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Creativity & Bipolar Disorder–A Chat with Becky Johnson, Part 1

by Laura on August 26th, 2013

You know how great it is when you find someone with something in common? You know how even better it is when you have several things in common?

Yeah, that.

Becky Johnson and I connected over a myriad of subjects, emailing back and forth about dance, our struggles with bipolar disorder, our mutual resentment of prescription drugs to manage said BPD, adoption, and more.

Sanity, such a fickle guest. Photo credit Flickr and MentalHealthHumor

Here’s a bit from a recent conversation …

Deeper questions about living with BPD

Laura – It’s so great to meet others with shared experiences, asking similar questions about some of the more important questions in life. For people who had or have bipolar disorder, or even bipolar tendencies, it’s so interesting to go beyond “I’m manic today!” and “I feel like a piece of fecal matter today,” and try to get to the heart of some of the deeper issues involved in bipolar.

How did the know what I was thinking? Photo credit Flickr

I’m thinking specifically of what I described in my memoir, about how following my breakdown I took a rather amazing plethora of medications. That’s the tricky thing with bipolar—to manage the mania and the depression, while mitigating side effects, psychiatrists have constantly to “tweak” the dosages. I just remember my doctor seeming so darn wishy-washy, always saying things like “Just try this for a week or two, we’ll see how it works.”

And even in my weak, barely stable-and-sane state, I’m thinking, You’ve got to be kidding me with the “we’ll see” this and “we’ll see” that.

While I was on medication, trying to sustain a professional level dance career was all-but impossible. Hello? Those meds are meant to slow-you-down … But for me, the long-term effect of the breakdown and the meds was that I pretty much lost the ability to choreograph.

What’s been your experience with how these prescription medications affect your muscle memory, physicality, creativity and artistry?

Becky –These are such great questions that have had different answers at different times in my life. I have the ultimate love/hate relationship with my medications. Bottom line…they saved my life. I’d put that in the love category. Giving me the ability to function and participate in life again, you know, like getting out of bed – I’d put that in the love category too. But the side effects – for the love of Apollo those damn side effects. Like you, I have tried a lot of medications. I’ve swallowed twenty-five different pills since 1998 in various combinations and have endured roughly twenty-five zillion side effects.

To specifically address your questions, my medications have had negative impacts on all four things you mentioned: my muscle memory, physicality, creativity and artistry. As an artist, some days my tremor is so severe it makes drawing, painting, and my mixed media work too frustrating to do at all. As a writer, some days my mind is so mushy I can barely think let alone string together words. And as a former dancer – geeze – it still hurts my heart to say former in front of dancer- is where the medications have most devastated me. I was a dance major in college. Like you, I loved choreography. Dance and choreography not only brought me a kind of joy I had never experienced, it became a great sense of my identity.

I left Los Angeles the summer before I was to transfer to UCLA’s dance program in a manic whirlwind. I literally woke up one morning and left my life. Gotta love those manias. So I moved across the country, went through a slew of doctors, a slew of medications, and like you lost my ability to choreograph and dance. Until I read about your experience in Adopted Reality, I never made the connection between my medications and dance. But I lost it. All of it. I couldn’t remember simple and short sequences of movement. I couldn’t execute basic moves I had long mastered. I lost my coordination to the point I could no longer even do a simple turn or balance. It felt like the ultimate betrayal. My mind and body betrayed me, and took away my greatest joy and self identity. I beat myself up for it. “Of course, your slow and heavy. It’s because your fat.” (thanks Zyprexa) “Of course you can’t remember movements. It’s because you’re stupid.” (thanks Topomax) Blah Blah Blah…

Although I have been robbed of many creative things, I am grateful to say my creativity in the general sense of the word, has stayed relatively intact. But at times it can feel like a cruel joke. I have so much beauty swirling inside my head and I long for nothing more than to share it with the world. But some days I have no way to effectively express it. On these days I can’t rely on my body or my mind. And that, well, it just sucks.

But I don’t want to come across as woe is me. Psychiatric medications are by no means perfect, obviously, but it is because of them I am alive. And it is because of them I am able to have a mind that is not too fast or too slow to be able to create on the days that my body will allow me. I can no longer dance which was the devastation of my life. I know that’s a tad dramatic, but really, that’s what it felt like. But I can still write and make art and share beauty in mediums other than dance because I am alive – because I can get out of bed – because of those medications I love to hate.

Since you have become medication free, have the functions and the creativity you lost returned? 


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Stay tuned to Thursday’s post to read how I answer this one!

Becky Johnson is a creative nonfiction writer, playwright, and artist who creates art from what normal people call garbage. She blogs about something doctors call bipolar disorder that she calls being good old fashioned crazy. She wakes up ridiculously early to watch the sunrise and has a personal mission to float in fifty different bodies of water. As a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader, she thinks nothing beats sharing the healing joy of a good jelly-belly-laugh. She lives with her husband in Annapolis, Maryland, where she is living her mantra to “Celebrate Your Crazy,” and writing her first book.


From → Mental Health

  1. I am 29 and i have lived with bipolar all my life and not known about, i could be happy and talkitve with my freinds and work colleges in the morning and in the evening i couldnt look at them they would irritate me so much, recently i had a really bad spell where i was going up and down so much and wanted to kill my self, my partner made me go to the hospital to go get checked out, this is where i was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar i was prescribed really good medication that has helped my life no end, dont be afraid to talk about it or go get checked out guys it helps so much and you are not alone.

  2. Mani T permalink

    Nice writing.

  3. There is something about the genetics hidden the disorder that are worthwhile.One probability is that serious disorders of mood -,for example,bipolar disorder – are the price that human beings have needed to pay for more versatile traits,for example,knowledge,creativity and verbal capability.

    Amy Pearson.

  4. I really don’t like when I find someone with something in common with me because it make me feel like someone is competing me. So for that I don’t like that at all.

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