Music and Me

There is a long standing, well documented connection between bipolar disorder and creativity. Indeed, while in hospital I met some people who were extremely talented and creative and artistic. I wasn’t one of them. 

I used to be creative. I sung, wrote music, played guitar and piano (albeit very badly!), and participated in various bands and choirs. I LOVED it. Music was a release for me, and it was forefront in my life. Then somewhere along the line I lost it. I became too busy for music, and lost my creative spark. 

I often wonder if Lithium was responsible for this change. A large number of people with Bipolar disorder refuse to be medicated because of the allure of mania and hypomania, and often the creativity that accompanies these states. I haven’t written much about my “highs”, but it’s safe to say they are generally pleasurable.

I’m not sick when I’m “high” (or “productive” as my husband and I call it…because let’s face it, no one wants to be labelled as “manic”). No I’m not sick… I’m awesome! 😉 I’m shouting from the roof tops and going to change the world. “Slow down, Rachael!” I hear people telling me. “Keep up!” I feel like shouting back. 

My creativity didn’t vanish during periods of depression either. In fact some of my favourite songs were written during very difficult times. It seemed even the dark moods were enough to elicit creativity. 

Perhaps then it was parenthood and the life I led, busy and exhausting, that diminished my desire to create. At the end of the day, when dinner dishes are packed away and my little boy is in bed, do I really have the creative energy left in me to write, or sing, or go to a music studio for a jam? Usually I am lucky to make it through a TV program without falling asleep. 

When I had the spark, and wrote music I had this bizarre belief that songs were floating out there, and you just had to be in the right state to reach out and grab it. I would write very quickly, words and chords erupting out of me, like it was just meant to be. When I finished writing a song, I couldn’t imagine it not being there. It was perfect in all it’s imperfections, and it owned it’s place within the universe – even if I was the only one to ever know of its existence. I have a large black book of songs I have written, most of them never to have been showcased to anything other than my bedroom wall. 

But there were some songs that did make it out of my bedroom. Quite a few years ago I used to get together with a good friend to write and record songs. He dealt with the music and production side, I did the vocals, and we both wrote the songs. Today, for the first time in years I listened to some of the songs – and the way that music so often does – many memories were evoked. I remembered the creative outlet I once had, and I missed it. 

Often I wonder how my life would be without Lithium, and I suppose recently I have had a sneak preview as to life without being medicated. My body’s inability to absorb Lithium and Seroquel and the rest of the vast band of medications I am on was rocky, unstable, frightening, and – frankly – disastrous. 

I hate that I am dependent on medication…but  I swallow down the pills, even if it is with resent. Many see Lithium as the enemy, zombifying and potentially taking away creative energy, flattening moods to only include the mediocre middle ground. I don’t disagree, but to me it’s a drug worth taking if it means I am there for my family. As a psychologist once said to me “it doesn’t matter how talented or creative or clever you are…if you keep having breakdowns and hospitalisations no one is going to want to hire you, and no one is going to be able to rely on you”. It’s a basic law of physics that what goes up must come down, and following a period of high creativity, productivity and mood I almost inevitably crash. To me, any potential crash that was as debilitating as what has just happened is not worth the risk of being unmedicated.

I do hope, and I do anticipate, that one day I will be able to go back to my music, my terrible guitar playing and limited piano skills. But for now I just listen to what I used to do, and I smile because I know that that creativity is locked away in me somewhere. I just need to learn a new way of accessing it, throughout the Lithium and parenthood and all the rest. 

“Here” is my favourite of the songs I co wrote with my good friend all those years ago. It makes me smile and reminds me of good times, when my husband and I were young and (relatively!) care free. If you feel so obliged you can listen to it here… on a site I had forgotten even existed. Enjoy 🙂 

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