Creativity and Madness

This probably is a place we shouldn’t go cuz…well, cuz many of us here at TVWriter™ just plain assume that creativity and madness go together. Which means that reconciling meds that stop the madness with our writing needs sometimes becomes overwhelmingly stressful all by itself.

But that’s just, you know, us:

Medsby Gila Lyons

I had rarely felt so alive, so close to the spitting pulse of energy and awakened life. I moved from the Berkshires to New York City for graduate school, to pursue an MFA in writing. My first year was an exhilarating blur of freedom and power. Each morning when I stepped out of my apartment, I felt like I owned the world. I felt beautiful and talented and young. I knew famous people, I was creatively inspired, I was meeting regularly with editors and publishers who were interested in my writing. My only responsibilities were to read, study with some of my literary heroes, write, and teach part-time. But by the end of my third year in the city, an anxiety disorder that had plagued me since the beginning of my life, and would flare up and calm down on a strange circadian rhythm of misery, had gotten so bad it reduced me to a quivering non-functioning bundle of raw nerves. I barely squeaked by in my last semester of my program, writing, reading, and teaching between emergency room visits, therapy appointments, panic attacks, and crippling phobias.

There were so many low points during my last year in New York, but a few stand out in sharp relief. I remember the terror of leaving my bed, and how humiliated and desperate I felt calling a friend in the middle of the night to ask her if she would come over to bring me a glass of water from my kitchen. I remember being too afraid to leave my bed for therapy, and calling my therapist on the phone sobbing as she tried to coax me out the door to the subway to meet her. I remember how difficult it was to communicate through the oxygen mask strapped over my mouth as the EMTs alongside my bed in an ambulance asked me questions — I’d just collapsed in a shaking heap at the gym from a particularly fast-acting and surprising episode of panic. I remember arriving at the emergency room, unable to talk because my jaw was clenched shut from adrenaline. I remember the drawer in my desk where blue hospital wrist bands accumulated in piles; I saved them like a soldier might save shells from the bullets that nearly killed her.

During this time, I was writing prolifically, and I feared that taking medication to ease my anxiety and panic might destroy my urge or ability to create. I had heard of many artists who had gone mad or suffered from horrible depression, and took the popular prescription of the day, never to write or create again. Their troubling symptoms had been muted, but so had everything else, their thoughts, perceptions, libidos, and ability to access deep feelings. They reported feeling emotionally void, deadened, seeing life as if through a veil. I also heard of artists who went mad and died, victims of suicide, drug overdose, or fatal manic episodes, and that scared me even more. David Foster Wallace, a writer I admired and sympathized with for his closeness to the raw fire of his own internal demons, committed suicide during my second year of graduate school, when my emotional world was crumbling, and it shook me to my core.

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