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Creativity, Isolation and Mental Illness

Future Amber

A broken tree on Mt. Petit Jean, golden droplets of resin could become pure amber in centuries.

A broken tree on Mt. Petit Jean, golden droplets of resin could become pure amber in centuries.

Is there a connection between the arts and mental illness?

There's a common myth that artists, writers and people in creative professions suffer from mental illness. Specific famous artists like Van Gogh and writers like Sylvia Plath get brought up to support this idea. The myth may have something to do with writer's block or artists' block.

After all, do you want to risk becoming crazy just in order to become good at writing or art?

I categorized this for writers finding their voice. The myth and social effects of the myth apply to visual artists and musicians too, it's something that happens to people in the arts. On the up side, society gives an artistic license to people who are successful writers, artists and musicians -- you can be eccentric, you will get social approval for weird habits, late hours and worst of all, being alone.

There's a kernel of truth in this myth that I think has to do with the nature of the work. Writers, artists and musicians need a lot more time alone than most people. Like forest rangers, a lot of the work has to be done on your own. You need to spend quality time with your keyboard and get used to taking the time to express things to a larger audience than just the handful of people you're socializing with. You need to practice.

That's essential both for getting any good at it and for continuing to practice your creative work. Isolation scares most people. Introspection even more, since there are so many moral and ethical contradictions in society. Do you have a passionate love of religion and care about spirituality, taking in the idea that greed is wrong and evil... or do you take in the popular, constantly stressed emphasis on money and prosperity as how to measure a person's importance or your own? Do you practice humility or promote your work?

All these things need to be resolved for the individual, the canned answers from the pulpit or the editorial pages of your favorite newspaper won't do it.

We get taught to obey authority from the first year of school. Life is regimented for twelve long years, everything down to and including bodily functions requires permission and bureaucratic procedure. We stand on line and memorize things, then regurgitate what's memorized on tests. This is good preparation for life in a cubicle farm but it stifles independent thought, clear perception beyond social filters and any unexpected reaction. School demands predictable, easily stereotyped and categorized responses.

Life isn't anything like school. The fences go down, most of the rules are gone. You're on your own and have to take charge of your own life. Many people go through a terrible crisis at this point without external direction that they've come to rely on. Artistic people may have their own type of crisis on facing a harsh economic environment and surviving while practicing their work -- or with block, trying to practice and produce the work in the first place becomes more difficult than anything else.

To write well, you need to have something to say.

Sometimes the people who have something to say are perceived as crazy for it, because you also run the risk of upsetting the applecart. The status of artistic people as outside normal society also means constant rejection, to levels that people working in cubicle farms don't have to deal with personally. What happens is that you are judged by your work.

You can't take a stand without someone disagreeing with it and you will be facing opposition no matter how good you are. In fact, the better you get at writing, the more people will not only reject you but outright attack you and your work because you're making a point they do not want to become popular. So there's some inherent conflict just in the situation of becoming a writer and putting anything into print or online.

No matter who you are, garrulous people out there think you are a complete nutter, despise you for your religion, your beliefs, your ideas about society, your gender, your ethnic background, and everything you hold dear. Many of them can get vicious. They may be doing you a backhanded favor by giving you publicity -- all those fundamentalists crying out to ban Harry Potter boosted a British school satire to enormous popularity -- but it still hurts.

Those are social pressures people in other jobs don't need to face. Worse, you need to face them and understand them alone, then express them to help other people face those problems. Writers don't look away from the ugliness in society or themselves. You might be that vicious sometimes when you run into a complete loon posting dangerous ideas on the Internet that might stir someone to murder or terrorism. You might get a kick out of making fun of someone who's already being a jerk by your standards.

So there's a part of you that's something like your worst enemy, a part of you that resembles the people you despise. Not as comfortable an outlook on life as "us and them."

I think if there is any real prevalence of mental illness among creative writers and artists, the social pressures we face and the nature of the work help to create it, or if it was already there, the processes of creative writing, art and music are ways of dealing with it.

