Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bipolar--The Creative Side-Famous People

A couple of weeks ago there was an article in Newsweek titled “Madman in Chief.” The article was based on the new book “A First Rate Madness” by Nassair Ghaemi, director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tuffs Medical Center. He argues that what sets apart the worlds greatest leaders isn’t some splendidly healthy mind BUT an exceptionally broken one, coupled with good luck to lead when extremity is needed. “Our greatest crisis leaders toll in sadness when society is happy,” writes Ghaemi. “Yet when calamity occurs, if they are in a position to act, they can lift up the rest of us.” He states that what we need for these calamitous times is a calamitous mind, a madman chief in chief, someone whose abnormal brain can solve our abnormal problems. The doctor isn’t saying that all mental illness is a blessing. Only that the common diseases of the mind-mania, depression, and related quirks-should not disqualify one from the top position of the country.


Ghaemi is not the first, by any means, to claim that madness is a close relative of genius. Many poets, painters, actors and composers throughout history have had depression or mania. 


“Men have called me mad," wrote Edgar Allan Poe, “but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence...whether much that is glorious--whether all that is profound--does not spring from disease of thought..."


Many people have long shared Poe's suspicion that genius and insanity are entwined, writes psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison, international authority on mental illness. Many poets, painters and composers throughout history have had depression or mania. Some researchers believe that mood disorders allow people to think more creatively and to experience a broad range of intense emotions.


Here's a glimpse of just a few of the gifted and successful figures of our times who have lived with mental illness. (1)

Anna Marie Patty Duke Pearce, Award-winning star of television, Broadway and film; author and spokesperson for mental health: After years of turmoil, she was diagnosed with manic depression (bipolar disorder) "She credits Lithium with keeping her symptoms under control. "No more crazy highs, no more suicidal lows. It's given me a life!" Anna said about her successful treatment.


Winston Churchill 1874-1965, Prime Minister (U.K.): "Had he been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgment might well have concluded that we were finished," wrote Anthony Storr about Churchill's bipolar disorder in Churchill's Black Dog, Kafka's Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind.


Brian Wilson, founding member, producer, composer, and arranger for The Beach Boys: "I went through times that were so scary that I wasn't sure I'd make it through," he recalls in a story in The Los Angeles Times: But he returned triumphant to the stage, having "emerged from his darkest, most paralyzing blue period to again celebrate his music - and the human spirit - with his fans."


Robert Munsch, beloved and best-selling children's author, of such delightful and irreverent books as Mortimer, The Paper Bag Princess and Love You Forever. “About grade seven or eight, things started getting weird and wonky,” he says. “I'd feel great for two weeks, then horribly depressed for two weeks.…" Munsch says he's not classic bipolar, “I'm depressed more than I'm up.” Antidepressant medication has worked well for Munsch, softening his moods but not stifling his creativity.

Art Buchwald, writer, Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist: Buchwald's career, built upon his razor-sharp wit, includes 30 books and syndication in 500+ newspapers. He talks openly about "the black pit" of his mental illness, having been hospitalized for depression in 1963 and for manic depression in 1987. Since his recovery, he has used his high-profile status to educate the public about mental health issues, especially about stigmatization of mental illness in the workplace and the ways it affects employee promotion, job security and work relationships.



Carrie Fisher, actress and author renowned as Princess Leia in Star Wars and daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, was diagnosed as manic-depressive at age 24. In her book Postcards from the Edge and the film it inspired, she wrote about her rehab, electroshock treatment and recovery from her illness and her drug addictions. She has started in countless films and television shows and her memoirs and novels have been best-sellers.


Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States:  In Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, author Joshua Wolf Shenk writes: "Sometimes, a impenetrable fog seemed to settle around him... [At times] Lincoln sunk into a deep depression which deeply worried his friends and led in 1841 to aggressive medical treatment which probably made him worse.


Ernest Hemingway: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1952), and the Nobel Prize in Literature (1954), the novelist's suicidal depression is examined in The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him by Denis Brian.


Mike Wallace, Co-Editor of 60 Minutes "On two or three occasions, I came very, very close [to suicide]. But, when I got the right help and treatment, I was able to put that behind me....There's nothing, repeat, nothing to be ashamed of when you're going through a depression. If you get help, the chances of your licking it are really good….[Having battled depression] I'm more compassionate, I'm more understanding and, ultimately, my life has been a lot fuller because I experienced this," he says in an interview with CBSCares.


