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The creative side of bipolar disorder

5657827090_2b16550a2c_mI really don’t want to get into the “struggling creative genius” aspect of bipolar disorder. Poe, Dickinson, Plath, Woolf, Gauguin, Van Gogh, O’Keeffe, Pollack. The list of influential artists goes on for days, and that doesn’t even cover the past 50 years, but I don’t want to talk about them right now. I want to talk about general creativity and how it expresses itself in those of us with bipolar disorder.

This is also not a “release your creativity,” self-help, pep talk. This is about using your brain to your advantage.

With bipolar disorder, I tend to feel like the deck is stacked against me, so finding a positive aspect about something I struggle with daily is a challenge. Most days I don’t even take on the challenge because it’s frustrating and I just don’t have the energy to handle it. Some days I do face the struggle, and come out the other side admiring the things my mind is actually capable of doing.

The reason I mentioned the artists previously was to demonstrate that there is a stereotype of those with bipolar disorder. We may be unstable, but boy can we write/paint/create! Well, that is partly true. Those of us with mental illness get an extra dose of creativity, with writers being among the top.

The arts do have a higher percentage of those of us with bipolar disorder. We like to create. We like to shed light on aspects that would otherwise remain hidden. We get to reveal what we see in a way that may not otherwise be understood. Occupations and activities like dance, music, writing, and painting are subject to an incredible amount of interpretation. Not only do we get to express how we feel, but we try to help others do the same. In fact, we are encouraged to do so.

We’re also more likely to engage in activities we find enjoyable, which may be activities considered to be more creative. It’s a cyclical pattern. These activities tend to increase productivity. However, this increase in productivity is usually only found in the hypomanic stage. If a person gets too far into the manic stage, the energy isn’t focused and production actually decreases.

This does not just apply to the arts. It can be relationships, occupation, anything in which we can invest ourselves. It’s creative thinking in general. We can come at problems from different angles and it helps us solve them. Incidentally, we do tend to migrate more towards some occupations over others. We have more education, work well in the service industry and perform slightly better in managerial positions than the general population. So, the opportunities for us to engage in creative thinking within these occasions and occupations is greatly increased and will generally increase our overall performance. Of course there is the caveat that this does not always transfer from the hypomanic side to the depressive side of bipolar disorder very well, so we can suffer there.

For me, my hypomania tends to be more dysphoric so I try to avoid it. For others, it is the creative drive I’ve just described and a lot of people see it as a gift. In fact, up to 54% of bipolar patients say that if they had a magic button that would take away their disorder, they would not push it. What would you do?

The creative side of bipolar disorder

LaRae LaBouff

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APA Reference
LaBouff, L. (2015). The creative side of bipolar disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Sep 2015
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