It's hard to live with knowing things other people are in denial about. Very hard to stand there and ignore blatant stupidity, or go along with it in order to get along. High school is all about conformity and peer pressure -- yet artistic people wind up drawn to express things that aren't on the menu and do things that aren't part of the crowd. Just doing anything different can set you apart in some way and the social pressure against that is enormous.

It takes years of introspection and work to overcome the effects of childhood traumas, pressures and acculturation. Kids are impressionable. The things that hurt deep then are going to still hurt in your forties, your fifties or your seventies. But to create anything is to some extent to break acculturation and take an individual view of life.

Even the most conservative writer or artist has to stand back from it all and decide that point of view, consciously become aware of the values they choose to defend. They must in effect step up to the combat zone and tackle the controversies, writers don't get the luxury of standing back to let someone else defend their ideas.

The image of artistic people as rebellious runs deep in popular perception. Calling people crazy is one way to disconfirm a rebel who questions the social order. Think about the social order in the abstract for a moment -- the people who rank high in it really don't want it questioned because any change in their rank is likely to be downward. The people who rank low in it would love to see change, because it's likely to be an improvement.

Anthropologists talk about disconfirmation -- what happens when people deny you right to your face. It can hurt far worse than isolation. They might relabel what you're doing in order to disconfirm it. You call it an introspective essay. They say you're whining and it's all adolescent angst. Or you write a cathartic, painful word picture of depression and your friends treat it as the funniest satire, quoting it and laughing.

Yes, that happened to me, and it took place at a school assembly. Worse, it was my two closest friends doing it. They honestly misinterpreted the piece. It hurt so deep they might as well have been family rejecting me, but to the audience, my reactions looked like a crazy person's. To them it was a successful comedy they enjoyed. To me it was humiliating to have my most painful feelings mocked in front of a crowd.

Is it a risk or not?

Was I crazy to go up there to get this photo on Mt. Petit Jean... or did that safety fence mean I was just enjoying a great view? I know if I paint it as a landscape, I'll leave out the fence for drama.

Was I crazy to go up there to get this photo on Mt. Petit Jean... or did that safety fence mean I was just enjoying a great view? I know if I paint it as a landscape, I'll leave out the fence for drama.

You don't have to be crazy -- but you could be seen that way just for being yourself.

I think sometimes people who write, draw, create music wind up deliberately stepping away from society's expectations, drawn by the love of process and the art itself. I think you don't need to be miserable or suffer for your art, that it's just as possible you got into your art out of sheer joy in the human process of creation. Some people get labeled artistic from the time they're small children and grow up into artistic careers with a lot of nurturing and support -- they don't associate the process with rejection and don't fear the isolation of actual creation because they're emotionally secure about their works being accepted by their loved ones.

I think that matters more to whether a writer has a happy life than whether they become a writer in the first place.

Psychology talks about social zones -- about a happy, healthy person's life having good positive relationships at all levels. Your social zones can be mapped as concentric rings around you. Each circle is progressively larger, has more people in it but is not as close, their opinions don't carry as much weight and you don't give them as much time and attention individually. Where someone belongs in your social zones can change -- old friends drop out of touch and become distant, but you'd still like to hear from them now and then. An acquaintance becomes a good friend and moves into the friendship zone, maybe even the close intimate friends zone.

Your date may just be that, a casual date, or courtship proceeds and your date becomes your significant other, moving gradually inward in depth of commitment and trust till your date becomes your mate and has an enormous impact on your life. Hopefully positive.

If you build good relationships at all those levels, life is a lot happier and you have support when you need it. Someone to commiserate on a vicious bad review or celebrate a writing contract. A good relationship in the outermost zone is just being reasonably polite and genial with casual people you just met and might never see again. I'm not saying every one of these zones gets a relationship as in, commitment and deep importance.

In fact, one of the worst problems for people who are mentally ill is a tendency to reverse the importance of these social zones, go nuts trying to please complete strangers all of the time while treating their most intimate friends and family like captive enemies.

Creative professions have unique demands on any individual. The ability to work alone and unsupervised demands independent responsibility and the skills, never taught in school, of organizing time and space for your own work. It takes the confidence to accept the rejection of people who either are genuinely uninterested or actually opposed to your work on principle, trusting that there are just as many people out there who think you're entertaining, wonderful and spot-on right about all the world's ills.

