In her post “A Little Weird? Prone to Depression? Blame Your Creative Brain,” Susan Biali, M.D. writes about a friend of hers turning her on to “The Creative Brain” by psychiatrist and neuroscientist Nancy C. Andreasen.
Biali says, “If you’re a creative sort, this book will make you feel blissfully normal in your strangeness.
“It was pretty much one big sigh of happy relief and recognition for me.”
She goes on to include some of her favorite highlights of the book, with comments. Here are a few excerpts:
1) “We cannot afford to waste human gifts. We need to learn how to nurture the creative nature.”
Every parent needs to know this. Every person who has a talent that they long to play with and develop, but thinks it’s silly or a waste of time or too late, needs to understand how important this gift is and understand its worth in their very cells.
In my keynote presentations, even when I’m supposed to be focusing on health I always make a point of encouraging people to explore and use their unique talents. I believe one’s health depends on it.
When I was 28, I almost had a total breakdown. This was largely because my gifts for writing and dancing had been relentlessly ignored and squashed for decades by a well-meaning but treacherous educational and social system. It almost killed me.
2) Creative people have characteristics that make them more vulnerable
According to Andreasen, our openness to new experiences, tolerance for ambiguity, and the way we approach life enables us to perceive things in a fresh and novel way.
Less creative types “quickly respond to situations based on what they have been told by people in authority”, while creatives live in a more fluid and nebulous (read: incredibly stressful) world.
“Such traits can lead to feelings of depression or social alienation,” writes Andreasen. They sure can.
Luckily, though creatives experience higher rates of mood disorders than the general population, the extremes of highs and lows tend to be brief, balanced by long periods of normal affect, or euthymia.
During these respite periods, creatives frequently reflect upon and draw from memories and experiences of their darker times to create their best art.
3) “A highly original person may seem odd or strange to others.”
According to Andreasen, the creative person “may have to confront criticism or rejection for being too questioning, or too unconventional.”
“Too much openness means living on the edge. Sometimes the person may drop over the edge…”
If being creative means being odd, I would far rather be odd than be normal (proof being the fact that I do things like interviewing strangers at birthday parties if they make the gross error of telling me something really cool). If you’re a little weird too, apparently we’re not alone! Such a relief.
4) Creative brains have difficulty “gating” sensory input.
As mentioned above, creatives are at higher risk for mental illness (I can vouch for that personally) and according to Andreasen it at least partially stems from “a problem with filtering or gating the many stimuli that flow into the brain.”
For this reason some writers, myself included, organize their lives in order to be isolated from human contact for long blocks of time.
This sounds similar to the phenomenon of the Highly Sensitive (HSP) Introvert, which I have written about in articles like Why It’s Hard to be a Highly Sensitive Introvert and 10 Survival Tips for the Highly Sensitive Person.
Continued in her Prescriptions for Life blog post A Little Weird? Prone to Depression? Blame Your Creative Brain.
Susan Biali, M.D. is “a medical doctor, wellness expert, speaker, life and health coach, author and flamenco dancer.” She is the author of Live a Life You Love!: Seven Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You.
The Creative Brain: The Science of Genius, by Nancy C. Andreasen, MD.
A related book by Andreasen: The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius.
For more on being a Highly Sensitive Person:
Photo: Painter [my title] – by bellroad
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Last reviewed: 30 Apr 2012