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Psych meds dull my creativity

26 February 2013

From a letter to Salon’s advice columnist:

In the last 18 months as my psych meds have been continually increased due to my symptoms worsening, I’ve found myself unable to create at all. I can’t focus on any one art form, and lack the motivation to even try to create. I bought a new bass and a new amplifier last year and I’ve barely touched them. My craft supplies sit unused. And while I’m in the process of digging out my old sewing machine, I fear that this will just be one more thing that goes nowhere. I’m on disability and spend much of my days in a struggle to focus on the simplest things.

It is clear to me that most of the issue is due to my psych meds. But changing them is out of the question. Being a bump on a log beats riding the bipolar roller coaster all the way to the psychiatric hospital and many days are a struggle regardless.

Link to the rest at Salon

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17 Comments to “Psych meds dull my creativity”

  1. Being a genius is a lot of work. Sometimes you can get the same feeling of satisfaction just making somebody a cup of coffee.

    I’m glad nobody told this to Jonas Salk.

  2. I was touched by your openness on this little status comment. I went through a rough time a few years ago and was contemplating taking meds for depression. I stopped short out of fear that such meds would take my edge from me. My condition, it appears, has gone away and I never had to find out on my own if the meds would indeed take away my creativity or fire or passion. I realize our situations are different but I appreciate you being so honest about your experience. Thanks again for sharing. Take care.

  3. Did anybody else want to hit the advice columnist?

    • Yeah. More than a few times.

      Pouring a cup of coffee? Seriously?

    • Definitely. At the least the columnist could have admitted the question was way above his pay grade & solicited some advice from professional therapists before answering. Instead he pulls something out of his ass & dresses it in flowery language as if he were explaining to little Johnny why life is sometimes unfair.

      But even the professionals don’t get it right, sometimes because they’re human, more often because they don’t understand the creative personality. When a person has been creative for years, & due to medication she or he loses that creative power, it is a serious issue but they can’t relate.

      I really wish I could give the person who wrote for help some useful advice, because she (I’m guessing here) is in a much darker world than she needs to be.

  4. I managed to write while on meds for a few years, but it became clear last year that a) I no longer needed the meds except on rare occasions and b) they DID stifle my creativity so that I was to a point where I couldn’t get into any story ideas that sparked. I have done all I can to avoid going back on them. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need medication for a mental disorder. Depression is nasty. But sometimes, you have to weigh what’s worse–the cure or the disease.

  5. Good point Melanie. I sure did not mean to turn this in to a advice column by commenting. Apparently I need to make others more coffee. Getting right on that now. Cheers……

    • No problem. And I just read an article today (linked by Mike Stackpole) that coffee helps with mood and brain power (and metabolism). Go drink that coffee and enjoy it–you’re boosting your creativity :)

  6. Due to an eye injury, I was on quite heavy doses of Vicodin for about 2 months–during which time I was mentally very foggy and confused. What I hadn’t expected, though, was that it took me several months to recover mentally from all that dosing. For about 4 months afterwards, I had consistent trouble with a number of mental tasks (ex. calculating the tip on a restaurant bill, reading a map, following directions) that normally have no problems with. And my work definitely suffered. In particular, I mostly write comedy, and I wound up writing 3.5 drafts of the opening chapters of my next novel, over a period of several months, because the first two drafts were sluggish and completely unfunny, and the third draft was closer but not quite there. So the after-effects of taking (quite a lot of) Vicodin really affected my work for a while.

    So it’s clear to me that I could face serious creative problems if I developed a chronic pain condition–and I can’t imagine the difficulties of writing while on psych drugs. So my sincere sympathies to anyone struggling with this.

    • I can rarely write if my allergies are acting up. Unfortunately, the solution (antihistamines) makes it just as, if not more, difficult for me to write at all.

      From about Thanksgiving to sometime mid-January, I was very sick and on cough and allergy meds of all kinds just so I could operate enough to get out of bed. Now I’m down to very sporadically taking allergy meds when my eyes start watering or my throat starts getting scratchy and I was wondering why in the “not taking anything” periods I wasn’t getting much of any writing done.

      So, I mean – thank you for mentioning that it may take quite awhile for it to get out of your system after you stop taking meds.

    • I’m currently on a mild anti-depressant and I found it extremely helpful and a boost to my creativity, mainly because I have more energy and simply more spoons available on a daily basis. Before that daily chores were already a struggle. I know the same thing (more energy, more spoons for creativity) happened to a friend of mine, so I think it can go either way.

      The cold I had in December/January though knocked me out and it took a while to get back on my feet again.

  7. I have bipolar disorder, and something that is NOT really discussed a lot in regards to treatment of mental illness in general is that, generally speaking, you have options with meds. I have known people that have stayed on the first med they were prescribed for years even through horrid side effects when there were a dozen other meds they could have tried. Of course, some people have other factors that limit the meds they can try, but “psych meds will kill your creativity” is something I have heard repeated ever since I was a teen, and it’s not necessarily true. But since people accept it as a natural consequence of psych medication, they don’t think to ask for other options.

    I’ve been on multiple different psych meds. I’ve gone off some because of side effects. But when I first got treated for bipolar? I was finally able to write again because I wasn’t having the constant ups and downs that made me hate my work. Treatment gave me back my writing, and I had avoided it for several years because I was afraid of losing it.

    I hope the person who wrote in for advice is able to talk to their doc and ask about other options.

  8. On the flip side, there are those who hesitate to give up alcohol, nicotine, and narcotics for the exact opposite reason–fear that they won’t be able to create without it. Stephen King talks about this in On Writing as well as his road to recovery. As severe as his addictions were, it’s hard to fathom how he could actually drink/drug and write at the same time.

    • Stephen King also admitted he barely remembered writing “Cujo” during some of the worst of it.

      I’ve no doubt the drink/drugs had an effect on his writing. But as he and many others have noted, there’s sometimes the romantic notion that writers *have* to drink or do other things to excess to achieve authenticity and reach that elusive inner-voice.

      I’ve noticed an evolution in King’s writing before, during, and after his heavy drinking/drug period. The early novels (when he was only drinking) had an intensity about them, and bad things would happen but it was tempered by hope. King has never had a problem killing off main characters (sometimes, as in “The Dead Zone” – *the* main character). But mostly these novels offered some hope or redemption.

      The drug period of the 1980s brought a darker side to his writing. There were some notable non-redemptive stories – particularly “Cujo” and “Pet Sematary” and to a lesser degree “The Tommyknockers”. Some really brilliant works throughout this period and a wide variety.

      After he dropped the drugs and drinking through his wife’s and friends’ intervention, I saw a new burst of creativity in his writing and a real tone shift. He got very experimental and broadened his approach, and developed his styles even more.

      • It took time before he could write again, but I believe that has more to do with the drug induced fog lifting and the brain cells resurfacing slowly, than the lack of any substance. He also said he suffered from depression during that time. I agree with your assessment of the work. He wrote The Green Mile clean and sober. IMO, one of his very best.

  9. Wow, so true. My best book was written when I was depressed, had a broken shoulder, took care of a 18 month old toddler, and went through a period of extreme stress with no meds. In 2012 I was severely depressed to the point I couldn’t function at work or socially, so I went on medication, and now I feel like the voices in my head and my muse have died a terrible death. Writing is extremely difficult. Though I finally feel like a rational person, happy again, able to get up and not think about doing myself in, I’m depressed in a different sort of way that I have a book to finish and my writer’s block is called anti-depressants. It’s obvious that it affects us differently.

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