You have to act like a high status person, a leader, before you are one -- right at entry level you need the autonomy that only the highest level people in bureaucratic structures have. Yet you don't have any underlings and probably won't even if you become extremely successful. Good news, you're not responsible for their goofs and don't have to trust them to do what you intend, what happens when you sit down to write is exactly what you do and nothing else.

You have to learn to distinguish helpful critique like "It would be easier to read if you use shorter paragraphs" from personal criticism like "Only an insecure moron would think social pressure causes depression." It can be hard even when it's obvious, because that kind of personal criticism hurts. The only real defense against those social wounds is trusting that the people who love you do, that the people on your side will stick up for you, that the people who don't like you are not the ones that matter to you.

At the same time, in order to get any good at the skill, you need to be able to accept the critique as genuinely helpful and use it, even if it's inextricably mixed with the personal criticism. You can't just ignore the whole thing because those two statements might have been in the same comment and both true of that piece of writing -- if you did break the paragraphs more often, the people who agree with you will read it easier. But the flamer who wrote it was just taking any fault-finding potshot possible and did you a favor without meaning to.

Or the helpful critiquer who honestly loves your writing and agrees with you accidentally said something that really hurt for personal reasons they just didn't know about. The people in your outer zones should not know about every quirk and scar and vulnerability you have, that invites the people outside any of your zones to attack where it hurts the worst.

I don't think most writers and artists really fear being locked up and medicated if they write the wrong material. That only happens for real if you're a danger to yourself and others. But social ostracism can happen for a lot of reasons and is a much bigger, more real risk to anyone who wants to be alone and doesn't just follow the crowd. You do have to have the courage to say what you mean to say, even if that's rejected and attacked.

So that's a tough haul. Most people who shuffle papers in offices or work in factories don't need to worry about anything but quality or getting along with the people they work with. That's bad enough because office politics can be brutal, but it's not personal -- while a creative writer is always getting personal with the work. You write from your point of view.

Believe it -- you know you're good!

Cats know they're cool. Writers and artistic people need to develop that independence and trust their own judgment -- if your writing pleases you, then your readers will love it. We're sometimes our own worst critics.

Cats know they're cool. Writers and artistic people need to develop that independence and trust their own judgment -- if your writing pleases you, then your readers will love it. We're sometimes our own worst critics.

Finding your unique voice can relieve the pain or bring you joy or both. It's a good thing even when it's hard.

Finding your voice is as easy and hard as just being who you are and thinking what you do about things, everything from ethics to the language.

Becoming a writer who can both live well, have a happy life and good social life in all zones of intimacy as well as call it the way you see it in print is a hard road. Many people try it and most don't push it to the level where they could make a living on it, because it takes years to learn to do it well and years of personal growth to be able to handle the unique social pressures that go with the role of "creative writer." The job conditions are crummy or wonderful depending on you -- on what you like and expect and want in life.

If you hate being supervised and do better when you're in charge of what you're doing, that's a great indicator that you're right for self employment. If you have trouble deciding where to put your desk, either learn self management or think about getting a job instead.

Becoming a writer is about seeking attention -- but you can't be needy or it'll all be the wrong kind of attention. Taking good care of yourself and meeting your emotional needs in ways that aren't resting on the success or failure of a given piece you created is a good way to become a successful writer -- because then you can look at your failures as failed trials, yourself as a good, constantly growing and learning writer and your voice as something you are entitled to just for being alive and being yourself.

The better you express yourself, the more of who you are will come shining through to your readers.

That's all that Finding Your Unique Voice is.

No one else grew up where you did -- not exactly, not in that house. Not in that place in the schoolroom. Not with that specific relationship with your first teacher or your parents or your siblings. Your siblings had a different birth order and they went on to become very different people. The area you grew up in affected you and so did any travels. For a writer, I'd lay odds everything you read helped to shape who you are profoundly.

