I’m sure you’ve heard that artists are more likely to struggle with mental health. That somehow, the illness is the price for their genius.
I read that somewhere as well, but I remained sceptical. I’ve never stumbled upon a solid, scientific explanation why this might be true (then again, I never really searched for the answers until now).
But as explained in “The Molecule of More”, there’s a strong link between both states. They’re both fuelled by… dopamine:
“The creative mind is the most potent force on earth. (…) Creativity is the brain at its best. Mental illness is the opposite.(…) Yet madness and genius, the worst and the best the brain can do, both depend on dopamine. Because of this basic chemical connection, madness and genius are more closely connected to each other than either is to the way ordinary brains work.”
But wait, there’s more:
“(…) when we are being creative, we behave a little bit like a person with schizophrenia. We stop inhibiting aspects of reality that we had previously written off as unimportant, and we attach salience to things we once thought were irrelevant.”
The similarities between creativity and schizophrenia made me think of the story of Ludwig II of Bavaria (known as the Swan King). We watched a DW documentary about him just yesterday:
Ludwig II loved music, theatre, the arts in general; and was heavily inspired by them all. His building projects (such as the famous Neuschwanstein Castle) were a proof of his out-of-the-box thinking. I’m in awe of his boldness and strong creative vision.
The end of the documentary caught my attention. That’s when we learn that king’s younger brother Otto suffered from schizophrenia, and was institutionalized. And that just made me think – were they both highly dopaminergic personalities? In the case of the king, the overload of dopamine manifested as creativity. In the case of his brother – it manifested as mental illness.
Reconnecting with “Here and Now”
According to the book, creatives are more at risk of developing mental health issues:
“Whatever their (artists, scientists, prophets, or entrepreneurs) calling, they never stop working. What they care about most is their passion for creation, discovery, or enlightenment. They never relax, never stop to enjoy the good things they have. Instead, they’re obsessed with building a future that never arrives.”
My heart sank a bit when I read this line – because I saw myself in these words.
Sadly, the chapter on potential solutions is very brief and not very actionable. The general advice includes getting closer to nature, avoiding multitasking and “searching for harmony”.
I would add the following: meditation, journaling, practicing gratitude, limiting screen-time – all of these help me at a time of struggle.
But again, this has to be a regular practice, and not an ad-hoc endeavor. Yes, the dreaded “follow through”, my ultimate downfall…
“The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity – and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race”
by Daniel Z. Lieberman and Michael E. Long.