Writing on the Edge of Insanity

In the Western world, there has always been some hopeful connection between genius and mental illness, between creativity and insanity.

quote-for-me-insanity-is-super-sanity-the-normal-is-psychotic-normal-means-lack-of-imagination-lack-jean-dubuffet-53418Famous Quotes:

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

“Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence– whether much that is glorious– whether all that is profound– does not spring from disease of thought– from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

“There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.”

― Oscar Levant

“THE EDGE, there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”
― Hunter S. Thompson

“The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.”–Albert Einstein


The truth is…no studies prove any correlation between creativity and mental illness. In fact, to the contrary, psychosis and poor mental health seriously compromise the ability to function.


However, the medications used to treat mental illness can also seriously compromise the ability to function.

I have not been totally satisfied with my writing since Red Clay and Roses in 2012. Lately, since I started on a new medication in 2013, my writing seems stilted, choppy, not nearly as fluid as it once was and I’m not able to readily pull up words that once came easily to me.

To enhance my writing capabilities and overcome some of the hindrances of my bipolar meds, my psychiatrist and I are undertaking a huge joint project.

I’ve kept no secrets about my bipolar disorder. I’ve been in treatment since the age of nineteen, and unlike most, have always been compliant. There were times in my life when my psychiatrist worked with me to reduce side effects of meds…to get through my five chemistry classes in school, to carry my three children, and so on. It has been a very long time since I have been off meds.

Altered thought processes can be a blessing or a curse.

When my thought processes are mildly altered, my creativity is greatly enhanced.

But that is a fine line to walk.

I have been stable for the most part. I am grateful. I have had some breakthrough episodes where the meds became ineffective and had to be changed.

To understand what goes on with the bipolar brain, you have to understand the role of norepinephrine and how the meds work.

Norepinephrine  is a catecholamine with multiple roles including as a hormone and a neurotransmitter.

As a stress hormone, norepinephrine affects parts of the brain where attention and responding actions are controlled.

Along with epinephrine, norepinephrine also underlies the fight-or-flight response, directly increasing heart rate, triggering the release of glucose from energy stores, and increasing blood flow to skeletal muscle. Norepinephrine can also suppress neuroinflammation when released diffusely in the brain from the locus ceruleus.

In the bipolar person, the norepinephrine floods and causes the person to be in a constant state of fight-or-flight. That’s a hard way to live. Moods swing from rage to withdrawal.

Mood stabilizers, like Latuda and Zyprexa, don’t stop norepinephrine from being produced, but block the reuptake of it in the brain.

Instead of a constant flood of this neurotransmitter, there is a more balanced stream.

So what’s the problem with the meds?

Remember when I said attention and responding actions were affected?

While in the sick person, slowing the attention down can prevent scattered thought process, delusions, and paranoia…it also slows down the ability to think, to call things up from memory.  It helps to keep thought processes connected, but can hinder creativity and cause sedation. Everything slows, including response time, so thinking can become more difficult. Reading and writing are affected. Finding the right words for expression of ideas can be inhibited. Imagination is severely stifled on psychotropic medications.

Anything that slows the brain also slows metabolism. People gain weight on these drugs.

There is also a very narrow window that allows most lucid thinking without any of these side effects.

That’s what my psychiatrist and I are trying to do. He’s willing to work with me to find that window.

It is a tedious process for the physician to titrate these drugs and can only be done with those patients who have very good insight and intuition, because it is done based on subjective responses.

Our emotions and behaviors have to be monitored by those close to us.

It’s a high wire act that involves removing the balancing pole and learning to walk the wire with less assistance. The consequences can be devastating, even life-threatening.

I’m going on a pharmaceutical drug holiday!

So, if I start acting really weird(er), let me know.

This physician has followed me since 2002. It has taken more than a dozen years to build up the sort of mutual trust to be able to proceed with this experiment.

I’m both excited and scared.


30 thoughts on “Writing on the Edge of Insanity

  1. Good luck, Susan. 🙂 I have a niece who is bi-polar and her reactions to the medications are similar to the feelings you’ve expressed. I hope your drug-free holiday is a successful one and that you soon feel your creativity re-emerging.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kate. I appreciate your positive response. I don’t want scattered thought processes. T
      hat sense of racing disconnected thoughts is awful, but I do want to be able to access the more creative aspects of my brain.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow – powerful stuff. I can certainly understand why you have mixed emotions, Susan. Thanks for the inside view and and explanation that gives those of us not as familiar with the disorder more insight about it. Praying for an excellent result!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Shel. I’m willing to work, but a bit nervous about it. I’ll be happy if I can get that balance where my imagination and creativity are enhanced without jeopardizing stability.