So there are these people way outside your time and place bringing in cultural ideas far from your place and time. Shakespeare may have pointed out important things about life that your neighbors didn't really get. Dickens has sensitized more people to the real plight of anyone poor than perhaps any other writer in history -- so you don't need to have been deprived or abused in order to care passionately about people who were and seek to help them by putting the realities of poverty into stories.

But their attitudes and ideas are out of step with everything in "mainstream culture" and most of the reading we do broadens our outlook on life. It's possible to understand how others look at life even when at first their view of things makes no sense -- and it takes a very good writer to express it the way they would if they were articulate, to give a sympathetic portrayal of every character. That's what makes for good story.

The main thing is to be aware that your personal life is personal, that your social zones are yours and no one but you has a right to decide who gets mapped where in them. What you write is mostly going to be read by people you don't know, what each of them thinks of it is personal to them. The happy thing is that sometimes what you wrote in a silly mood on a good day just because the idea seemed cool can sometimes be the one inspiring piece that helped someone you didn't know get through a rough patch in life.

So write what you care about. Write what means something to you. Tell it the best that you can and don't take any technical flaws of style or spelling personal -- those are just mechanics. The ability to express yourself well is much more than that. Something can be grammatically perfect and dull as dirt, or the raw rough draft can be readable and important before it's even polished. It'll get through to those strangers better if it's polished and edited.

Creative writing can ease the pain or bring joy into your life -- and it is possible to overcome the pain if you put in the time and work to resolve your personal problems for yourself. Write for you to do that, journals are very useful. For others, acceptance or rejection is half crafting it well and half sending it to the right market where the theme fits the slant of the publication and the topic is one the readers of that market like, then it's a matter of potluck but eventually any well written story will find a good home and some popularity.

Enjoy it. There's the key to staying sane while being a writer -- or artist, or musician. If you love doing the work itself, that shines through more than any other element, and practice will make you skilled enough to command an audience.


Marilyn L Davis from Georgia on May 25, 2013:

Thank you very much for this article.

Being vulnerable and putting my thoughts out for public scrutiny is new. One of my first articles deals with growing up in a family of artists, without the ability to draw. Watching them retreat into their art, I was jealous.

Words though became my salvation during my imposed times of isolation. They continue to be and your words have such an authentic ring and a comfortable familiarity.

Even in your comments, " A lot of people who aren't writers or doing anything creative are very afraid of being alone and can't stand even two minutes of it, have to be around people all the time."

As a person in long term recovery, I have had to be alone and introspective; isolating those aspects that needed changing, and to learn to validate those, as others have called them - odd, eccentric, different, not-the-norm qualities within that make me the unique person that I am.

So, I keep reading and studying authors/artists/humanitarian people such as yourself to learn. I took this away from the article, too. "The happy thing is that sometimes what you wrote in a silly mood on a good day just because the idea seemed cool can sometimes be the one inspiring piece that helped someone you didn't know get through a rough patch in life."

....and you did, thank you.

Kayness on March 18, 2012:

Thank you for opening up a new perspective for me about creativity and rejection, especially on this part:

"Some people get labeled artistic from the time they're small children and grow up into artistic careers with a lot of nurturing and support -- they don't associate the process with rejection and don't fear the isolation of actual creation because they're emotionally secure about their works being accepted by their loved ones."

This is definitely me. I'm doing art as a career right now because I've always been encouraged and supported by my family and I never associated it with rejection or isolation, so until now, I didn't quite understand fully why you saw it that way(I read your work on some other sites too because you come up on google a lot when i search for oil pastels and art supply reviews). I know there is a stereotype, but I only just thought it was a stereotype. I mean, of course I also know of friends whose parents discouraged them from doing art and tried to steer them into pursuing more 'profitable' professions, but I don't realize how aggressive this discouragement can be.

In tune on April 24, 2011:

I dearly hope the author of this article reads this comment, because it is by far the best and most profound dissertation I've read on this most complex and important subject. I am a musician by birth, that seems to be also turning into a writer. That having been said, there is so much I can relate to in this very wise and positive and life-affirming article. Whoever the writer is - thank you, thank you, and thank you.

Kathy from The beautiful Napa Valley, California on December 02, 2010:

Writers, artists and musicians need a lot more time alone than most people"

"Isolation scares most people. Introspection even more"

"We're sometimes our own worst critics".

