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View Full Version : If you really think about it, could writing be a type of mental disorder?



MimiAngel621
07-19-2011, 04:52 AM
Think about it: us writers daydream about characters.
Fictional characters.
People who do not exist.
We think of what they could be doing right now, what their favorite color should be, what they would look like.
And they aren't even real.
We think of a situation they could be, how they will get through a fictional conflict...
that is not even real.
And here we are on this forum, occasionally,
(and proudly!) bragging about our characters as if they were a close relative and how we fell in love with them.
And...they aren't even real.
But we wish they were! Wouldn't you think of it as some sort of schizophrenia? Who else spends endless trances typing away at the keyboard, screaming at our characters--no--our friends, creations, about something stupid we made them do?
Of course, I don't mean this in a hurtful way, I'm a writer myself. Yet still, what do you think?

pandora
07-19-2011, 04:53 AM
Ya got it backwards, if we don't write, we go crazy....

Ferret
07-19-2011, 04:53 AM
There's a difference between wishing your characters were real and actually believing they are.

Atlantis
07-19-2011, 04:56 AM
There's a famous qoute that is said by someone that says 'Writing is the only socially acceptable form of mental illness' or something along those lines. It kinda is too! I used to sit by myself when I was little and tell stories to myself out loud when I was bored. I had make believe friends too that I ended up writing my first novel about at age 12. Maybe I am a little crazy :D

MimiAngel621
07-19-2011, 04:56 AM
There's a difference between wishing your characters were real and actually believing they are.

So true, Ferret.

Susan Littlefield
07-19-2011, 05:19 AM
Wouldn't you think of it as some sort of schizophrenia? Nah, I don't think so. ;)


Who else spends endless trances typing away at the keyboard, screaming at our characters--no--our friends, creations, about something stupid we made them do? I don't. I know lots of writers, and I'll be very few, if any at all, do this.


Of course, I don't mean this in a hurtful way, I'm a writer myself. Yet still, what do you think?
There are many threads throughout this forum linking mental illness to writing. For many, writing is a creative outlet, for others it's a job, and it could be both for other writers.

Canotila
07-19-2011, 05:54 AM
It's called authoritis.

Susan Littlefield
07-19-2011, 06:19 AM
It's called authoritis.

:roll:

shadowwalker
07-19-2011, 06:29 AM
To those of us with actual mental illnesses, the answer is obvious.

Susan Littlefield
07-19-2011, 07:33 AM
To those of us with actual mental illnesses, the answer is obvious.

I'm not sure if I'm misreading your response to say yes, there is an link between mental illness and writing. :)

People with mental illnesses are business owners, lawyers, doctors, artists, paralegals, writers, teachers, unemployed, independently wealthy, etc. etc. Therefore, it does not make sense that writing and mental illness have any link at all except that a person who likes to write happens to have mental illness.

veinglory
07-19-2011, 07:42 AM
Telling stories, imagination and fiction are normal. That is: they are not reliably tied to making people's lives non-functional (not intrinsically maladaptive) and they are not rare or recent behavior patterns for our species.

Nightmirror
07-19-2011, 08:11 AM
I think it's just as normal to create stories as it is to read or watch them, although it probably requires an extra bit of weirdness to do so, and definitely more thought. Whenever there's a story that deviates from what we expect or hope for, it's only natural for us to ask ourselves "what if this had happened instead..."

Just the same, if someone said I was slightly crazy I wouldn't find reason to argue with them.

tko
07-19-2011, 09:22 AM
Think about it. Being able to imagine different choices, putting yourself in different situations, visualizing the outcome, is a natural survival skill. That's one small step away from writing.

Guardian
07-19-2011, 10:20 AM
In my opinion, no. Not at all.


Wouldn't you think of it as some sort of schizophrenia? Who else spends endless trances typing away at the keyboard, screaming at our characters--no--our friends, creations, about something stupid we made them do?

