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Keeping Creativity Alive with Bipolar Disorder

Large scale Painting

If you’re bipolar, chances are, you’re creative.

I’ve always had a knack for the arts. I started writing stories as soon as I knew how to put words together. I love music and painting, and I majored in Creative Writing in college. I sing and play bass.

Your story is probably not so different from mine.

As we’ve often been told, creativity is linked to the illness. However, I don’t believe we all appreciate this about ourselves enough.

And it’s not just an old wives’ tale. Many scientists are in agreement with this fact. Artists and writers may have two to three times more incidences of psychosis, mood disorders, or suicide when compared to those with less-creative professions.

The association between bipolar and creativity first appeared in literature in the 1970’s, but the link between madness and genius is apparent as far back as the times of Aristotle.

Famous Bipolars

I love to hear about famous bipolars and their accomplishments. There is much evidence of manic-depressive illness and creativity in many of the artistic influences of our culture.

Famous artistic greats such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Edvard Munch, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Edgar Allan Poe are said to have had bipolar disorder.

Modern creatives such as Brian Wilson, Kurt Cobain, Russell Brand, DMX, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra are also famous bipolars.

In all seriousness, I believe there is a great thrill to the creativity of bipolar disorder. In my case, to be able to write a fantastic work both in mania and depression is one of the most exhilarating processes.

To be able to feel music, to feel art, to feel the passion that others don’t feel is a real gift.

The way we choose to use it is ours alone.

Medication and Creativity

But wait—what happens when you’re on medication? Does it affect your creativity when you’re bipolar?

The short answer, from me, is that I still experience great bursts of creativity when I’ m on medication. But the long answer can be given by psychiatric experts.

In fact, medication makes productivity possible, say many psychiatrists. Mania, as we know, leads to chaos and disorganization. This might seem like a great thing when you’re in the throes of a great work, but in essence, it doesn’t help.

Doctors caution that skipping a dose to experience creative hypomania can be a slippery slope where one’s insight is compromised very quickly.

And in fact, research shows that extreme symptoms are not even the ones that give bipolar individuals the most creativity. Mild bipolar symptoms can give people self-confidence, energy, and optimism, but symptoms that are too severe make things fall apart.

The solution is a balance of taking medication and learning to hone in on your creative abilities.

Encouraging Creativity in Bipolar Individuals

In art, people with bipolar can express intense emotions without consideration for others. It is an extremely personal endeavor, and could have great benefit to those with the illness.

You don’t have to be a great artist, either. Expressing yourself is something that you can do by yourself, and no one has to know what you painted, what you wrote, or what you sang.

Experts think creativity emerges from an experience that can otherwise not be handled, creating meaning.

And all art is beautiful.

Keeping Bipolar Art Alive

I have a friend who also has bipolar disorder. Once we compared the art we drew while patients in hospitals. Our art was magnificent, in both of our own ways. I will never forget how beautiful that art is and how it needs to be kept for future generations.

We, as a bipolar community, need to keep bipolar art alive. We need to not only do it for ourselves, but share it with others. I think that if we share our art we keep it going and we educate the community at large.

Start painting, writing, making movies, making collages, whatever strikes your fancy. If you don’t think you’re artistic, you might find out that you can get your creative juices flowing.

Is creativity an integral part of your life, or do you think that this link is rubbish? What kinds of creative activities do you engage in? Do you think it helps your symptoms?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Dom Rhead


Keeping Creativity Alive with Bipolar Disorder

Kat Dawkins

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APA Reference
Dawkins, K. (2013). Keeping Creativity Alive with Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Feb 2013
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