"outright attack you and your work because you

are making a point they do not want to become popular"

"It's possible to understand how others look at life even when at first their view of things makes no sense"

"-- and it takes a very good writer to express it the way they would if they were articulate, to give a sympathetic portrayal of every character."

"I think sometimes people who write, draw, create music wind up deliberately stepping away from society's expectations,"

Well, Robertsloan2, I could have quoted this entire article. It is brilliant and true. You touch the truth with clarity and honesty. I truly could have quoted all of this wonderful hub because it rings familiar. Excellent and fine writing in a very human, humane style.

Though I do not consider myself an "artist," but as a person who has deep feelings, commitments, beliefs and one who does not fit well in "normal" society and situations, I fully relate to this hub. Much prefer my own company, thoughts, dreams. A friend once mused that "you create a world around you that fits your ideology, your desired environment and you are much more comfortable there." Yes, 'tis true.

Thank you. Voted UP, Beautiful, Awesome!

Kam on October 10, 2010:

I'm no writer, artist - I don't read much either. I'm self-employed, but its my experiences in life that bring me here. Thanks for helping me understand my need for isolation. I think it healthy if your objectives are positive :-)

hypomania_hunter on August 24, 2010:

I do not read much litterature but make up for it by googling a lot... Somehow this page has really gotten me hooked. Who care´s if the text is a bit long when the message feels important, honest and is written in a captivating way?

I say like saargarten finale: good stuff in the makin´ =)

christalluna1124 from Dallas Texas on June 24, 2010:


What an excellent hub. i love to write and write on many different topics. I also suffer from manic-depressive illness. many points that you make are so true. I do require much time alone and it is possible for me to spend as much as twelve hours working on articles,poems and such.I also know the feeling of being critized for my point of view on many things, but also the joy of congratulations of many who do share my points of view. It is impossible to please everyone and I believe it would be wrong to change my writing just to try to make those who do not share my view happy. that to me would be compromising my integrity as a writer. My opinion on politics , domestic violence, the death penaly and the criminal justice system have earned me the joy of having a true variety of followers whom I enjoy immensly. Thank you so much for the insight, it really made me think. I am glad to see someone else express a positive view of those involved in the creative arts, and yes we can be an ECCENTRIC bunch LOL!!

Warmest regards,


robertsloan2 (author) from San Francisco, CA on July 20, 2009:

Tom, yes, that is so hard when family and people you live with or your job don't recognize you need time alone. Jobs don't believe you need time with family either, they'd love to see you on call available at no extra charge every minute of your life. Sometimes I think they grind it so hard you don't get to sleep either.

I'm glad you're holding your boundaries about getting writing time though. If you didn't, I think it'd probably eat away at you over time -- it has me whenever I was in a situation where I couldn't write or paint or be alone ever.

A lot of people who aren't writers or doing anything creative are very afraid of being alone and can't stand even two minutes of it, have to be around people all the time. Even roommates will get like that sometimes.

Teresa, you're right about acting -- the audience aren't really people you're interacting with, it's you and the role and maybe the people your character are interacting with. I've done some amateur acting and really enjoyed it, so I have immense respect for anyone who gets serious about acting.

I think that's the core of it -- it takes time to be an observer and listener. Most people get so confused at someone being still and silent. They may even get paranoid, imagining you're plotting against them or rehearsing telling them off or something because that's the only times they've ever been still and silent. Yet this is considered normal and creative people aren't.

I really wonder about that sometimes, but I think that a lot of the customs and expectations we have today in this country fell together haphazardly without anyone realizing the consequences. People get put through the social wringer in school with pressures worse than anyone ever has to face outside of school, and then outside school go on living in the same patterns.

Sheila from The Other Bangor on July 20, 2009:

Interestingly enough (picking up on what MM said a few comments ago about performers) I found that acting can be an intensely solitary situation -- the audience aren't there. It's just you and the role. People tend to think that I must be an extrovert, what with the acting and the teaching and the conferences and all; and I'm not. I need a solitary existence.

