Yeah, I know. It’s been more than a month since I wrote last. I came down with a mysterious case of writer’s block.
I probably should have done what I do when I’m in a creative slump…just charge right through it, even if it’s crap. Or in a pinch, steal passages from the two half-finished novels I have. Or steal old posts from other blogs…just to keep going.
I don’t know, I just started feeling that my blogs (I have five of them in all) were like an albatross on my neck. I write about raising my daughters on one blog (one who has had selective mutism), I have a science blog, and art blog, and a general education blog. Needless to say, I have trouble maintaining all them. It makes sense to compartmentalize them…but it ended up being more than I could handle. Meh, c’est la vie.
It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I have. I’ve been like Rainer Maria Rilke when he was in one of his creative slumps…instead of writing his poetry…he’d write long letters to friends. I do that too. Actually, for the record, I don’t connect with his poetry. I DO like his Letters to a Young Poet and A Poet’s Guide to Life. He dispensed some damn good counsel in those writings.
Since I last posted, I’ve done some interesting reading. I’ve read Alice Miller’s The Body Never Lies. I’m working my way (slowly) through a biography of Jean Jacques Rousseau called Restless Genius. I have devoured Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind, and am working my way more carefully through her book Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.
If there is a common thread through all the things I read…it’s essentially this: there is a trade-off for having an insatiable curiosity, a creative mind, an exceptional intellect or talent. I think one of the major trade-offs is fluctuating moods. Another is fluctuating attention.
I wrote a post about fluctuating attention on my blog Raising Smart Girls called Hyperfocused but Scatterbrained in April of 2009. In my mind, whether due to ADHD/ADD or Overexcitabilities or artisitic creativity, the end result is the same. From Hallowell and Ratey’s Driven to Distraction, I found an apt description of what it feels like inside my head sometimes.
People with ADD are always reacting. Even when they look calm and sedate, they are usually churning inside, taking this piece of data and moving it there, pushing this thought through their emotional network, putting that idea on the fire to burn, exploding or subsiding, but always in motion. Such hyperreactivity enhances creativity because it increases the number of collisions in the brain. Each collision has the potential to emit new light, new matter, as when subatomic particles collide.
I get that. I so get that. But…this isn’t an everyday occurrence for me. I get like this when inspired by something I read, someone I talk to, or something I experience. Basically, I need to be inspired in order for the furnace of my mind to heat up. And when I do, it’s awesomeness. And when I’m not…it’s uncomfortable. I get listless, I get tired/bored, I slog through life and feel guilty because I KNOW there are things I’d like to accomplish…but don’t have the energy stores to be creatively productive. And this pretty much goes with writing OR with more practical matters like decluttering my house.
Besides, there’s the whole energy drain of the mommy thing to contend with.
I’ve been in conversation with a dear friend of mine about fluctuations of mood. I seek to understand myself and my moods and my creative process better. Wait, I did NOT just say “my creative process”, did I? That still sits funny with me. I still identify with the scientific/analytical side more of me. After a 7 year absence from the biotech field to raise my three daughters, I STILL identify with being a scientist, NOT a writer/creative type. Probably part of my problem. The state of denial is an interesting place to be.
I wrote this passage in a letter to my friend yesterday:
I don’t know if my negative outbursts are due to complex PTSD from childhood neglect and gaslighting and controlling and the occasional physical abuse…or if I truly have a mood disorder. When Casey is angry, she can be really, really angry. Yet I have some sort of control/awareness…and yet I have some desire to be out of control.
I have recently remembered that ALL of the women in my immediate family have had mood swings – some really vicious ones. Though I was the only one they called crazy…manic-depressive…having ‘deep seated problems’ (ya think after years of abuse, I’d have at least a couple)…and said I was in need of “psychological help”.
All I have to say is: Pot. Kettle. Black.
I just found out a few months ago that my mother had committed my youngest sister to a psych ward for a week about 15 years ago because of some out of control behavior when my mother and step-father were having hellacious fights after I’d moved out of the house. Remind me to go and ask my sister about that, because my mother was really foggy about the details (I know my mother suppressed a lot of stuff that happened in the past – probably some dissociative split was going on).
The most confusing thing to me…I have an uncanny ability to appear well-adjusted to most people. Almost to a fault, because then I can’t really get assistance for what I need. When you appear remarkably well put together, but suffer on the inside…it creates a rather perplexing paradox. Your friends, colleagues, even a trained therapist might actually not see what the problem is because you play the part of normal really well since your rational side, your intellectual capacity, compensates extremely well in public. But on the inside, you might be despairing and yet can’t get what you need to improve your situation. And what’s more, somehow that despair, if channeled into creative endeavors, sometimes CAN result in some really creative works. But it takes discipline to do that. And discipline takes energy, but despair can sap energy so there is a conundrum in that.
