Creativity and Mood Swings

Posted: December 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


Because writing and public speaking are a big part of what I do as a vocation, I have long reflected on the subject of creativity with personal interest. I’m very interested in how creativity works, what causes it, and how we can responsibly steward the conditions which cultivate and cooperate with inspiration. I’m also interested in the link that I believe often exists between emotional sensitivity or mood swings, and creativity. Profoundly creative people often have the following characteristics:

-inability to complete projects
-mood swings
-hypersensitivity to stimulation
-difficult temperament
-enthusiasm and playfulness
-sensation seeking
-deficient social skills

Robert Frost quit school early and was constantly observed daydreaming. Virginia Woolf was unusually verbose. Frank Lloyd Wright daydreamed so deeply that people had to shout to break him out of the “zone,” almost like a trance. He was hyper-focused. When the creative flow is upon me, I am able to write and work in a noisy house with children laughing and running and shrieking. It is as though the outside world dims and I am pulled along by the momentum of the ideas as they come. For me, there is almost an urgency involved, but without anxiety.

I remember my elementary teachers describing me as “a dreamer.” The moment lecture would begin I would be lost in thought and miss the entire talk, almost in a creative dream state, immersed in the theatre of the mind. Suddenly we were talking about homework assignments which were based on the talk of which I had no memory. Obviously that sort of thing affects grades and learning. I suspect that’s at least partly why people with highly creative traits often struggle in traditional educational contexts. Though I love learning, I have always struggled with school, feeling as though I were an inmate in a penitentiary rather than a learner in a fascinating world of discovery. Not so on my own time!

I find it interesting that brain function in highly creative people shares many similarities with people diagnosed as ADHD, though they are not synonymous. A person with ADHD is not necessarily highly creative. And a highly creative person may not have any hyperactivity at all. However, from a brain function perspective, studies appear to show some kind of link between the two. As I experience it, it feels quite the opposite of what I imagine attention deficit to be like. It feels like hyper-focus, not inability to focus.

Highly creative people often forge new paths, which means trying things not because others tell them it will work, but because they can see in their mind how it could work. David Neeleman says that, “Along with disorganization, procrastination, inability to focus, and all the other things…there also comes creativity and the ability to take risks.” Wow! That sounds really unflattering! He might as well say, “Not only does this creative guy not finish projects or show up on time, but he’s always taking risks that rarely pan out.” I guess that’s part of why we need balanced teams of imbalanced people who have contrasting gifts.

In terms of the emotional life of creatives, as many as 70% of artists possess some form of what would be considered an affective disorder, characterized by mood swings. So there seems to be a strong link between mood swings and creative output. I have often said that artists feel things more keenly and then find expression to their pleasures and pains which then give voice to the rest of us. It is the artist’s gift and curse. The darkness of the soul can in fact be a seedbed for creative output, and insomuch as my own inner hunger has driven me out of myself and into the arms of God, I have counted this temperament a blessing.

I’m almost certain that king David was among this ilk. The Psalms express his pleasure, his panic, and his pain. Because he took the time to craft his pleasure, panic, and pain into poetry, the Psalms express ours as well. That is his gift to us, born out of the intensity of what he believed and experienced.


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