It takes time to be an observer and a listener. You have to be still and silent. Some people call that doing nothing; some folk recognize it as creativity in motion.

Tom rubenoff from United States on July 20, 2009:

I like the depth of your treatment on any given subject.

Perhaps I was happier when I ignored my writing addiction and just worked my job, thinking of nothing except doing my job better. As I fight with my family and job for every minute of writing time, I'm torn between what I must do and what I must do.

Nevertheless, I would not trade being a writer for anything.

robertsloan2 (author) from San Francisco, CA on July 19, 2009:

Thank you! I think art societies and writers' communities really help with that. It's much easier to socialize with people who understand the work and working conditions. Isolation can definitely raise the risk of mental illness or make it worse if it's there.

jill of alltrades from Philippines on July 19, 2009:

What an excellent hub! Just a little long though.

How right you are - artist always need time for themselves. This is one aspect that usually people don't understand. I think artists need somebody who understands them, somebody they can talk to. Otherwise, they withdraw to themselves and even from society and that is when they might develop some mental illness.

robertsloan2 (author) from San Francisco, CA on July 19, 2009:

Thanks, Mighty Mom!

I think that some of it's caused by artistic professions making certain demands on people that would be hard for anyone to live with -- the isolation for one, the intense publicity and personal criticism for another. Also on the other end, I know that for me writing was about the only profession I could physically do with my disabilities. So maybe the fact that people who have mental illness can learn to produce great artistic works helps some of them work around the illness.

I do also think that even the most conservative artists need to question society in order to know what they're doing, even if their answers come out very conservative they have to ask themselves those questions. It's hard to be creative and live an unexamined life. Art of all kinds demands more perception than people in uncreative jobs need for work.

I would love to see research done on it. I knew a therapist in New York who was studying the unique stresses of artistic careers and the ways artists cope with them, but I don't know if he's continuing that study since he got promoted out of being a therapist into being a community spokesman for the mental health center.

Susan Reid from Where Left is Right, CA on July 19, 2009:

Hi Robert, this hub is incredibly dense with ideas. Hard to say which comes first, the chicken, the egg, the isolation or the urge to be solitary, the creativity fueled by mood swings or mood swings bein exacerbated by lack of social contact. I believe there is a very real connection between mental illness and creativity. Do you have to be crazy to be a good author, musician, painter? No, but it helps!

When you have a brain that talks to you in a way that others can't understand (and often you,yourself can't understand) it's definitely important to get those ideas out via whatever your medium of choice is.

Of course it's dangerous to generalize and make blanket statements such as "all creative people are social misfits" or "creative people are unable to sustain meaningful intimate relationships." Som are, some aren't.

I do agree that it's much easier to go with the flow of your personality than to fight it. If you hate authority then you probably should not be a cop!

Here is an interesting (at least to me) site I found that lists bipolar celebrities:


BTW, I wonder if there is any research that's been done on differences between types of creativity. Logic would tell you that writers and fine artists have different temperaments than musicians who get up on stage and share their art with the masses.

I dunno. I don't want to degenerate into meaningless psychobabble here, so I will shut up and just say, great hub! MM

robertsloan2 (author) from San Francisco, CA on July 19, 2009:

Thank you! You're one of the Hubbers I most admire, one of my favorite writers online anywhere.

Interesting idea, you're almost setting off another Hub with it about isolation and dealing with an isolating profession. I wrote a long comment to your comment and it seems to have mysteriously vanished. I'm not sure what happened to it.

Maybe one reason it hurt worse than if you were out and about more was that your window-shouter broke your everyday expectations more dramatically. Her behavior would've been more appropriate and expected in an inner-city tenement neighborhood than an upscale housing development. So that's one hilarious irony if she's a snob -- she acted very lower-class by screaming out her window over the dog pee.

She was out of bounds and she disconfirmed you. She acted as if you didn't belong in the neighborhood and weren't one of the neighbors to keep up appearances with. Of course that hurt. I think though that when people are out and about more, support in casual encounters like that is a lot easier to find. If you told that story at the office, you'd get a lot of people outraged at her or laughing at her depending on how you told it and know the world wasn't against you -- that one individual who didn't matter much happened to be an annoying jerk wouldn't be a big deal.

