There was a post going around Tumblr and Facebook recently about Vincent Van Gogh and his mental illness. The post was saying that we shouldn’t say that his artistic mind was a gift from his mental illness. It’s argument was that nothing from a disabling illness (that lead to his death) was a gift, and that he would have completely thrown away his art if he could have a cure for his illness.
Van Gogh is one of my favorites, not only because he is a great artist, but because he was bipolar, just like I am. I wrote a huge research project on him while I was in college, and I got invested in who he was as a person. And I have a problem with posts like these.
Bipolar literally means having or relating to two poles or extremities. By that definition the idea that this cursed illness can also be a gift isn’t that hard to understand. Does the gift outweigh the curse? In a lot of cases it doesn’t, especially throughout history when there was very little treatment to manage the bad. But the idea that we shouldn’t praise the gifts illness give us is honestly disgusting. Those gifts are what get people through their illness. Those gifts are beautiful and they should be praised, even if they are only praised for getting us through the darkness that brought it.
I was talking about this with someone, and they asked me if I would give up my extremely creative mind to live without my mental illness. It took me a second to answer, because there have been times when I would say “yes please” and other times when I would have been shot it down with a quick “hell no”.
I am bipolar after all, things go up and they go down.
The truth is, I don’t think I would, and I say that as someone who can’t imagine my life without either my mental illness or without my creativity. My creativity is what makes me interesting. The way my mind works is in no way normal and in a lot of ways it’s frightening, but in a lot of ways it’s really beautiful. When I go through a list of my hobbies all but two or three of them are built of my creativity, something that every doctor agrees is built into bipolar disorder. (I’ve had doctors try to explain to me how my mind would function if I wasn’t bipolar, and let’s just say it’s not all about emotions.)
What would I be without all the things I love? What would I be without these hobbies? Without these dreams? I don’t know, but I don’t think I’d like her nearly as much even if her life had been easier.
I’m not saying we should romanticize mental illnesses, they are nasty things and the darkness needs to be known and it needs to be seen, but I think that saying that people shouldn’t see any light in them is more hurtful than it is helpful. Everyone knows Van Gogh was not a healthy man, everyone knows he was depressed and that he suffered greatly, but beautiful things can come from suffering, and we can’t deny that, and those beautiful things are normally what get people through suffering.
I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to people talking about mental illness. I’ve noticed that people try to make everything black and white. They get mad at parents who say that their baby being born with down syndrome was a gift. They get mad at people who romanticize the struggling artist even when the artist themselves romanticize it.
You can’t get mad at people trying to look on the bright side of a bad situation, by doing so you’re telling them that they need to live in their darkness and stay there. The suffering is going to come if you are mentally ill, why shouldn’t you enjoy the beautiful things that can come from that suffering?