Dave Matthews, chart-topping musician, composer: "I was depressed. It was not a good time for me," he told Rolling Stone magazine. "I was feeling remarkably alone… I don't want to be someone who writes about how sad I am, I'd rather write…with some sort of strength. Otherwise, I don't think there's any gift - or offering - being made. I would like to be an inspiring force." A new album, with an entirely new sound, essentially saved Dave's life; he finally felt good about what he'd accomplished.

Judy Garland, singer, Oscar-winning actress: Performing from the age of two, she starred in countless musical films and thrilled audiences with her live performances. She led a life of great highs and deep lows; through it all though, her inestimable talent shown.



William Styron, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist: After being fired from McGraw-Hill for tossing balloons out an office window, he co-founded the Paris Review. His books included The Confessions of Nat Turner, about black slavery, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1968, and Sophie's Choice, which was made into a powerful and moving film.

After "having trudged upward out of hell's black depths," he wrote Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness in 1990, an uplifting and probing look at depression. He died in 2006 of pneumonia.



Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals pitcher, winner of the 2009 American League Cy Young Award: Greinke says he'd prefer to remain anonymous when he's not on the mound. He quit baseball for six weeks in 2006 when he was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, for which he received treatment. Still extremely shy, he says he’s uncomfortable being around people. "I really don't like having a bunch of attention.”


Emily Dickinson, Nineteenth century poet: In her later years she would sometimes refuse to see visitors that came to her home, only talking to them from behind a door…After the late 1860's, she never left the bounds of the family property, occupying herself with her poetry, letters, baking, and tending the family garden. The most prevalent speculation is that Emily Dickinson suffered from some form of agoraphobia or anxiety disorder.


Kim Basinger, Academy Award-winning actress: `It can hit at any time,'' she says. ``You feel like you're in an open field, and there's a tornado coming at you. And you're just consumed by it.'' Even though her career was booming, she felt crippled and became so depressed she considered suicide. "My therapy was about awareness and education. And it lessened those horrible panic attacks,'' she says, adding that she has learned to face her fears and has regained control of her life.


Carly Simon, Grammy and Academy Award-winning singer-composer: Anxiety, depression and stage fright have haunted her for years. An early '80s concert tour was suddenly canceled when the pop star collapsed backstage. "I was lost. I really was lost." After surviving personal losses and cancer, Simon continues to be successful." I hope that people will be subtly changed by what I've said or written or composed."


Charles Schulz, cartoonist, internationally renowned creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip: He won the Reuben Award, comic art's highest honor; International Cartoonist of the Year award; and an Emmy for "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Despite the success, Schulz struggled with depression and anxiety, according to his biographer, Rheta Grimsley Johnson. But the struggle only improved his work, she found, as he poured those feelings of rejection and uncertainty into the strip and turned Charlie Brown into Everyman.


Eugene O'Neill, famous playwright, author of "Long Day's Journey into Night," and "Ah, Wilderness!” came from a deeply troubled family background, suffering from clinical depression the greater portion of his life. His most famous plays were written between 1935 and 1943 despite persistent mental illness. He is the only American playwright to have won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, prof. of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, author of many books on mental illness. Dr. Jamison has bipolar illness herself and has attempted suicide. Her book "Touched With Fire," lists and describes many famous persons whose lives have been changed by bipolar illness.


Isaac Newton, most famous mathematician of the 17th Century was responsible for many scientific discoveries we take for granted today such as the "corrected" Gregorian calendar date. Newton’s greatest mathematical discovery was the gravitational relationship between the earth and the moon, and of centrifugal force. Newton was well educated, had access to the best knowledge of his day and was wealthy in later life. He suffered from several “nervous breakdowns” in his life and was known for great fits of rage towards anyone who disagreed with him which some have labeled Bipolar Disorder which was unknown at the time. In 1705 Newton was the first Scientist to be knighted by Queen Anne for his great scientific contributions.


Jane Pauley, NBC news broadcaster, since the age of 25, talks candidly about her depression and bipolar illnesses. In her new book, "Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue."she tells about her childhood and family problems, and how she discovered her need for medication to control mood swings.


John Nash, Nobel Prize Winner in mathematics, has faced a lifelong battle with schizophrenia. He was known as the “Phantom of Fine Hall” at Princeton where his reclusive, ghost like figure could be seen roaming around, leaving messages of his mathematical genus on the boards of empty classrooms. His struggle was well documented in the book "A Beautiful Mind," by Sylvia Nasar which was later made into a movie by the same name.


