By Ariana Schaefer
Mental illness precipitates creativity.
You’ve heard it before. We all have. Yet, it is not proven, aside from the one common link we already know about: rumination. Otherwise, mental health professionals wince at the accusation that paints those with a greater-than-average creative aptitude as mad. And academia lest not leave its ivory tower long enough to broach a subject with little to no strong scientific backing. Thankfully, they don’t need to. This archetype rose with the rippling of sun flares in an age-old daybreak. Validation is not what we’re after – rather, a creation story – to turn over and over in our hands, well-weathered and loved for its truth.
“All wretched men are cradled into poetry by wrong,” wrote Percy Shelley. “They learn in suffering what they teach in song.” To learn in suffering means to exhaust the terrain of one’s own mind and inner being. To experience madness is to surprise yourself with your own thoughts and behavior; to feel validated and also bare witness. Creative pursuits don’t just call for this process, they require it.
Every creative person is, at heart, an intellectual. They are thinkers at their core, but with a powerful play instinct. Artists, writers, filmmakers, and poets are great ruminators. In an elegant foxtrot they grapple with universal truths, their own vices, and the perception of others. For some creatives, ruminating looks like a heroic quest. For others it’s bleeding pen ink at an oak desk, in the stillness of a study, three bourbons deep.
Rumination. The cognitive link. As much as it is defined as deeply examining something, it is known as a precursor to depression and anxiety. Ruminating is knowing something inside-out, yet still not knowing it at all. It’s Inception-like in quality, delving deeper and deeper, gaining more and more understanding, pulling you further from the original point still. Rumination is like a desert mirage that keeps you sliding on white sands towards your last drink of water. Ruminating yields no definitives, but you know exactly what you don’t know. Painfully so.
Sharing this wonder is, perhaps, the only catharsis. The only beauty. And thus, you teach in song what you learned in your suffering.