  

I agree wholeheartedly.

cuileann 3/29/2010 9:35 AM  

Edge - Mm. And there is definitely, I think, along the spectrum a depression, an increasing loss of creative energy. On the one end all you can think about is your own pain, and your work reflects that -- on the other end, writing a poem about ANYTHING is quite out of the question when you can't even get out of bed. [P.S. I'm glad you're out of that time. <3]

Gabi - Oh yeah? I haven't even read the whole of Prozac Nation yet, but I will definitely have to get to More, Now, Again!

Ivy - Thank you! And thanks for stopping by! :)

Erin - This reminds me, I'm pretty sure you're the first person I ever used the word "destigmatization" to...:)

Erin 3/29/2010 5:28 PM  

I remember that! *grin*

cuileann 3/29/2010 5:46 PM  

Erin - Yer lovely. :)

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