CREATIVE GENIUS AND MENTAL ILLNESS
As a child, I often wondered what attracted me to the arts. I remember filling pages upon pages of sketchbooks in the comfort of my solitude (well, alone my bedroom). I was often teased for listening to classical music starting at the age of 12 but didn't really care. Other times, I would beg my parents to take me to theatrical plays. It was evident that my wandering mind could not be tamed by TV or video games. Instead, I would conjure up some sort of script or variety show which my siblings to bring to life. And yes, I have been called WEIRD more times that I can count.
One task I always find difficult is trying to turn my mind OFF. To this day, I still have this intense need to create at ALL times (sewing, painting, directing, drawing, designing (interior/graphic/textile), the list goes on). Some may view creativity as a blessing but trust me, it can be a curse. If I sit for too long, I feel like I am a failure...unproductive. As soon as I saw a genetic link between mental illness and my family, I began to understand why my own mind would not rest.
While researching for a documentary, I have yet to finish, I discovered how many artists are haunted by the same genetic link to mental illness. I understand their need to release pain/creativity through various forms of art. As soon as my brother became ill and fear of the unknown was looming, I turned to art & design to make my mind calm again. You can see/hear the result here. David Bowie (one of my idols) has stated that there is a strong link to mental illness within his family. The following are a few facts to support this claim:
“David’s mother, Peggy, a former cinema usher, was more colorful. According to several reliable witnesses and institutional records, there was more than a streak of mental instability in her family. Bowie’s Aunt Una suffered from clinical depression and schizophrenia, underwent electric shock treatment and died in her late 30s. A second aunt, Vivienne, suffered a schizophrenic attack, and a third, Nora, was lobotomized in an effort to cure what her mother described as ‘bad nerves’.
Unfortunately, the family “condition”, as it was known, was again at work. In his mid-20s, Terry, David's half brother, was diagnosed as a manic depressive and schizophrenic, and was eventually institutionalized. One snowy morning in January 1985, he climbed over the wall of a psychiatric hospital in Surrey and walked to the nearby station, where he lay down on the track directly in the path of the oncoming London express train.
Terry was 47. David didn’t attend the funeral but sent a wreath of roses and a card which read: “You’ve seen more things than we could imagine but all these moments will be lost, like tears washed away by the rain. God bless you - David.”
Eight years later Bowie admitted: “It scared me. I felt my own mind was in question. I often wondered how near the line I was going - how far I should push myself.” Ziggy and the other characters, he explained, had been “alternative egos”, a form of madness through which he had meant to preserve his sanity. David Bowie never crossed the divide into mental illness. But he shared a number of the quirks shown by his maternal family. He would suddenly burst into tears, for example, and was said to have had a particularly active imagination. One family friend told me that, as a four or five-year-old, David had phoned to summon the local ambulance one night, and successfully persuaded the operator that he was “dying”.
That Bowie was conscious of his heritage seems obvious from the number of songs he wrote touching on lunacy or schizophrenia. Of the Oh! You Pretty Things lyrics, Bowie said: “I hadn’t been to an analyst - my parents went, my brothers and sisters and my aunts and uncles and cousins, they did that. They ended up in a much worse state. I thought I’d write my problems out.”
I am in no way trying to comparing my artistic talents to that of Bowie but think it is interesting how creativity may be genetically linked to mental illness. When it comes to the illness, I guess I will always wonder why statistics chose my brother instead of me. If I could take even part of this from him, I would.