Monday, December 13, 2010


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.


  1. Amber,

    That touches my heart when you say "I will always wonder why statistics choose my brother instead of me." I don't wish for sisters or brothers. I rather like being an only child, but if I had a sibling, I wish they would be like you. My Mom is very much like you. I know she would take my pain if she could. There is one thing you must be careful of, though. When you become an ederly woman, if Michael passes before you, clinical depression could set in because of your family history. All three times I was in the hospital for my mental illness, I met very sweet old ladies who couldn't handle their husbands deaths. Unlike Josh and my mental illness that will pass. It's just something to remember, but don't dwell on because you and your hubby are still very young.

    Another thing I wanted to say, is it's not good for anyone's mind to be constantly working. We live in a culutral that values productivty which could actually hurt us. Our minds were not made for that. In Women's Group (One of my group therapies) relaxation is number one on the list of things we need to do for ourselves. My Women's Group therapist said there is something of value if we can stare at a wall and just go blank for twenty mintues. Just remember that, k?

    Hugs my friend,

  2. Thank you Amanda. I agree with your comment about our culture but in my case I worry that the brain I was born with does make it easy to sit still :) I am glad to live in the country so I can show Lucas the quite side of things. I don't want to get sucked into the vortex that is technology. Need to get back to nature and regroup every so often. And lastly, I worry about my reaction to situations that involve grieving. I told my sister once that in my parents die, she will have to handle the funeral arrangements. But now, after dealing with my emotions with Josh, I think I am getting stronger and letting go to the idea that I cannot control everything.

  3. Bowie is one of the few people who has a very similar personality and taste in art like me.

    The fact that he never crossed the line into mental illness but came close a few times just scares me. If he had been diagnosed, I sort of assumed from what he said that he would have become mental. I think he figured out that if he was consciously aware of being schizophrenic like his brother, and had been diagnosed, that it would have changed him in many ways unimaginable.

    David Bowie is my idol too, and I look up to him everytime I feel as if I don't belong in this world, or whenever I feel nothing emotionally. He's always there to affect my mood in a positive way.

    I may be fifteen, but I've done my research.

    I know from the way I act almost all the time that I might have a few early symptoms of 'Undifferentiated- Type Schizophrenia.' It may just be my personality, but I won't know for sure until I'm older.

    Again, thank you David, for keeping me somewhat sane. :)

  4. Anonymous...very thoughtful comment. Realizing your own odd behavior and trying to seek help is very rare. I also wonder what creative genius would have been hindered had David been treated for any mental illness. Since mental illness runs in my family, I do wonder if my creativity is linked to that gene. I have been called WeIRD more times than I can count and often think, "what did I just say"...knowing that some of my thoughts sounds odd to others. But I embrace those oddities. Without them, we would not see progress. David is a symbol of how powerful artistic expression can be. Like myself, he may have some strange behavior linked to his genetic predisposition but was able to function and live life. Some do not have that luxury. Like my brother who is now in the hospital completely delusional and scared.

  5. I hear you loud and clear, my friend. I also have this need to be productive all of the time, half the time I'm not being actively productive, just thinking about it on a very intense level. I also have a history of mental illness on both sides of my family- mainly anxiety disorders. As a kid I had a very active imagination- I would lock myself in my room and draw draw draw and mae stories all of the time: noone was allowed to see them. I was also very competetive and easily spiteful. I got sad easily too, thought about death of people I loved alot. It's good to know their's someone out there that I can relate to. Especially my Idol.

  6. Anonymous

    I have an unstoppable brain creatively and destructive in equal measures, a faceted personna bi polar. Lately I don.t know quite who I think I am from minute to minute scary but vital. I like my crazy and hate it too, no one wantef to help me recently had to go it totally alone, I often wonder what might happen if I couldn.t afford the meds I take I suppose I would get picked up on someone,s radar in the end, after some bizzare behaviour or another. I wish I had the guts of David Bowie to have a vent