Are Madness and Creative Genius Inseperable?

by Joseph Merlin Bowers

This morning I red a review in the Denver Post of a play entitled “Equus.” It is a famous fictional story of a young man with an insane obsession with a horse and a psychoanalyst conflicted about his profession. The doctor wonders if by easing the emotional pain of his suffering patient he is extinguishing the flame of creativity and genius. The thought that insanity and creativity somehow go hand in hand is one I keep encountering and that kind of pisses me off.

My perspective is from someone who has experienced, “madness,”  the emotional and fantasy journeys of severe psychosis. I will concede that many creative geniuses have also suffered from serious mental illnesses. I will also concede that insanity often demolishes any barriers to where one might go in his consciousness and what he might imagine and mentally experience (in that regard “madness” can be exciting, intoxicating and addictive), but I emphatically reject the premise of any correlation between madness and genius.

I believe that the appropriate metaphor is that of a highly complex machine that performs complex tasks having more things that could go wrong and requiring more maintenance than a simple machine that performs simple tasks. When the complex machine breaks down it is busted and cannot perform it’s functions. I am in complete agreement when a VanGogh  speculates on what wonders he might have created were it not for the madness.

When I was lost in the fantasy worlds of my insanity, I couldn’t focus on any task long enough to perform it-even something as simple as eating. After a psychotic episode, the cognitive impairment was noticeable even to me. After my first hospitalization returning to the “real world” to finish my junior year of high school, I was determined to graduate with my class. Because of this, my study habits and work ethic were much improved from before, but learning came much harder that it had previously. I had the same experience a couple of times in college.

The cognitive decline did seem to wear off. Over time, I think, my cognitive abilities returned to normal. A psychiatrist once, I think aptly, likened a psychotic episode to me to a bad concussion in the effect it has on one’s brain.

I’ve been told that I have accomplished a lot and had a good life “all things considered.” I will never be able to stop wondering what I might have accomplished were it not for the madness.

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