Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The link between successful writers and mental illness. Yes, there is one.

Oh boy! As if we didn’t have enough problems – network notes, agents not returning our calls, Final Draft 9 -- a new study is linking writers to mental illness. Swell. Xanex, anyone?

Andreas Fink at the University of Graz in Austria (which is why their basketball team in not in the NCAA tourney this weekend), found a relationship between the ability to dream up ideas and the inability to turn off that function in the brain that is always thinking. (those who can turn off their thinking portions of their brains are called Trump supporters.) We writers are constantly making associations between external events and internal memories. Make it stop!

Another study claimed successful individuals were eight times more likely as “regular” people to suffer from a serious depressive illness (which is good because if Trump gets elected there will be no health care).

Lots of successful scribes have battled with extreme depression. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Twain, Dickinson, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill – just pick any writer Woody Allen reveres.

The theory as to why there is rampant depression is the following: We think a lot, we’re often isolated, and we tend to be narcissists. And that’s for the good writers. Imagine how much worse it is for shitty writers.

Rewriting also leads to our madness. It requires near obsession and self-criticism – bad qualities if you want mental well-being or to work at Disneyland. This surprises me because rewriting is always such fun.

And then this from the article I read: “Writers are often such terrible lovers because they treat real people as characters, malleable and at their authorial will.” We’re bad lovers TOO?

That’s a lot to sacrifice for (non-existent) cable residuals.

And don’t get the researchers started on alcohol use.

Still, every profession comes with its price. I don’t see many happy plumbers. And the big problem for me is: yes, writing causes depression, but I would be more depressed if I couldn’t write.

20 comments:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

"I haven't met many happy people," Meg Tilly's character observes in THE BIG CHILL. "How do they act?"

I think frustrated writers like to imagine successful ones miserable.

wg

Paul Duca said...

Some think Robert Lowell wasn't as good a poet after he started being treated for his bi-polar disorder..

kent said...

There haven't been any happy plumbers since the Nixon administration.

kent said...

If it's any consolation my profession, trial lawers, have a shorter life expectancy (51 years). Also higher rates of alcoholism and divorce. So cheer up!

JC said...

I run a forum for writers, and in our off topic section someone started a thread for anxiety. There was a huge chunk of the board suffering from diagnosed anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. We all started questioning whether people who were creative were more prone to mental illness or whether having a mental illness made us seek out creative pastimes to alleviate the suffering. I think it's a bit of both, myself. But it really doesn't surprise me that writers suffer a lot. I think the isolation is a huge part of that.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Many Stand up Comics tend to suffer from depression. And many state they are only, truly happy when they are getting laughs while performing.

I'm thinking of the Robin Williams, Lenny Bruce, Chris Farleys, Wayne Brady, Greg Giraldo...

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/deal-comedians-depression/story?id=24945911
http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/wayne-brady-robin-williams-comedians-depression/

Kosmo13 said...

“Writers are often such terrible lovers because they treat real people as characters, malleable and at their authorial will.”

I've heard lots of writers, successful or otherwise, say they are often surprised by the things their characters do and have to alter their writing to accommodate the choices the characters make. If writers don't even try to control their own fictional characters, I don't think the writers would try to control real people either.

JudgeM said...

Friday question:
Hi Ken, any thoughts on the state of late-night TV comedy, now that all the shifts/new hosts/new networks/etc have kind of settled into their respective ruts? For me, the biggest surprise is James Corden and his success in the digital realm.
The biggest disappointment is Colbert and his lack of success in that same realm as well as with the traditional Nielsen ratings, the muddled tone/voice of his new show and the lack of buzz that he hasn't enjoyed since the show premiered last September. And he's my favorite!!! But if there still is hope for smart, biting and often hilarious comedy in last night TV, I'm on Team Sam Bee. I bet the executives at Comedy Central are kicking themselves for not giving her first shot at The Daily Show, which, as you mentioned earlier this week, is no longer a "thing".

tb said...

Pleases keep blogging during your hilarious descent into madness

BigTed said...

I wonder how much of this is related to the fact that all except the most successful writers -- and even some of the successful ones -- have very little control over their own work and careers. They're bossed around by business-side people and "managers" with far less understanding (but often far more self-confidence). That's true for screenwriters, of course, but also most novelists, journalists and magazine/web feature writers. The rise in self-publishing, self-production and self-distribution technologies have made working for yourself easier -- but if you actually want to make a living as a writer, you're still likely to be toiling under someone else's (or many other people's) authority.

bruce said...

