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Creativity
and Psychotropic Medicines

Not all psychotropic medicines inhibit creativity. Hereís how to distinguish between medicines that allow creativity and medicines that are harmful to it. Written by an experienced psychologist. 

Prerequisites for Creativity

Sleep

Psychotropic Medication

To Survivors of Abuse

What is creativity? Itís originality plus hard work. When you create, you come up with original ideas, and then you work with them. You:

1. pick out the good ones and toss the bad ones.
2. combine the good ones into stories, songs, or other practical ideas or plans.
3. carry out the ideas or plans, until you have a finished product or service.

Hereís what I think happens in my mind when I create. Unconsciously and constantly, my brain combines everything I know and everything Iím thinking with whatever else I know and am thinking, making sure that everything gets combined with everything else at least once. (Iím talking about billions of thoughts and ideas and constant, unconscious, images.) Then, every once in a while, my brain hits on a winning combination. Instantly, this exciting new idea pops into my conscious awareness, and I begin to work on it.  

Prerequisites for Creativity

To create, you need:

1. Time to develop your skills.

2. Confidence (high self-concept). There are risks involved with creativity. It can be scary to show people your work, and creativity can make people so jealous that they actually attack you. You need confidence to go ahead and create anyway.

3. A reasonably calm mood. Depression may be the most powerful creativity suppressant there is. Other forms of anxiety inhibit creativity too.

When a bipolar is manic, s/he can be very original, but s/he is not necessarily able to follow through and develop his/her ideas into creative accomplishments.

That is, creativity requires relaxation. Relaxing is the only way to give your unconscious mind a chance (which it may or may not take) to combine everything you know and everything you are thinking with everything else you know and everything else you are thinking until it hits on something wonderful. You need to completely let go and let your intuition and feelings take over.

4. Ability to remain alert while relaxed, that is, while your thoughts and feelings roam free. Hereís the challenge of creativity: to create, you need to leave your mind free to think and feel what it wants, except that it canít fall asleep. If you are on psychotropic meds that dope you up, good luck!

Have you ever been really tired, but you were trying to stay awake? You sat down and rested for just a couple of minutesóand you fell sound asleep. When you are tired, the only way to stay awake is to stay active. Since creativity requires relaxation, not activity, it can be very difficult to create when you are tired.

 
Sleep

In a study published in Nature in 2004, Scientists at the University of Luebeck in Germany found that, during good sleep (which Jan Born, who led the research project, defines as at least 6 consecutive hours) your brain processes the sights, sounds, and other sensations of the previous day. Then, when you wake up, your mind is somehow more clear and organized. Bornís subjects did better at solving math problems that required creative solutions if they were allowed to read the problems, sleep 8 hours through the night, wake up refreshed (not doped up by medication), and then go back to the problems.


Psychotropic Medication  

Sleep just seems to be very important to creativity. The effect of medication on creativity may well be mediated through sleep. Therefore, I have divided the psychotropic meds into two sleep-related categories:

1. Meds that dope you up. You sleep for hours and, when you are awake, you are pretty groggy. Too groggy to create. Most atypical anti-psychotics, antidepressants, barbiturates and antihistamines are in this group. Avoid this group if you want to be creative.

There are only a few psychiatrists who understand the importance of good sleep to creativity. But please donít blame them for this lack of knowledge. They have their hands full just preventing severe bipolar and schizophrenic episodes. Thatís harder than you might think, because so many psychotropic meds can harm the body. Psychiatrists have to stop episodes, yet prevent severe organ damage.

Itís your responsibility to let your psychiatrist know that you want to be creative and to make it clear that you donít want meds that inhibit creativity. Before you visit your psychiatrist, do your homework. The drugs that dope you up are likely to be labeled as having a ďsedativeĒ effect. Ask your pharmacist for the package inserts of the drugs you are considering taking. Find the Adverse Effects section, go to Neurological Side Effects, and look for words like ďsedationĒ and ďsomnolenceĒ. (Or use Google.) Ask your psychiatrist not to prescribe any drug labeled with these words. Even if they donít make you sleep for hours, sedating drugs decrease your dreams (REM sleep), and the REM stage is the most important part of sleep.

But, unfortunately, there is a limited number of psychotropic meds in each category. To avoid a sedating drug, you may have to put up with a drug that causes nausea or some other adverse effect. Itís your choice. To reach your full creative potential, are you willing to make a trade-off?

2.  Meds that can over-help sleep. Some anticonvulsants, e.g., Trileptal, if taken in large doses, will act like sleeping pills. They put you into a dead sleep for 8 hours a night, and you wake up refreshed and alert and able to create. Sounds great, but there is a catch. Trileptal, like any other sleep inducer, can be addictive. If you take an anticonvulsant, your best bet is to take only low doses. Donít try for perfect sleep every night. Just try for enough sleep to enable creativity.

For most consumers, itís a delicate balance. If you get no medication, you sleep poorly at night and are tired all day. If you get the wrong medication, you sleep all day, period. It can be difficult to hit the target, 6 to 8 hours of sleep. But if you succeed, you can create, and consumers have such great creative potential!

To Survivors of Abuse

You say that you have no creative talents? Are you sure?

Suppose that you were abused as a child, rather than being encouraged to explore your talents. And suppose that you have spent all your adult years going from job to job, struggling to survive, believing that you are totally incompetent.

If this describes you, itís quite possible that you are an extremely creative person who doesnít know it. Your abusive environment may have lowered your self-confidence, making it impossible for you to reach your potential. Donít wait until middle age as I did; check it out. Stabilize your sleep pattern if necessary, then pick a creative pursuitóart, music, photography, pottery, writing, cooking, sewing, or whateveróand give it a try. You may be in for a wonderful surprise.  

  Next Memo: Are You Prejudiced Against Yourself?

Got feedback? Email Dr. Bradt at cassjmb@intercomm.com

Donít force behavior! 
Change attitudes.