My mother has/had schizophrenia. She was too busy crying because there were rats crawling all over her body, or trying to kill herself, to write novels. Maybe she just didn't have the cool schizophrenia that makes you into a writer. :P

Medievalist
07-19-2011, 10:26 AM
Varieties of Insanity Known to Affect Authors (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004307.html)

blacbird
07-19-2011, 10:38 AM
I think it's just as normal to create stories as it is to read or watch them,

It's even more normal than that. Your mind creates stories every time you dream during sleep. It's about as natural a part of human function as anything else is. The ability to harness that function consciously and turn it into something coherent to communicate to others is the craft.

caw

mccardey
07-19-2011, 10:44 AM
If you really think about it, could writing be a type of mental disorder?


Oh, don't say that or they'll make us take drugs... and not in a good way.

folkchick
07-19-2011, 03:05 PM
Let me ask my hand . . . yeah, it's not a mental disorder.

However, I was thinking last night that the more I ground myself with actual, real people in this actual, real life of mine, the less time I devote to thinking about my fictional people and their lives. And now this morning I feel a bit blocked, because not thinking about them has stopped the ticker tape storyline in my head. That's kind of messed-up.

rwam
07-19-2011, 04:08 PM
For some people, I definitely think the desire to write CAN be a symptom/by-product of what the psychological world would classify as mental illness. For instance, I have what I call a 'hyperactive imagination' that runs non-stop. Not sure how a professional would diagnose this, but I'm sure they'd say I had ADD or something.

Anyway, I believe this is why I write....as an outlet for that. I have SO many ideas for stories it's not even funny - too bad I can't concentrate on them for long enough to see most of them through.

I'm not saying this is why ALL writers write, but it certainly holds true for me.

I also think that for SOME writers, the desire to "be published" is much stronger than to write the best story possible. This could mean the person needs validation...and I'm sure a psychologist could have some fun with that one, too.

So, yeah, I think you're onto something, but it's not enough paint to use a broad brush.

shadowwalker
07-19-2011, 05:01 PM
I'm not sure if I'm misreading your response to say yes, there is an link between mental illness and writing. :)

Okay, so not so obvious.

My point is (and I doubt this was the OPs intention, but it clicked nevertheless) that many people seem to find MI somehow 'quirky' versus being a set of serious illnesses. Like so many celebrities who claim to have depression or be bi-polar as if it were something chic.

As you say, many different people in many different walks of life can be MI. Just because one writes is no indication one has, will have, or should have, a mental illness.

ChaosTitan
07-19-2011, 05:23 PM
There's a difference between wishing your characters were real and actually believing they are.

This.

Comparing a creative expression such as writing to mental illness does a disservice to those who are challenged by MI on a regular basis (either personally, or through family members and friends). It's not the same.

Phaeal
07-19-2011, 06:04 PM
Or as Shirley Jackson wrote:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.

Imagination is built in to all humans, the writers and the readers, the artists and the observers, the actors and the dancers and the audiences.

I would say that to be truly without imagination would be the mental illness.

stormie
07-19-2011, 06:09 PM
I have a few close relatives with mental disorders, one severe. None of them are writers.

Doesn't matter whether you have a clinically dx'd disorder or not, writers write because they have to, they want to, they need to. It's that simple.

DancingMaenid
07-19-2011, 06:19 PM
On the contrary, I think the drive to create stories is a very natural and almost universal part of humanity. I also think that writing can have a lot of mental benefits. I think I'm more "mentally active" than some of my friends, and I don't get bored as easily as some seem to. Writing can be relaxing and cathartic.

But I remember a while back, when I doing some reading on schizophrenia, I read something about common traits among young people who eventually develop the disease, and I remember it had a lot to do with being socially withdrawn and overly-immersed in daydreams and fantasy. I had a minute there where I thought, 'Damn, that sounds a lot like my childhood and adolescence. Should I be worried?'

To be honest, I probably was a little overly fixated on my stories and characters when I was younger, and I'm glad that while I still spend a lot of time thinking about that stuff, it's gotten more tempered as I've grown up. I'm still able to amuse myself when there's a really slow day at work by thinking about my characters, but I don't find myself zoning out and obsessing like I used to, which is probably healthier.

And then there was one time when I had to shelve a novel I was writing because I was writing a depressed character and my own mood at the time was such that I really couldn't focus on the subject healthily. It was making me feel worse than I already did.

