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Amy Tan and Writing and Depression

In a SALON magazine interview, Amy Tan said, “I think I was pushed in a way to write this book (‘The Hundred Secret Senses’) by certain spirits in my life – the yin people. They’ve always been there, I wouldn’t say to help, but to kick me in the ass to write.

“I’m educated, I’m reasonably sane, and I know that this subject is fodder for ridicule. But ultimately, I have to write what I have to write about, including the question of life continuing beyond our ordinary senses.”

Are there benevolent ghosts, angels, fairies or Muses? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so.

But Tan’s candor about such spirit beings may, for many people,  be “fodder for ridicule” or add fuel to the idea of the “crazy” artist.

As I commented in my earlier post Do We Need to be Crazy to be Creative?, this mythology of madness affects how we think of artists – and ourselves as creative people.

We may consider ourselves “not crazy enough” to be creative, or that our mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression should be endured, in order to “protect” our creative power.

Amy Tan also spoke about her experiences of depression:

“Some of it is probably biochemical, but I think it’s also in my family tree. I mean, my grandmother killed herself; she certainly had depression in her life. And anyone, like my mother, who witnessed her own mother killing herself, is going to be prone to the same disease.”

She admitted she didn’t do anything about her depression “for a long time, because, like many people, I worried about altering my psyche with drugs. As a writer, I was especially concerned with that. A lot of writers believe that the trauma and the angst that you feel is an essential part of the craft.”

But she realized she needed help and used Zoloft, and said, “I don’t believe that good writers are born through unhappiness.”

More on my page: Amy Tan – a brief profile.

In her article Angst, Mental Illness, and Creativity [on her site], Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D. writes about creativity and depression:

“Now, if bipolar disorder and depression are common in creative geniuses, and angst is a description of how people with those disorders often feel, does that mean angst is necessary to the creative process?

“Looking at the psychological research…no. Interestingly, people who are creative have more in common with people who are bipolar than they do with ‘normal’ people, but the commonalities lie not necessarily in mood disturbances, but rather in idiosyncratic thinking patterns, in enthusiasm and passion for their art, in how easily they can produce new and strange ideas.

“In many cases, people who are bipolar and creative are better able to express themselves creatively when they are being appropriately treated for their disorders.”

Carolyn Kaufman is author of the upcoming book The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior.

Additional perspectives on dealing with depression are provided in her post [on my main site] Mental illness and creativity: singer songwriter Meg Hutchinson on bipolar disorder and medications by writer Cat Robson:

“Like Hutchinson, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a label I no longer find appropriate, I was grateful to be living today with so many drug options. Yet studies such as those discussed in CVD drives 25-year loss in life expectancy among the mentally ill reveal the health risks of medications, about which most mental health patients are never informed.

“Years later, after a long process of withdrawal and recovery from the debilitating physical and emotional side-effects of psychiatric medications, I’ve come to see psychiatric drugs differently. My life after drugs is one I embrace, as I also embrace my high sensitivity and creativity.”

Amy Tan and Writing and Depression

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2010). Amy Tan and Writing and Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Sep 2010
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