I recently read an article about how Sir Isaac Newton supposedly died a virgin, and while yes, I suppose that’s unfortunate, what struck was the fact that he was described as “chronically lonely” and there is a general consensus that he suffered from bipolar disorder. In fact, romantic writers often called BPD “a disease of men of genius”.
And Newton was not alone, it is well documented that many “geniuses” throughout history suffered from mental illness, were desperately unhappy, lonely. Van Gogh, Hemingway, Dickens, Picasso, they all battled demons. Even worse, they lived during a time without the mental health resources we have today.
And those men are just a few, there are hundreds of other cases, and I can’t help but wonder: as stigmatized and as awful as experience a MI is (I have firsthand experience with this), does it help you be more creative? Does it make you more remarkable? Maybe sacrificing personal happiness gives you the ability to be extraordinary.
I want to be clear: mental illness is not romantic, it is not bohemian. It is a disease that can take away everything that makes you who you are. It can destroy your life, and even if it doesn’t, it will make it that much harder to just exist.
But happiness and greatness are not mutually inclusive. For some people, despair is a muse. For some, the isolation (sometimes voluntary, sometimes not), the feeling that you don’t quite into the mold society has given you can be an impetus to create. If you fit, if you’re happy, maybe then you can’t see what the great people see.
I’m not calling myself extraordinary by any means, but I will say that my writing is best when I’m not happy. When I’m happy, my creativity tends to dry up. In solitude and melancholia is where I think, my best work lives.
Maybe unhappy people aren’t geniuses, but rather maybe it is the weight of the knowledge that causes them to be unhappy. I can’t speak to all of the aforementioned figures, but I’ve read a lot about Van Gogh, and it seemed like he was brimming over with emotion. As if his bones and skin and flesh were too much to contain all that wanting, all that feeling. His passion for art overtook his soul, and I don’t think it’s possible for the pursuit of the creation of great art to truly ever have a happy ending.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, and I’m thinking too much about people who were sad a long time ago.