I’m not sure what it says about me but most of my closest friends are on some kind of medication to make them less wacky — and when I say “wacky” I mean it in the best and most admirable way. A few of the medications my friends swallow every day include Paxil, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Zoloft, Luvox and Prozac. I am not on any kind of antidepressant or any other daily medication. I am uncertain if I should be overjoyed or sad my good friends need medication in order to operate in the world. 50 years ago if you were a little loopy — and I mean “loopy: in the best and most admirable way — you were institutionalized or given electric shock treatments or you committed suicide. Suffering is the brand of the true artist.

Do we today repress emotions and expectations and innovation with medication to “even out” people or is medication really intended to control minority behavior the majority decides is detrimental to their agenda? True artists are driven by demons not of their own choosing. Demons demand expression. Sometimes demons can overrun a life.

The inspiration to create things out of nothing for others as a living requires a certain instability of the brain because no one in their right mind would paint or write or draw or act or sing for a living because you can only make a killing in the Arts or die poor trying. The life of the true artist can never be grounded in a stable, mainstream, life.

Every breath of the true artist is a wager against overwhelming odds. If to create is to dare against mortality, is the penalty for that wager a revocation of imagination with drugs? True artists are born, not made. If you chemically alter that inborn ability to see the world in a way that goes against the shared interests of society in order to fit into a pre-determined expectation of behavior from others are you not giving up your birthright claim to destiny?

Are my friends dulling their creative edge by taking these medications? Is it better to live a long, but dulled, life than to quickly and brilliantly knife through the ordinary even if it means slashing your wrists instead of letting nature wither you from the outside in? Does curing the madness kill the true artistic impulse?

Is a dulled good friend better than a dead true artist? Am I being cruel by even asking these questions and by “cruel” I mean that in the best and most admirable way.

23 Comments

  1. I am on medication for panic attacks and I guess what some would call mild depression. I think if mental problems are interfering with your everyday life, something has to be done. I don’t think anyone should suffer through an illness simply because he or she is a creative person.
    As a writer, I used to blame my medication for stifling my creativity. Now, I realize that I myself wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to let my thoughts flourish. Once I actually started sitting down and putting my “ass on the chair,” (thanks for that reference by the way 🙂 ) my writing has improved and I have tons of ideas.
    And I don’t consider your references to wackiness mean. I myself call my medication my happy pills, because when I take them, everyone is happy – including me! 🙂

  2. Hi Carla!
    Interesting! I know the creative drive can be stifled by medication as it levels one out.
    Several of my friends are bi-polar — so they’re either really high or desperately low — neither place can be tolerated for long but the stuff they create on that high is absolutely breathtaking and ethereal and that is the temptation to continue to follow that demon even if it kills them.
    Many complain of a loss of sexual drive and, for a lot of my friends, the artistic drive is linked to that sexual drive — an overwhelming need to create.
    On medication they are more content people but creatively less productive.

  3. Oh, I understand medication is wonderful and it helps many people.
    Pulitzer Prize winner Josh Logan was one of the most brilliant producers, writers and directors on Broadway in the 1940’s and 50’s and Lithium had just been discovered and he felt it saved his life.
    Logan had been mentally ill all his life. Sometimes he would get on a train and ride it to the end of the rail and he didn’t know why or where he was and no one knew where in the country he was, either.
    Lithium brought him back to the world but he didn’t create much after he went on what he called “the white clay.”

  4. Very well thought out post.
    I am an artist, on top of that a bodybuilder, that is two strikes against me.
    I do sometimes make others uncomfortable with my quirks(eloquent way of saying crazy s**t) and my friends sometimes question the motivations of my actions.
    I have no problem pointing out that they seem to enjoy living through my antics until something happens they disagree with. My point being that they are acting slightly hypocritical. That usually wins the argument.
    I know that some people do need medications to help them get through life. I look to the past at some of the greatest achievers of all times, some of them would be considered completely loony today.
    I wonder if as a society we are not losing our sense of joy and wonder, if we are not dulling the impulses to live life like it was our only shot. Oh wait, it is our only shot.
    I guess it is time for some of my antics, lol.
    Have a great day David!

  5. Hi Eban!
    It is nice to hear from you on this topic and I thank you for your carefully reasoned analysis.
    It is kind of funny how, today, if you disagree with someone or if you raise your voice or go against the group someone in the group will usually say — teasing or not — that “you should be on medication.”
    Medication should be used to heal the ill, not to threaten the well.
    I also thank you for the keen link on your site! There’s a small typo there — it should be “Boles'” and not “Bole’s” and I have linked you up from the main page of this blog as well.

