Art & Bipolar Disorder
Hi! My name is Spencer and I am a new blogger for the Bipolar Foundation. I recently graduated from Trinity College, obtaining my BS in Psychology and completing the Interarts track as well as the Pre-med track. I am interested in pursuing a career in psychological research and possibly exploring the benefits of art therapy.
I want my blog to focus on art and bipolar disorder. Ever since I was able I have been drawing, playing viola, singing, writing poetry, acting and entertaining myself through the arts. I find that art transcends boundaries and can evoke a sense of connection between the artist and the viewer. I am confident in my abilities to interpret and bring interesting art to my blog.
My interest in bipolar disorder, however, is not from experience but from learning about the disorder through psychology courses. Kay Jamison’s memoir “An Unquiet Mind” initially piqued my interest in bipolar disorder. Her book helped me understand the struggle she experienced to retain her own identity while remaining at a safe level of stability. The inherent poetry of the book also attracted me to learning more about bipolar disorder.
The interaction between bipolar disorder and art is particularly interesting to me as an artist. Therefore my blog will focus on art and bipolar disorder. I do not want to limit myself by looking at any specific direction of the two topics, nor will I limit it to individuals who have bipolar disorder. As a matter of fact, I am starting my blog talking about a song that only mentions a drug that can be used in the treatment of bipolar disorder.
A Song About Lithium
Today I am focusing on Evanescence’s song Lithium. Lithium is a drug sometimes associated with bipolar disorder since it has been fairly successful in helping stabilize manic and depressive episodes. Lithium was first used to treat mania in 1970. Kay Jamison wrote about the benefits of the drug in “An Unquiet Mind” stating
“At this point in my life I cannot imagine leading a normal life without both taking lithium and having the benefits of psychotherapy. Lithium prevents my seductive but disastrous highs, diminishes my depression, clears out the wool and webbing from my disordered thinking, slows me down, gentles me out, keeps me from ruining my career and relationships, keeps me out of the hospital, alive, and makes psychotherapy possible.” (89)
However, her initial reaction to lithium produced many side effects including vomiting, developing a tremor, and feeling nauseous, slower, and disoriented. Most of this was due to the newness of the drug and the high dosage she was taking at the time. More importantly than these side effects was her battle to feel like herself. Her sister accused her of
“”… lithumizing away my feelings.” My personality, she said, had dried up, the fire was going out, and I was but a shell of my former self.” (99)
I believe the song Lithium (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJGpsL_XYQI) by Amy Lee from Evanescence highlights some of the ideas Kay Jamison was getting at in her memoir.
Although Amy Lee, the lead singer of Evanescence, says she has never taken lithium, she felt it was a good metaphor for her song. The chorus of the song is:
Lithium, don't wanna lock me up inside
Lithium, don't wanna forget how it feels without
Lithium, I wanna stay in love with my sorrow
In an interview (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PCAoFZ1XO4) Amy Lee explains how by equating happiness to lithium she’s saying happiness is numbness and that she won’t be able to be an artist any more if she is happy. However she goes on to refute her last statement by commenting that the idea is “hilarious because that’s just not true, I’m happy” and she is still an artist. She also explains that at the end she says “”I’m going to let it go,” like I am going to be happy.” This is similar to the ending of Kay Jamison’s memoir where she concludes by explaining her need for lithium, despite some of the set backs she experiences.
I think what is particularly interesting and controversial about Amy Lee’s song Lithium is that she claims to have no experience with taking lithium, and still uses it as a metaphor for the entire song. Not only does she not have experience with the drug but also she uses it in a negative context—equating it to numbing one’s self—much as Kay Jamison’s sister accused her of doing while taking lithium.
There are many metaphors that Amy Lee could have chosen to get at the idea of numbness. I would be interested to ask her why she chose lithium. I would guess that she may have chosen it due to the relationship between creativity and bipolar disorder and her song’s exploration of her own creativity being linked to sorrow. Although Amy Lee’s song equates lithium to happiness and a lack of creativity, interestingly one of the abilities Kay Jamison still had when taking the extremely high doses of lithium was her ability to write poetry.
Is Amy Lee right? Does lithium equal happiness and diminish one’s creativity? Or, as experienced by Kay Jamison, can creativity remain an integral part of a person’s being even while taking lithium?