Being a writer carries the added stress of not simply experiencing life, but also observing and then analyzing it, and sieving its events for later use. The self-consciousness wears one down.

William Gallagher said...

Ken, the links in this don't work, at least for me. It looks like they should both point to:
http://thoughtcatalog.com/cody-delistraty/2014/03/the-neurological-similarities-between-successful-writers-and-the-mentally-ill/

You've got to be looking at that and thinking it's precisely what you had but for some reason the links on your page have a subtle difference: they've got a peculiar string of characters at the end. It looks like it could even be a password so in case you just pasted that by accident and need to remove it fast, I'll not repeat it here.

William

Johnny Walker said...

You mean there are people whose brains aren't constantly thinking about everything, obsessing about everything, analysing everything? What do they do they think about??

In all seriousness, I think this is why meditation is so popular with artists in Hollywood. Martin Scorcese, Jerry Seinfeld, David Lynch, etc., all swear by TM. It allows you to not be overwhelmed by the thoughts you have. Like Zoloft and therapy without the expense and side-effects.

Nothing you think is worth getting depressed about, although it's hard to see that sometimes.

MikeK.Pa. said...

I'm sure it's a lot higher among actors. Probably lowest among grips and gaffers.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Johnny: big difference between meditation and TM...

I think one thing that gets left out of such studies is the fact that writers and other artists have lot more freedom (both internal and external) to be open about mental illness and other emotional difficulties. Plus, they're disproportionately studied because people think what we all do is so *weird*. Until you have similar studies of tax inspectors, Wal-Mart cashiers, etc., you just can't definitively say there's a special link for writers.

wg

Johnny Walker said...

Hi Wendy, I'm intrigued as to why you think there's a big difference between meditation and TM. There's many different types of meditation (concentration, loving kindness, noting, etc.), TM is just one form of meditation (it seems like it's really just mantra wrapped up in a fee to me). The reason I mentioned TM over another form of meditation is that's the one used by the people I mentioned, and apparently works for lots of people, but anyone is free to practice whatever form they feel works for them. It's all meditation...

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Johnny: there's been a lot written in skeptical circles about some of the claims TM makes, which go well beyond the normal claims made for meditation (such as stress reduction, etc.). At one time, TM claimed that its most expert members experienced "yogic flying", and that a certain percentage of TMers in an area would cause the crime rate to drop. Plus, there's the fees you mentioned, which led a number of people to call it a "cult". Kind of off-topic here, though - we can take this to email if you like.

wg

Johnny Walker said...

It's a bit off topic, but it's ok. I just wanted to hear your thoughts. I'm sure there's some idiotic claims made by those who represent TM, and I do have reservations about the fee, but provided people just go along for the course (and can afford it), learn mantra meditation and get on with their lives, then it should be fine.

Common sense should hopefully keep you from some of the more outlandish claims, and you will find similar claims in other forms of meditation literature if you go searching -- it largely depends on who is doing the teaching. Modern mindfulness meditation tend to avoid anything non-scientific, which is great for Western tastes. (Although i have my reservations about MCBT, too -- they should be more open about the difficult times you can have on the path to peace.)

Anyway, to me TM is a bit like the Apple of the meditation world: Overpriced in a technical sense, and sometimes they like to make out that they've invented everything, but in the end it's a smoother experience for most people. Just don't get sucked into buying everything they try to sell.

(One day I'll have to pay for one of their courses and see for myself.)

I guess I had more to say than I thought. Oops :-/

Tom Quigley said...

So that explains it. Jeez, I could have saved myself several thousand dollars in therapy...

Gordon Hilgers said...

I disagree with the narcissist part of this. I am a writer, and a pretty good one. I suffer from Bipolar I, and if not treated, my illness can be uncomfortable and unbearable--both to myself and to others. Yes, there is a link between highly creative people--especially writers and, more so, poets--but we have to remember that depressive disorders, especially manic-depression, are PHYSICAL illnesses that manifest and present in ways that affect both our ability to relate to the world emotionally, in in more difficult episodes, reasonably. I simply do not buy the hokum that mental illness is somehow a byproduct of writing or of writing poetry or being creative at all. People with affective disorders tend to be quite sensitive and often do not fit into occupational profiles that are too narrow for them.