I just finished reading Nancy Milford's biography about Zelda Fitzgerald (titled, appropriately, Zelda) for an article I'm working on. When I finished the book and gave myself some time to think about it, I was struck again by the often delicate line between manic depression and creativity. I used an article called "That Fine Madness" from an old issue of Discover Magazine about this very topic for a paper in high school, and I've held on to it for all these years--something about it just stayed with me.
What is the connection between creative genius and psychological disorders? If I can psychoanalyze for just a bit, in the case of Zelda (and her husband), it seemed obvious that they were co-dependent on each other, yet couldn't stand to see the other one have even a small amount of professional literary success. Their egos were just too fragile.
They're not alone. Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton, Ernest Hemingway, and Sylvia Plath are just a few of the other literary voices whose depression got the better of them and they committed suicide. Hunter S. Thompson and David Foster Wallace are just two more modern examples. So what's that all about? Is the pressure to produce (both internally and from the wider publishing world and critics, not to mention readers) simply too much? Why don't more creative types succumb? Besides those who went to the extreme, there are those writers too numerous to mention who have battled some type of addiction--Stephen King has been very candid about his alcohol and drug abuse, not to mention the others I'm surely forgetting.
So what's worse--the burden of producing one or two great works, and the pressure to keep producing works that meet those same standards, or hitting huge stretches of no productivity at all?