My husband who has been with me for almost 16 years, has witnessed my fluctuations of mood firsthand. They haven’t been pleasant at times and I’ve been downright unkind to him. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be slinging out the “D” word as recently as two weeks ago. Not because he did anything so terribly wrong, but because I couldn’t stand my guilt about my hostility towards him not just for current misunderstandings, but for long-standing wounds that he inflicted. The past was still very much interwoven with the present. Rather than simply addressing current situations, I’d feel ALL the past hurts rise to the surface. And some part of me knew it was unfair, and another part of me just couldn’t stop the tidal wave of hostility that came over me. And sometimes I’m terribly disgusted with myself and ashamed of myself and I often feel he deserves better than me.
The fact that I’m still married has less to do with me being a good wife and more to do with him being a particularly stubborn and loyal partner.
Well…needless to say…I’m working on this. I’ve begun some conversations with my husband about what goes on when I’m on an intense high…as I was yesterday upon making the acquaintance of an artist at the local Borders yesterday. I actually took some pictures of him and spoke to him a bit about what he was doing and I’ll share it in my next post. But the intense high I was feeling was a great opportunity to talk with my husband about what I was feeling in real time. It’s hard to describe after the fact, so making the attempt WHILE on the vertex of exultation was pretty interesting. I might even share some of his feedback.
I’m pondering moods not just for myself and my husband, but for my daughters too. One of them (my middle daughter who was formerly selectively mute) has inherited some mood swings of her own. And I am challenged (sometimes daily) with her moods that tend to trigger my own. Family dynamics is difficult enough without fiery natures in the mix. Here we have not just one, but possibly three (my youngest daughter cries a lot about things). It gets pretty intense around here.
Sometimes I wish the intensity would be dialed back a notch or two. I have, at various points in my life, wished I could just be ‘normal’ and stop oscillating in my moods. In thinking about this…I wrote the following to my friend…who understands what I’m talking about.
I’m not sure I want to be ‘normal’. I mean, I am normal most of the time (at least I can appear so). But normal is quite…well, difficult to maintain and accept. Normal makes me lose energy. And sometimes, I think, to create more energy, I get too dreamy or too stormy.
I realize I need some of my moodiness to get energized. And then I have a hard time regulating – either too low or too damn high. Yeah, the whole cake batter consistency metaphor you’ve talked about.
A part of me wants to never be tempestuous again…but then I realize how utterly without creative fire (energy) I would be. I generally run towards the melancholia side of things…and I’d much rather be on the higher energy side…and I can get that with synergy with others.
Even so…I wrote that Saturday morning…only to actually experience and intense high in the afternoon. I was trying to explain it later to my husband and friend. These terms came to mind: hyper, spazzy/spastic, overexcitable, manic. Yeah, brought to mind insults from childhood and a sad wonderment that I have spent years suppressing my spazzy side in order to fit in with others. Curb your enthusiasm was the name of the game in order to appear socially fit. At the end of the night, I was a bunch of jangled nerves. I haven’t been that “high” in a while and talking about it made it worse. But I thought it was necessary to do a real time description of what was going on.
I’m trying to see the bright side of my fluctuations in attention and mood. I appreciate Dr. Jamison’s reason for writing Touched With Fire:
The main purpose of this book is to make a literary, biographical, and scientific argument for a compelling association, not to say actual overlap, between two temperaments–the artistic and the manic-depressive–and their relationship to the rhythms and cycles, or temperament, of the natural world. The emphasis will be on understanding the relationship between moods and imagination, the nature of moods–their variety, their contrary and oppositional qualities, their flux, their extremes (causing, in some individuals, occasional episodes of “madness”)–and the importance of moods in igniting thought, changing perceptions, creating chaos, forcing order upon that chaos, and enabling transformation.
She’s a wonderful writer and professor of psychiatry. Having experienced manic-depressive illness herself WHILE studying the disorder for others makes her writings and research all the more meaningful. Her transparency of her experience with the disorder has paved the way for a beautiful understanding the positive aspects of living with a severe mood disorder. As much as it has challenged her, it has afforded greater empathy and understanding of moods. It’s made her an incredibly compassionate researcher of the disease. And through her thoughtful argument, one can well imagine that the eradication of the disease might actually cause a significant loss of creative potential in the human race.
So…I’m deciding to embark on a journey to learn more about my moods, my inconsistent attention, my creative process. In doing so, I hope I can help my husband understand me and our daughters, and teach our daughters about their own emotional landscape and how to manage their moods.