  6. All true artists are cross bearers.
    As an artist in a very unintellectual Nigerian society, I am bearing all the agonies of the ironies of life and all are chronicled in my writings, drawings and paintings. I have depressions when I see that the rest of the world is bent on self-destructive predatory pursuits of dog eat dog rat race. All my friends left me, because they said I enjoy suffering. Before, whenever I was depressed, loving making was my therapy. And I was lucky to be surrounded by over 22 regular female companions who were attracted by my charisma and enigma. But, most of them were platonic lovers. Because, love making could be more romantic without sex. Then, the energy drives my genius. Then, I had a girlfriend who was a sickler. She would leave medical care to be in my arms. She was an actress and singer. So, we were the perfect match. Then, she couldn’t bear with the precarious life we shared and left for a more financially comfortable relationship. But, I never whined or pined if a girlfriend left, because as I always say “there are millions of fish in the sea and the gold fish are still plenty.” Another muse will always come to comfort you.
    Dear fellow travellers. Art is the most jealous lover. It will possess your heart and if care is not taken could consume your soul.
    Music and love making are better than drugs or prescribed medication if you are not really ill. Even taking a walk or sauntering at the beach could be very good relief to overcome your grief in depression.

  7. Jo — It is scary and a little sad and medication, at least in many of my friends, creates a personality change. It’s like plastic surgery for the brain: One cookie cutter way for everyone.
    Eban — Don’t sweat the typo! Technorati can’t seem to get the apostrophe on the “Boles’” to translate on their site. All the other sites that pull my feed and information can get that apostrophe to show but not Technorati. They blame me for the problem because I didn’t code my site right. Grr! 🙂
    OSINACHI — What a beautiful and touching post! You remind me of one of my favorite plays, Candida. In the end the woman must make a choice between two men: A poet and a businessman. In the end she chooses the businessman over the poet because, she says, the businessman “needs her more.” The poet is crushed. He suffers alone because he can handle the heartbreak through his work. The woman goes off with the businessman and into a comfortable life where she can shine in an established context.

  8. I’m chiming in a little late here, David, but then, my diagnosis of bipolar disorder came ‘late’ too. Always wondered what was going on…I’m not a classic high/low, although I’ve had them. I started out that way and crashed into a mixed state with rapid cycling. Confusing. Took awhile to get some understanding of it and most of my frieds just consider me a, well, not-very-nice-person when I’m cycling.
    I don’t believe everyone who has a diagnosis of some sort is by default ‘creative’ or naturally artistic. Nor do I believe the reverse. I do know that I’ve had to adjust myself to the medication and if I want to create, remember the word is a verb. Medication may seem to make me feel less creative. But on medication, I no longer want to end my life; in fact I get back my passion for life. The Creator gave me that beautiful life and the ability to do what I do. Now it isn’t wasted. I’m not on a locked ward with the doctor tweaking my medication cocktail one more time trying to find out what will work “this time.”
    Thanks for handling this subject so sweetly.

  9. Hi Paula — Thank you for sharing your intimate story. Several of my closest friends are bi-polar so I understand the giant swings and how scary they can be to you and people around you. It can be a long experimentation process to find the right mix and milligrams to get everything working right. The purpose of this article was to discuss the “true artist” and not just the “artist” or the “ordinary” person. I know a lot of regular folk are medicated, too. 🙂
    Dave — Is that you? You seem upset but I’m not sure why. I thank you for setting your side of the record straight.

  10. I find many true artists are born but do not do art for a living. I think it is an illusion artists have about themselves at times , the illusion they are all deluded souls up against the world. This is just as likely to be the case with the lawyer down the street as with an artist of any kind.

  11. Wow
    Yes, such emotions are inappropriate here, but I hope you will understand me rightly: I have met myself in your post.
    Life joy and medicine, the insights of the whispering of art colors and living as the socially dependant… fine art exhibitions and the title of a fool… all above are tiny slice of my own reality of a man with the artificially fixed head bones.
    It would ne lovely to talk, and I hope we will do this a bit later. No one of my friends talks English and I am not strong too here.
    However, you are welcomed to my sites . The better knowledge of each other will make easier to us to understand each other.
    [Comment edited by David W. Boles]