I think a lot of stuff like this exists in a spectrum. Writing isn't a mental illness, and I agree with the people who have brought up that mental illness is generally more damaging and chaotic than quirky and creative. But the mental processes that can come into play during writing can be anything from healthy to unhealthy to everything in between.

Jamesaritchie
07-19-2011, 06:33 PM
Fictional stories and characters may not be real, but they are the purest form of truth.

I almost always use real people in my fiction, but they're still just characters, and not my friends. I don't scream at them for what they do, though I try never to make them do anything. They react to any situation as the real person they're based on would react, and I go with it.

But when the story is finished, so are the characters. I never think about them again, unless someone asks for a sequel. I never sit around wondering what a character's favorite color is, or what they're doing right now. That might be mental illness.

Susan Littlefield
07-19-2011, 06:35 PM
Varieties of Insanity Known to Affect Authors (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004307.html)

Love it!

Chris1981
07-19-2011, 06:53 PM
I don't scream at my characters or wish they were real.

The overwhelming majority of people use our imaginations to one extent or another. Even telling or hearing a joke involves imagination. And, as somebody already mentioned, people dream.

This just doesn't compare to mental disorders as far as I'm concerned. While it's true that writers can have vivid imaginations, and while it's true that some people with mental illnesses are writers or other, creative sorts, there's a huge difference between what happens in my mind--a chat with a character, for example--and a break from reality.

I know a woman with schizophrenia. When she breaks from reality, it's not a happy, fun romp through Imaginationland. She's been hospitalized because she was posing an immediate threat to herself and others. When she doesn't take her meds on time, she suffers. The same thing happens when the meds stop working like they should. She suffers from extreme paranoia--it's not hard for her to become convinced that people who truly care about her are out to get her.

She's mentally ill. I'm a writer with an overactive imagination. These things, from where I sit and observe, are worlds apart.

Enigami
07-19-2011, 09:02 PM
People with mental illnesses are business owners, lawyers, doctors, artists, paralegals, writers, teachers, unemployed, independently wealthy, etc. etc. Therefore, it does not make sense that writing and mental illness have any link at all except that a person who likes to write happens to have mental illness.

Actually there is a high positive correlation on the link between mental illness and creativity. Yes, all types of people have mental illnesses, but creative types are more likely to have one. I did a paper on it for a psychology class once. People who are authors & artists are 80% more likely to have a mental illness compared to a scientist who has a 30% chance. :)

shadowwalker
07-19-2011, 09:19 PM
Actually there is a high positive correlation on the link between mental illness and creativity. Yes, all types of people have mental illnesses, but creative types are more likely to have one. I did a paper on it for a psychology class once. People who are authors & artists are 80% more likely to have a mental illness compared to a scientist who has a 30% chance. :)

Until I see your sources, I can't, of course, accept your conclusion as is. One possible flaw is the chicken and the egg scenario. I see that immediately because among the large number of MI I've met, creativity was not an obvious common denominator. Granted, my experiences are anecdotal - but I really would like to see your research, rather than just accept your conclusion.

Phaeal
07-19-2011, 09:26 PM
I don't know about that. After all, it's the scientists who are usually labeled "mad."

shelleyo
07-19-2011, 09:29 PM
To those of us with actual mental illnesses, the answer is obvious.

QFT.

Creativity =/= mental illness.

Shelley

doodle
07-19-2011, 09:34 PM
Actually there is a high positive correlation on the link between mental illness and creativity. Yes, all types of people have mental illnesses, but creative types are more likely to have one. I did a paper on it for a psychology class once. People who are authors & artists are 80% more likely to have a mental illness compared to a scientist who has a 30% chance. :)

I would like to see a published, empirical study that provides statistics like this.

To answer the OP, this discussion is skirting the line of romanticizing mental illness. I'm fairly certain that having an active imagination and creative drive are not to be found as symptoms of a disorder anywhere in the DSM. :)

veinglory
07-19-2011, 09:39 PM
Actually there is a high positive correlation on the link between mental illness and creativity. Yes, all types of people have mental illnesses, but creative types are more likely to have one. I did a paper on it for a psychology class once. People who are authors & artists are 80% more likely to have a mental illness compared to a scientist who has a 30% chance. :)

That number is way way way way off and the general assertion is not universally true. The risk differentials run in single figures in most studies that I have seen. And some artists--sculptors, for example, are actually less likely to suffer from depression than the average person.