It may help to get out more socially for fun -- choosing where and how to do so habitually. Online support helps though, I know it has for me for years since I became housebound. I think of that oversensitivity to small abuses as something anyone in an isolating profession has to handle in some way -- something that has to be adapted to in a way that it won't wreck your life.

Chats, social networks and online communication are a real antidote to isolation, it's not complete when you're online. I can compare being housebound offline to housebound online, and even being housebound without a phone. The isolation and oversensitivity was a lot worse if I was offline and didn't have a big group of acquaintances who all knew and liked me enough to hang out with me -- and thus would be quick to give a reality check if someone else is in the wrong whether it's petty or major.

If she keeps it up that's harassment and not petty.

As I get more strength in a good climate, I'm thinking of joining some local art societies and getting out to meetings so that I'll have offline contacts as well as online friends. Like organizing the workday, our casual acquaintances aren't something that just happens by context any more, it takes active effort to have a full social life as a writer.

I think the effort's worth it though, leading to cool things to write about and an easier time enjoying life.

pgrundy on July 19, 2009:


This is excellent. Thank you. My partner and I were just talking about this very topic. He is a truck driver, but he doesn't have tons of friends, not because he doesn't have an opportunity to have tons of friends but because he doesn't feel the need. We are very much alike in that we aren't joiners, we're quiet and bookish, we can be alone for long periods, and we don't feel like that makes us weird or sick, but since losing my job I am even more isolated than usual and I write a lot more, and sometimes small abuses bother me more than they would have when I got out more. So we were discussing that.

For instance I was walking the dog yesterday and a woman who lives in a very upscale development that backs up to our property screamed at me out the window that "we don't appreciate your dog peeing on our tree." Well, the thing is, aside from that being kind of an aggressive, weird thing to do (screaming out your window over dog pee) my dog hadn't peed on anything, so I had no clue why she did that. The only tree my dog can get to anywhere near their house is in the public tree lawn between the sidewalk and the street. Has he ever peed on that? Geez who knows? Well, it really bothered me. I thought, how much hate does someone have to hold inside to act like that? Our home is modest but 70% of the time you can't even see it from their minimansions, but lot of them hate us even though they don't know us--they tried to buy this property before we did at a low price and tear the house down, and the former owners refused and sold to us, so apparently there was ill will long before we moved in over property rights. They don't want to even have to LOOK at anyone poorer than them. The thing is though, they know squat about us--we could be rolling in it, they don't know.

So the world can be hateful and violent for no sane reason, yet we're supposed to be upbeat and compliant constantly. It's nuts. And that bothered me all day. Most people would have yelled screw off and let it go.

I think that it's a double edged sword. We need people who have some sensitivity, but then we chide them when they are sensitive. I think it takes enormous courage to be an artist of any type. You put yourself out there everyday and people take their shots. Yes you get praise but you get crap by the truckload too. You should see some of my emails and comments. It's would curl your hair. Great hub. Thanks.

robertsloan2 (author) from San Francisco, CA on July 19, 2009:

Fortunerep, it sounds like you're doing great with working around your bipolar disorder. There is an incredible cartoonist, Darryl Cunningham, who's working on a project titled "Psychiatric Tales" about mental illness -- he just posted his latest chapter on his blog: http://darryl-cunningham.blogspot.com/ -- the first famous person he profiled was Winston Churchill, who probably had bipolar disorder.

I work around my physical disabilities and use the times when I have to sit and physically rest for thought and introspection. I write long hours at a time, the endorphins of sustained creative activity sometimes kick down my chronic pain better than any painkiller -- I will forget my meds when I'm working on a novel. All of these things are adaptations to my chronic diseases.

It sounds as if you have found your own runarounds for living with bipolar disorder and found ways that you can use your different states of mind for creative writing. I think anyone who lives with any chronic disease is automatically somewhat out of step with society just by that -- the majority of people do not have major health problems of any kind and it's very hard to understand how people live with any disability.