  3. All the best. You are brave in doing so… I know how mental health deterioration directly affects creativity.
    I wish you luck in reaching that place where you thrive against all odds and manage your writing interests.
    I really enjoyed Red Clay and Roses and would be willing to read more books by you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Anmol. I am so glad to see you, and thank you tremendously for that vote of confidence. I’m looking forward to writing more. I have one crime novel written, but it is not published.. It’s wacko regional Florida crime fiction. I’m hoping to have three or four in a series completed before I publish.


    2. Hey Anmol! I’m so happy to see you and greatly appreciate your vote of confidence. I have written a sort of silly crime novel. It’s crazy wacko regional Florida crime fiction, not very deep, but too terribly shallow, I hope. I plan to have three or four written before I publish one. I have a good editor now, so that will help. Another project, much more serious, is another historical fiction called Surviving Sister. It will be a long while before it’s ready though. I’m already doing a rewrite to get rid of unnecessary back story. Glad you stopped by. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for such an honest and descriptive account of what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder. As you point out, it must be all the more difficult to those who create, whether it be stories, paintings, or some other form of art. Good luck with your experiment. I hope you reach a place that gives you the best of both worlds.


    1. Thanks Carrie. I’m not going cold turkey. It’s a gradual weaning under supervision. Only one drug dose is being reduced for now. BTW..my husband found his fit bit. It was outside beside the water softener. He’s got it charging up now. Hoping it works. Someone told us there is an app you can put on your phone to help you find one if you lose it, but you have to activate the app before it goes dead.


      1. Thanks for the info. When I get another Fitbit, I’ll look for that app. Considering I had my device all of about 12 days before I lost it, it appears I could use it… Glad your hubby found his!


  5. Fascinating topic and you view it with candor from both a literary, medical and personal lens. The names of Van Gogh and Robin Williams too popped into my mind as I read this post. That line, that edge between insanity/sanity, creativity/passivity, and blessing/curse. We’ll keep a finger on your pulse, S.K.!


  6. You are so brave Susan, for sharing what you are going through and also for trusting your doctor to bring you through this, but how wonderful that you have built up such a good rapport with him for so long. My daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was 18 (she is 22 now) and suffers debilitating anxiety and low mood, complete lack of motivation and energy, so that she does absolutely nothing. She sleeps all day and is up all night on her computer. Just taking her shopping for small things to get her out of the house is a major accomplishment (she gets most everything on the internet, her computer is her life and she has a great group of online friends…which I now understand since I started blogging!). Her psychologist wants to put her on meds but those on the autistic spectrum react differently to ‘normal’ meds and she was violently ill on some antidepressants the doctor tried her on a year ago. So we are just beginning our journey with all this to find what works and helps her. I am also convinced that her physical health needs more investigation too. But it is an exhausting, uphill climb to get all this take care of and it brings me down, I admit. Anyway, all this to say, I really, really hope that this experiment really helps you and works for you. The side-effects of these meds can have profound effects (one of them my daughter hates is weight gain as she battles enough already). Please know that I am thinking of you all the way and send you a huge hug as you go through all of this ❤ PS Love the quotes, very interesting 🙂


    1. Thank you Sheri, for sharing your daughter’s story. My youngest son has Asperger’s and has been called, “lazy” by every member of the family except one Aunt who is trying to convince his father to take him into doctors so he can get properly diagnosed and perhaps go on disability. He is twenty-nine years old and has only held two jobs…one as a hand on a fishing boat. That lasted a week, and the other as a produce guy in a grocery store, that lasted one day. He has his computer friends and, like your daughter, spends his time with them and sleeps most of the day. His dad says he is indispensable on the farm, keeping the animals fed and seen after and fixing fencing, mowing hay/pastures. He just can’t socialize with real people. He also takes care of a blind grandfather and a grandmother who is wheelchair bound…now…they are talking about selling the farm and going into nursing home care. I have no clue what shall become of him. All I can do is pray and hope he finds his way in this world.


  7. Best of luck on your experiment, Susan. It seems as though you’ve been doing very well. I hope you’ll achieve the improvements you’re looking for. All those adrenal hormones are so tricky. I suspect adrenal problems are the underlying cause of the asthma I’ve developed in recent years. I have several attacks every day and haven’t been able to find a doctor who can help me keep it under control.


    1. So sorry to hear that. It’s tough to play the human guinea pig getting meds tweaked just right, but sometimes necessary. I haven’t made any changes, yet. Now I’m almost too nervous about consequences to take any action.


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