Enigami
07-19-2011, 10:21 PM
Yeah, from all my research it's just a high correlation. There is no proof that having a mental illness makes you more creative or that being creative causes you to have a mental illness. It's just a correlation between the two. For example, if I grouped a bunch of creative types and a bunch of uncreative types according to the correlation there will be more mental illness in the creative group. It's just correlation. It's highly based on the group you select and where you are observing. I mean we could do a study on handwriting and how many horror movies one owns. And depending on the group and where in the world we are observing we could come up with a whole number of correlations.

I wasn't trying to prove it. I suppose I should have said more than I did. I did the paper out of curiosity and just found out that there is just a high correlation and hardly any actual proof. Just these famous so and so's and these random college students. It's an interesting thought though and many people are researching the idea.

The statistics were from a graph in my textbook: Psychology: Themes and Variations (Eighth Edition) by Wayne Weiten

RemusShepherd
07-20-2011, 12:07 AM
The voices in my head insist that I'm not schizophrenic; I'm just lazy because I'm not writing about them enough.

Kenra Daniels
07-20-2011, 12:22 AM
I'm dx'd with bipolar. I'm also absolutely certain my writing isn't tied to the bipolar. There were several years after my symptoms became severe enough for dx before I found a decent doc, and a couple more years of experimenting with different combinations of meds until we found a combination that allowed me to be something other than a zombie, suicidal, severely manic, or practically mentally handicapped (to the point I couldn't write a check, pay a bill, hold a business conversation, follow a recipe, read a novel, follow a tv series).

In that time, I started a few novels, wrote a couple thousand words, then promptly forgot what I wanted to write. Looking back, I have only vague memories of that period, but the amount of time I wasted is incredibly frustrating - and I know the time wasn't actually wasted, per se, but it feels that way.

Having lived with those demons having free reign in my head, I'm absolutely certain there are no similarities with my characters living their stories in my imagination.

A couple of folks have mentioned imagination as universally human, and I agree that at least most humans have some form of imagination. But I've also seen animals exhibit imagination. There's nothing quite like being on a young, half trained horse's back when he imagines there is a bear behind the clump of grass. Young rats seem to pretend to be parents, even when they're not part of a colony where they're expected to help with the care of the young. I've seen them force another smaller rat to try to nurse, and cradling them they way mother rats do neonates.

So I don't think imagination, in one form or another, is exclusively human. We just happen to be the only ones capable of writing our imaginings down.

veinglory
07-20-2011, 12:29 AM
Yeah, from all my research it's just a high correlation.

The statistics were from a graph in my textbook: Psychology: Themes and Variations (Eighth Edition) by Wayne Weiten

In which case I have a different point of view on what represents a "high" correlation. Also research would, in my book, involve reading the actual research papers cited in this textbook which do not relate to creative people per se but a certain very small sub-group.

Weiten made no claim about a strong correlation between these two categories, he wrote "some connection may exist between truly exceptional creativity and mental illness"

The very small (double digit) samples cited are of artists who have won major international honors, not a group I would tend to identify myself with as if there were difference between what I do and folk who won the Booker or Nobel.

Extreme achievers do tend to have more disorders and be general atypical. It has also be suggested that the disorders (depression is common) stem from the difficulties encountered when the exceptionally talented strive for wider recognition....

AlwaysJuly
07-20-2011, 12:41 AM
I just don't see it, personally. But I dislike the stereotypes of artists, because I think we all have the capacity to be creative if we choose to explore it and develop whatever level of innate talent we have. The stereotypes, to me, either get in the way of that or encourage people to play to stereotype rather than being themselves.

AlishaS
07-20-2011, 03:04 AM
:popcorn:




Wow, this is a totally interesting thread! I mean, wow.

