As devastating as schizophrenia can be, a number of people with the mental illness lead active and creative lives. Some research even indicates the type of thinking that characterizes the disorder can facilitate creativity.
Some of the possible symptoms include: “Hearing or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations); Isolation; Reduced emotion; Problems paying attention; Strongly held beliefs that are not real (delusions); Talking in a way that does not make sense; Thoughts that ‘jump’ between different topics (‘loose associations’) etc.”
[From MedlinePlus/Schizophrenia page.]
A long Wikipedia List of people with schizophrenia notes “only a few famous people are believed to have been affected by schizophrenia. Most of these listed have been diagnosed based on evidence in their own writings and contemporaneous accounts by those who knew them. Also, persons prior to the 20th century may have incomplete or speculative diagnoses of schizophrenia.”
A few of the many names: “Syd Barrett – British musician, founding member of Pink Floyd; Buddy Bolden – pioneering jazz musician; Clara Bow – Hollywood flapper actress and “It Girl” of the 1920s; Camille Claudel – French sculptor of the 19th century; Philip K. Dick – American author; Zelda Fitzgerald – wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer, dancer and artist; Vincent van Gogh – visual artist/painter (with schizophrenia and/or bipolar); Darrell Hammond – comedian, actor on Saturday Night Live; Brian Wilson – Musician and member of The Beach Boys.”
A contemporary artist is Esme Wang (at left in photo collage), who writes novels, stories, essays, and articles, is an editor, and mental health advocate.
She has schizoaffective disorder, which includes “a combination of positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia with an affective disorder (she has the bipolar type)” according to an article.
She “takes medication and participates in different types of therapy, and also focuses on eating well and getting enough sleep and plenty of rest.”
“I try not to become overly stressed – much easier said than done, I must say, but when your actual sanity depends on it, you really make an effort. I’ve made sure that I have a terrific support team that I trust. I’ve also become much more spiritual since the worst of it started.”
[That is an interesting comment – a number of creative people with mental illness have said their spiritual and philosophical perspectives, even sense of self, have somehow benefited from having an illness.]
The article also includes material about writer, photographer and Psych Central contributor Michael Hedrick.
He described schizophrenia as “a devil on your shoulder who whispers nasty stuff in your ear and no matter what you do, he won’t go away. Eventually you learn to accept him as a kind of companion, albeit a companion you don’t like but a companion nonetheless. It feels almost like a burden that you eventually get strong enough to carry. Baggage is an apt word.”
From the article What It’s Like to Live with Schizophrenia by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., Psych Central – who comments: “There is a wide spectrum of people with schizophrenia. Indeed, some are homeless and don’t have access to treatment or have stopped their treatment. But many are living well with schizophrenia.”
She also quotes Elyn Saks: “If you are a person with mental illness, the challenge is to find the life that’s right for you. But in truth, isn’t that the challenge for all of us, mentally ill or not?”
Photo of Esme Wang from her site www.esmewang.com, where she sells her book “Light Gets In.”
Photo of Michael Hedrick from his article Living With Schizophrenia: Wanting to Connect.
The photo at the right is Elyn Saks – more on her in the concluding Part 2.