I can't understand what you're going through directly, but I care and I listen to what people I've known with mental illness say about what it's like. I know that as a writer, you do the same thing with people who have other disabilities, that you can project and empathize, that most of all we writers listen to other people when most people don't.

I project as much as anyone. I remember a few years ago having an argument with a then-housemate who explained honestly that he didn't listen to what I was saying. He was too busy composing what he was going to say. It unnerved him that I listened to him and answered what he said intelligibly, because he expected either to cow me by shouting or provoke me to shout back. The content wasn't as important to him as my reaction.

It completely shocked me, but on observing it I think a lot of people do that -- and writers don't. Words are important to writers so we're listening to the words as well as the tone when anyone writes or speaks.

I hope you're having a good day and that life's getting better, that you find useful treatments and don't get shafted on the medication rollercoaster. Good luck.

robertsloan2 (author) from San Francisco, CA on July 19, 2009:

Thanks. I think I'll go break it in the middle with another image or two, that could help. I think that in any occupation that takes years of training and has unique working and living conditions, past a certain point only cops understand cops, homemakers understand homemakers, writers understand writers.

Though it's our job as writers to understand everybody and maybe that's one of the biggest pressures right there -- having to care about the people we don't like who do and think things we can't stand, to depict them true to who they are.

You can write to help unburden and that can hurt while it's helping. If you put a frostbitten foot or hand into warm water to thaw it out, that's going to be worse pain than getting the frostbite in the first place. It takes real courage to face personal problems -- family conflicts, life tragedies, or the ruinous effects of internalizing what people who can't stand you or disagree with what you're doing said to you about it.

I think writers and artistic people need to develop more of a thick skin to social pressure than people in other jobs. Sometimes what makes sense in reality does not make sense to the crowd at all and scares them to death. How many dark subjects like rape, terrorism, child abuse and so on get a reaction "this can't happen here" by people who can't live with the notion that sometimes people within their neighborhood or group do terrible things?

Or swing the other way and think that no one in the world is good or trustworthy because some people have done terrible things?

Writers don't look away. Sometimes the greatest joys in life come only after facing the worst terrors.

I was misdiagnosed as mentally ill because of chronic physical pain, some deformities and other health conditions that isolated me and set me apart from other people. I learned a lot about mental illness but I am not really capable of understanding, say, depression from within. I have no idea what it feels like to people who despair without a physical or external cause that makes sense.

Yet I didn't understand this till I was halfway through my forties and honestly believed along with everyone else that my problems were all in my head. What proved it was that acetaminophen relieved it a bit and no antidepressants ever did. One reason I think both I and so many people were quick to think I was mentally ill instead of physically sick was just that myth -- that writers and artistic people go crazy from doing the work or that crazy people are inherently creative and may be geniuses.

I think stereotypes can really hurt people especially when they get internalized. They're the outermost filters of social perception -- which strangers to talk to or avoid. But as soon as you get to know anyone, they are no longer any stereotype, that person is who they are whether they're good for you or not.

We get so many social pressures that sometimes people break down and try to treat their lives as a democracy of everyone they know -- which makes them vulnerable to every predatory personality, pest, scammer, and aggressive person around them. There isn't even a category for Social Illness but I sometimes think there ought to be -- for people who have communication problems or contextual problems that aren't internal or physical but result from some bad luck in life and then from bad decisions made on bad information.

Pet the cat, or hug the dog. Animals are good for mental health and creativity. Ari sheds Cat Hairs of Inspiration on you and I thank you for a helpful critique!

Dori S Matte from Hillsborough on July 19, 2009:


being Bipolar and marked as Mentally Ill I find that it is very easy to be creative with my writing, if i am depressed or manic. I think my hubs speak for themselves as you can tell what stage I was in when i wrote them. Sometimes I look back and go "no i didn't". It is a complex world that many don't understand.

\Brenda Scully on July 19, 2009:

I enjoyed that though somehow found it a bit painful and long..... sorry.... it needs to be broken down.... is a writer always a writer..... kind of what comes first the depression or the creativity do they work hand in hand... is it only other writers that understand writers.... You can write to help and unburden, but somehow can burdened whilst doing it... it is complex, and I thank you for addressing the subject

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