Will I Go Crazy?
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.
What is creativity? Itís originality plus hard
work. When you create, you come up with original ideas, and then you work with
1. pick out the good ones and toss the bad ones.
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.
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
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
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.
In a study published in Nature in
2004, Scientists at
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
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
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!
You say that you have no creative talents? Are
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.