I am creative in just about every way possible. I write, I decorate wedding cakes, I scrapbook, I did a huge stint as a photographer, I like to really do anything that is creative but would I say I have a mental illness? No.
My brother, who no longer is here, had severe schizophrenia and probably a few other things, spent a great deal of time in a mental health facility, and honestly, he didn't have a creative bone in his body.
The flip side, he was probably one of the smartest people I know, so smart that if he could have just... not let the illness take over, could have done a great deal of important things.
I think mental illness closer relates to scientists and mathmaticians, and what not. Not writers.

Linda Adams
07-20-2011, 03:41 AM
My father has said, "Creativity is controlled insanity."

artemis31386
07-20-2011, 03:43 AM
I have to agree that there is a difference between wishing characters were real and believing them to be. I also agree with the saying that "writing is the only acceptable form of mental illness". The reason I agree is because there's not really any schizoaffective disorder tied to it, but a writer can tend to be obsessive and can also isolate themselves for hours.

But hey, we wouldn't be writers if we couldn't walk the thin line between art and madness right :-)

BunnyMaz
07-20-2011, 03:51 AM
There is also the assumption inherent in this concept that creativity exists mainly in those who use it for artistic pursuits. Plenty of incredibly creative people use their creativity to do everything from get out of doing chores to decorating their home to setting up a business.

Now, if you were to say that people with mental illness of certain manageable types may be more inclined to escape through creative pursuits, such as writing, I could see that. My personal brand of doctor-certified crazy and my childhood and adolescence spent escaping into my own head and writing about it are testimony to that. But cause and effect is still messed up.

My creative pursuits stemmed from the amount of time I spent in my own fantasy world, which stemmed from a desire to escape reality, which stemmed from the severe bullying I was experiencing, which stemmed from my innate inability to navigate complex adolescent social trends, which was at least partially related to my mental illness, the symptoms of which were exacerbated by the trauma stemming from the more severe sides to the bullying I experienced in a lovely little feedback loop that led to the creation of the worst Redwall-inspired book ever written by a sexually confused teenager which I later made damn sure I had destroyed every copy of.

Aaaaaaand breathe.

shadowwalker
07-20-2011, 04:07 AM
I find this near-flippancy about being 'crazy' quite insulting. There is no 'controlled insanity' unless one is on meds - and then it's maybe. There is no 'acceptable form' of mental illness. There should be no humor or winks about even the possibility of having a mental illness. But apparently it's still okay to make jokes about it, so my bad, right?

Jehhillenberg
07-20-2011, 04:17 AM
Ya got it backwards, if we don't write, we go crazy....

*sighing in relief* Yes.

Guardian
07-20-2011, 04:46 AM
I find this near-flippancy about being 'crazy' quite insulting. There is no 'controlled insanity' unless one is on meds - and then it's maybe. There is no 'acceptable form' of mental illness. There should be no humor or winks about even the possibility of having a mental illness. But apparently it's still okay to make jokes about it, so my bad, right?

I find this thread to be on the verge of insulting, also. But I've had far worse lies told about me because of my mental illness. Still not saying it's right, but.. *hugs*

Susan Littlefield
07-20-2011, 05:46 AM
Actually there is a high positive correlation on the link between mental illness and creativity. Yes, all types of people have mental illnesses, but creative types are more likely to have one. I did a paper on it for a psychology class once. People who are authors & artists are 80% more likely to have a mental illness compared to a scientist who has a 30% chance. :)

What are your sources for this information? I have a difficult time believing those stats.

Susan Littlefield
07-20-2011, 05:50 AM
Okay, so not so obvious.

My point is (and I doubt this was the OPs intention, but it clicked nevertheless) that many people seem to find MI somehow 'quirky' versus being a set of serious illnesses. Like so many celebrities who claim to have depression or be bi-polar as if it were something chic.

As you say, many different people in many different walks of life can be MI. Just because one writes is no indication one has, will have, or should have, a mental illness.

Thank you so much for clarifying. :)

Soccer Mom
07-20-2011, 07:02 AM
I find this near-flippancy about being 'crazy' quite insulting. There is no 'controlled insanity' unless one is on meds - and then it's maybe. There is no 'acceptable form' of mental illness. There should be no humor or winks about even the possibility of having a mental illness. But apparently it's still okay to make jokes about it, so my bad, right?

No. Not your bad. This thread really isn't doing anything constructive. Locking it.