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Mental Illness and Writers

Hey everyone! So I know I skipped my Wednesday and Friday posts last week. Let's just say... it was a ridiculously stressful and busy week for me. I've barely gotten any consistent writing done in the past two weeks. October is shaping up to be more of a busy month than a writing month for me. At least I still have November and nanowrimo. I hope. Anyways, that's pretty much my writing update.

I'm not sure if I'll be posting on Friday since we're going to our grandparents tomorrow and on Friday so probably not. Sorry about that. Hopefully once this week is over I'll become more consistent in writing and blogging again.

This post is kind of short notice but this is a topic that I have found increasingly interesting over the past few months. I've noticed a trend in famous writers and other creatives. Mental illness. I, myself, struggle with depression and anxiety so mental illness is not new to me. I think this trend came to light when I read The Real Peter Pan (I know I bring this book up a lot and usually in a negative light but it was honestly a very interesting read). I expected it to be about the Davie brothers, specifically the young boy Michael who inspired Peter Pan but what I got out of the book was J. M. Barrie and how he suffered from mental illness as well.

Sadly, (I don't know the exact date but I've done a lot of research on this) I'd say those with mental illness were treated poorly or not treated at all before as late as the early twenty-first century to the late nineteen-sixties. There are countless stories of shock treatment, of children and adults with autism thrown out by families and put into institutions. Before Sigmund Freud most mentally ill cases weren't even treated, especially those with less shown mental illness such as anxiety, depression, and narcissism, bipolar disorder and many others that have more to do with mood. They called these individuals mostly neurotic, eccentric, odd, or out of place. They didn't know what else to call them or what to do with them so they just let these people live their lives. Some were crippled with depression and had no one to understand them, others had to live their whole lives with horrible anxiety that ran their lives without any medication or way to help them.

I'm not sure what J. M. Barrie had but I do know he had some sort of mental illness. He was extremely manipulative, a bit of a narcissist if not a bit, an extreme narcissist. He created extremely unhealthy relationships with the Davies boys and manipulated them throughout their whole lives. He used those little boy to tell the Peter Pan story. I think he had a hard time separating fantasy from reality and he was fixated on the second youngest Davies boy, Michael to an unhealthy degree. He did many very disturbing and manipulative, abusive things to these boys and yet his story Peter Pan is beloved to this day. Despite his mental illness and all he did to the Davies boys because his mental illness went unchecked J. M. Barrie is still known as one of the greatest play-writers of his time. Every little kid has either heard of or seen the Disney movie Peter Pan.

Just yesterday I wrote a short paper on Edgar Allan Poe. I'd heard of him here and there but for my World Fiction class I had to read his short story The Cask of Amontillado. It was dark and intriguing and so well written and it's themes were so deep. I looked up some of his other short stories and read through those. Most all of them were dark but I enjoyed them. So when I did my assignment I found an amazing paper on the life of Edgar Allan Poe. He was called neurotic, which back before the term mental illness neurosis was the umbrella term. The catch all term for people who are different or odd or eccentric. Alcoholism ran in his family and he got a taste for alcohol at a very young age. He had several family members who were called "eccentric" or "neurotic" and his younger sister was called "dull" and an "imbecile." She couldn't succeed in school, could not take care of herself or function "normally" in society so her family sent her off to an institution. Therefore I think it's a safe assumption to say that mental illness ran in the family, along with addiction.

The fact that his mother and father died at a young age and he was bounced from house to house did not help. Neither did the fact that his adoptive family the Allans saw how very smart and creative he was. He could memorize poetry easily and so at parties they showed him off like a prize. Instead of giving him the paternal love and affection that any child needs they bought him off with money. As  young adult he was seen as a spoiled brat. Yet again another case of mental illness in a wildly successful writer. Edgar Allan Poe is beloved and read to this day and is seen as one of the greatest writers of his time.

There's one more artist that I know a little about. Not as much as I know about J. M. Barrie and Edgar Allan Poe but enough. Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh, like Poe and Barrie is seen as one of the greatest artists of his time and of modern time. His work is admired and loved by many even now. He suffered from horrible depression. He was moody and would go into fits of crippling depression. The only way he made it through such awful depression was through his work. His work was not dark or tortured but full of light and color and beauty. Van Gogh painted himself out of his depression. Another great creative with mental illness.

Lewis Carroll was also dubbed "neurotic." Beatrice Potter was more comfortable with animals than people. A more modern author J. K. Rowling suffered from horrible depression. Writing the Harry Potter series was what helped her get past that depression. R. L. Stine sad that he never had a lot of friends, the other kids thought that he was weird because he was such a dreamer. He didn't fit in to the rest of society. I could go on and on. As I read more and more about different famous authors the more and more I realize that mental illness is a trend. If your a born writer or painter, born with the gift to paint or to tell stories or just born with a creative bone in your body I think it's a pretty good assumption that you have some form of mental illness. It doesn't even have to be as prominent as Poe or Rowling or Barrie.

To me all of these stories of these famous writers and artists is comforting. It's almost like it's a trade off. Do you want to be dull and boring, a normal person who doesn't have anything creative or amazing or fantastical about them and not have mental illness? To not have to suffer through panic attacks and cry yourself to sleep at night because you think your such a horrible person. Or do you want to have an incredible mind that sees beyond what society is supposed to be. Do you want a mind that sees the fantastical and magical and incredible in everything you look at but to have to deal with the effects of different medications because you can't stand always feeling so anxious around people or crying yourself to sleep or being unable to think "normally" because your mind is always racing with the next awful scenario that could happen? I don't know about you but I'd rather live with my depression and anxiety and fight them every day just so I can keep my mind that sees magic in falling leaves or a story in a falling apart building.

If you have mental illness or you just could never fit in with "normal society" because you brain works differently than know that your in good company and that you are not alone. It's better to be different and to see the world in a more beautiful way than to be fit in and see the world the same way as everyone else. Your mental illness does not run your life. It does not define you. It can be impossible sometimes. You feel like you can't do this anymore. You're done. You're ready to quit but remember that that mental illness gives you a unique perspective and allows you to write incredible stories that no one else can write. That mental illness allows you to paint or draw sprawling landscapes or magical creatures or people in such a unique way that maybe in twenty-thirty years later people will be lining up out the door to check out your works of art. That mental illness makes it so you can write and get into your characters headspace and world more intensely than others. It gives you a unique and incredible gift that is almost supernatural. Mental illness or not fitting in means that you can suspend reality and forget about all the crap going on in your life. Writing and drawing and painting gives you an outlit to forget about your anxiety and depression and allows you to live as a character who is strong and brave, who can fight when you feel like you can't.

I know this is a long rambling post and some of it may not make sense and I could write a whole huge essay on this topic but I felt that this was important to write about. I needed to share my discovery and I hope that this gives you some encouragement. If you've always felt like you never fit in that's ok because neither did R. L. Stine and he wrote the widely popular Goosebump series. I know that having my anxiety and depression to help me become a better writer is comforting to me. Or the other way around. Writing gives me an outlit to hash out all the negative and bad thoughts bouncing around in my brain and I am eternally grateful that I was given the gift of writing.

Anyways, I hope this post is helpful and interesting to you. Have you a great week!


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