Linda Hamilton, actress, has gone public with her diagnosis of bi-polar disorder diagnosed at a young age. Hamilton, well known for her part with Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Terminator" movies explains how helpful medication has been for her and that she understands she will have to be on medication for the rest of her life.


Lionel Aldridge, a football player for the Green Bay Packers during the 1960's, developed paranoid schizophrenia and was homeless for 2 1/2 years. “Once I accepted and cooperated with the treatment, I started to beat the illness.” he said. He now speaks to groups to help them better understand mental illness. He states that he is completely symptom free and that helping others understand mental illness is “therapy” for him.


Ludwig van Beethoven, composer, had bipolar disorder which some have said gave him such creative power that his compositions broke the mold for classical music forever. He was a child prodigy which his father tried to exploit. His “manic” episodes seemed to fuel his creativity. He wrote his most famous works during times of torment, loneliness, and suffering psychotic delusions.

It took him 12 years to finish his last and 8th Symphony in total deafness. He then medicated himself with the only drugs available in that day to bring some relief opium and alcohol and died several years later of liver disease.



Vincent Van Gogh, famous painter and artist was labeled peculiar with unstable moods most of his short life. He suffered from epileptic seizures some believe from excesses of absinthe, very strong liquor popular among talented people for inspiring greater creativity. Many have tried to give a definitive diagnosis of his illness through reading his personal letters. From them it seems clear that his depressive states were also accompanied by manic episodes of enormous energy and great passion. Van Gogh committed suicide at age 37.


Virginia Woolf, the British novelist, born of privilege, experienced the mood swings of bipolar disorder her entire life. She wrote to make sense out of her mental chaos and gain control of madness; and was greatly admired for her creative insight into human nature. She was tolerated by friends and family, receiving great care and understanding during her entire life and because of this, never had to face institutionalization, the only medical “treatment” in those days. She died by her own hand by filling her pockets with stones and walking into a nearby river. The cause of death was determined as "Suicide, while the balance of her mind was disturbed."


Vivien Leigh, actress made famous by her leading role in "Gone With the Wind" and her creative genius for stage and screen, suffered from serious bouts of manic depression, tuberculosis, and poor health her entire life. It was, in fact, because of her illness, that she was frequently cast into roles that required a personal experience of the torment that comes from the experience of this disease.


Vivien was once able to make a full recovery after shock treatments, only to succumb some years later. A nervous breakdown associated with a miscarriage proved to be the unraveling of her marriage with actor Lawrence Olivier who continued to be a devoted friend. She was finally diagnosed with cyclical manic-depression with hallucinations and had to be confined to a nursing home only to recover and return to the screen for her last movie. Leigh finally succumbed to the tuberculosis at the young age of 53 of while filming “The Ship of Fools”. She became known and admired for her ability to fulfill her passionate dream for stardom despite her TB and debilitating manic-depression.


William Styron, author, writes about his own depression in his book, "Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness," and his decision to seek help. His earlier works which he wrote prior to his diagnosis and admission of his illness described with uncanny accuracy, the symptoms and the problems he would experience later in his life. He was one of the first to write about other famous persons who struggled with mental illness and for explaining the almost unexplainable experience of a brain disorder to those who had never experienced it in a way which gained their sympathy and admiration.


Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain who, as one of the “Big Three” (Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) to lead the world to the defeat of Hitler in WWII, told in his own writings of suffering from “black dog” Churchill’s term for severe and serious depression. Less often talked about are his writings of how he often self-medicated with alcohol to deal with these times. Like so many other famous people with a mental illness, he was able to make the great contribution he did through sheer personal determination. There was a nation, he said, and a world depending on his efforts to lead Britain and the world in the defeat of their common and formidable enemy of Nazism.


See! We need to keep this article in front of us at all times! Does it mean that we are also geniuses? No, of coarse not. But, if nothing else, it gives me hope knowing that the greatest people of all times experienced exactly what I am going through everyday. Maybe there is hope for me after all. I still have not found “my special talent’ but who knows?


Just maybe….

(1) http://moodletter.com/GeniusMentalIllness.htm
(2) http://bipolarbatesy.blogspot.com/2011/06/famous-bipolar-people.html

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