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Madness and Creativity
Madness and Creativity
Jed Diamond, Ph.D. has been a health-care professional for more than 40 years. He is the author of 9 books, including Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, Male Menopause, The Irritable Male Syndrome, and Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome . He offers counseling to men, women, and couples in his office in California or by phone with people throughout the U.S. and around the world. To receive a Free E-book on Men’s Health and a free subscription to Jed’s enewsletter go to http://facebook.com/menalivenow. If you enjoy my articles, please subscribe. I write to everyone who joins my Scribd team. My new book, my 10th, on Energy Medicine for Men is due for publication in the fall, 2011 or spring 2012.
It was a great mistake, my being born a man. I would have been much more successful as a sea gull or a fish. As it is, I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death! --Eugene O’Neill Long Day’s Journey into Night There are many famous examples of these traits running in families. The Hemingway family was devastated by the destructiveness of these traits. Ernest Hemmingway, who committed suicide at age 61, is thought to have used the same shotgun that his father used to end his own life 33 years earlier. Hemingway’s brother and sister also committed suicide. His father, physician Dr. Clarence Hemingway, suffered from violent mood swings and erratic behavior. Margaux Hemingway, one of Ernest’s granddaughters, struggled with bulimia and alcoholism. She was found dead during the summer of 1996, at the age of 41.
It isn’t coincidence that so many creative people also suffer from mood disorders. The same emotional sensitivity that causes us so much pain when we react strongly to even minute changes in our internal and external environment also allows us to have a special sensitivity to the human condition. “We of the craft are all crazy,” remarked Lord Byron about himself and his fellow poets. “Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.”i In her book Touched by Fire, author Kay Redfield Jamison, offers an indepth look at the connection between the artistic temperament and mood. Some of the most well-known men and women in the arts have suffered from mood disorders as well as creating some of the most important art of our times. Many of my favorite poets and writers are included: Hans Christian Andersen, Honore de Balzac, John Berryman, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Joseph Conrad, Hart Crane, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Isak Dinesen, T.S. Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Faulker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Hesse, Victor Hugo, Henry James, William James, John Keats, Robert Lowell, Herman Melville, Eugene O’Neil, Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dylan Thomas, Leo Tolstoy, Walt Whitman, Tennessee Williams, Mary Wollencraft, Virginia Woolf, and Emile Zola.ii
My Father, My Son, Myself I’ve been interested in this topic since I was 5 years old when my midlife father tried to commit suicide. As an adult I found a number of journals he had kept during those early years of my childhood. They helped me understand the pain he was going through and set me on a journey that has shaped my personal and professional life.
Journal #8 April 28th “I feel full of confidence in my writing ability. I know for certain that someone will buy one of my radio shows. I know for certain that I will get a good part in a play. Last night I dreamt about candy. There was more candy than I could eat. Does it mean I’ll be rewarded for all my efforts? Has it anything to do with sex?” Journal number ten was written three years later. The economic depression of the time and the depression going on within his mind had come together. His entries are more terse, staccato, and disheartening. I still get tears when I feel how much was lost in such a short time.
June 4th: Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work, Yes, it's enough to make anyone, blanch, turn pale and sicken. August 15th: Faster, faster, faster, I walk. I plug away looking for work, anything to support my family. I try, try, try, try, try. I always try and never stop. November 8th: A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out. Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried. All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education. I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I'm battering, trying in the same field I'm trying. Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.
Six days after his November 8th entry, my father tried to kill himself. Though he survived physically, emotionally he was never again the same. For nearly 40 years I've treated more and more men who are facing similar stresses to those my father experienced. The economic conditions and social dislocations that contributed to his feelings of shame and hopelessness continue to weigh heavily on men today. I also treat the young men, most with absent fathers who weren’t in their lives to provide male love and guidance. The problems we are seeing with young men—addictions, depression, violence, inability to relate to women, compulsion to use pornography—can be traced back to the loss of older male involvement in their lives. It’s clear to me that young men crave the love and support of older men to guide and initiate them into manhood. Without that support, young men are literally lost. Instead of feeling the presence of strong fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and mentors who can give their blessings to these young men and offer positive role models to follow, they see older men who are angry and depressed themselves and don’t have a lot to give the younger generation. These chilling lines, from Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play Long Day’s Journey into Night completed when O’Neill was 54 years-old, well represent the legacy passed on to many young males today:
“It was a great mistake, my being born a man, I would have been much more successful as a sea gull or a fish. As it is, I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death.” Its no wonder that the suicide rate for males is 4 to 18 times higher than it is for women. When my first son was born on November 21, 1969, I made a vow to him that I would be a different kind of father than my father was able to me and I would do everything I could to create a different kind of world where all men could find work doing the things they loved and all children could have the loving presence and guidance of their fathers and other male figures throughout their lives. The journey continues. Jed Diamond, 2011.
Ernest J. Lovell, ed., Lady Blessington’s Conversations of Lord Byron. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969, p. 115. ii Kay Redfield Jamison. Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the ArtisticTemperament. New York: The Free Press, 1993, p. 267-269.