Art school and bipolar meds
December 16, 2011 1:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm bipolar and I started taking Lamictal and Seroquel around a year ago. I'm in my second year at art school after taking a year out due to depression. I'm finding it very hard to be creative this year. I used to instantly think of a million ideas as soon as I was given a brief, now it takes me days to come up with one. I'm also finding it very difficult to draw which used to be one of my strengths. My first semester assessment is in few weeks and I'm kind-of ashamed of what I'm handing in. I've heard bipolar meds can effect peoples's creativity, has anyone else experienced this? Is there anything I can do about it short of coming off the meds (which I definitely don't want to do)?
posted by Chenko to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I had a similar experience when I started taking meds for Bipolar II. There were to points of note:

1) When I asked other people to evaluate my work they often said it was of the same quality or better than before. (I didn't tell them I was on meds, I just asked them if they felt my work had changed recently)

2) I've never returned to the desperate energy million-ideas-a-minute mode except when my meds stopped working for one reason or another. On the other hand I now have found different sources of inspiration and most importantly I feel that my work has a deeper quality now.

In short I feel like my creative drive is still there, but I experience it in a substantially different way.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:51 PM on December 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

A good friend of mine who has bipolar and is on meds complained of the same thing. But as Tell Me No Lies says, as an observer, I don't see it. I've seen the sort of creative work (writing, mainly) she produced before and after, and it's every bit as good now. I suspect her manic and hypomanic phases were making her a little bit grandiose about how good her ideas and work was (and they ARE really good), and when those phases stopped coming, she stopped feeling so confident. And I can tell you for sure that most of the "creative" ideas that she had whizzing around when she was not on the meds were not at all realistic, or didn't even make sense. So maybe she has fewer ideas now, but I bet she has just as many GOOD ideas.
posted by lollusc at 4:18 PM on December 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

I am not bipolar but I will say that my assessment of my own work varies *drastically* based on my current mood. In fact, I now make sure I've eaten before writing, because even something as small as being hungry affects my perceptions to the point where I get stuck in an "Everything I do sucks!" hole and can't work effectively.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:01 PM on December 16, 2011

The other day I was watching a video of myself performing during one of my manic episodes and realized, after all these years of thinking I'd lost something, that I actually sound objectively better now than I did then. Delusions of grandeur at work there for sure.

I realize you don't want to come off the meds, but maybe ask your doctor about taking slightly less Seroquel? Depression + atypical antispychotics in my experience was a recipe for sluggishness. My pdoc was always resistant to trying something different, and it took several years to hit on something that let me feel like myself, but it was worth it.
posted by Lorin at 5:09 PM on December 16, 2011

Is seroquel to blame? I was given some seroquel samples by my psychiatrist at one point, and even taking 1/4 pill it knocked me out for like 12 hours. I guess I'm amazed that people are able to function at all on it.

I'm bipolar, on meds that have worked for me for 5-6 years. I do not feel creatively challenged. I am taking a graphic design course this spring at the community college, and I have a continuous supply of little creative projects that I dabble in.

I am on Lamictal, Wellbutrin, and Geodon. It is an unconventional combination but I cling to it because it is the only thing that has worked for me. Note: I am not saying, nor meaning to imply that what works for me would necessarily work for you. Just an idea then.

I understand well the many-years struggle to find something that works. I wish you well.
posted by marble at 6:41 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I definitely feel less productive on my meds than not. The subjective experience is a real downer.

Yet, I actually get more stuff done. I have about forty unfinished novels from my unmedicated period (~20 years,) and one finished one from my medication/therapy compliance period (~2 years.) I also managed, while medicated, to write in my journal almost every day this year, after a lifetime of doing it for three days (thousands of words, mind you) and then forgetting it for a year. I think the trade-off, creatively speaking, is positive.

And it took me forever to find a combination that kind of works - and we're still working on it. Don't be afraid to bring this up to your psychiatrist. There are some drugs that just make me stupid and slow.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 6:41 PM on December 16, 2011

I've been on lamictal for a few months now, and it's really helping me. I always thought of myself as straight depressed, and that's what I was always diagnosed with, because with the exception of one mixed state one time I've never had anything on the manic end of the spectrum. But my psychiatrist apparently decided I was depressed and cyclothymic, and I gotta say, it's working way better than any antidepressants ever did. So, you know, maybe there's something to it.

Anyway, my point is that, in stabilizing me, it has made me much cheerier and much more productive, and much happier with what I come out with. I have no experience with Seroquel, but I can speak to lamictal *not* having the effect of dampening at least my creativity. It might have a different effect for you, of course-- brain-meds are weird. But it also works, which is awesome. If I were you, and of course I am not, I would look into switching up the seroquel first. What you're feeling definitely counts as a side effect, and it sounds like it's one you're not willing to put up with.

But I have a strong pro-lamictal bias. This is the first time in my life, I think, that I have felt this *okay*. So perhaps you don't want to listen to me.
posted by Because at 7:41 PM on December 16, 2011

Nthing the Lamictal. Per Lorin and Fee Phi, I don't feel all that creative, but I certainly produce more. One thing that helps is putting myself in creative places and hanging out with creative people so I can bounce around ideas. It's easier to be with people when I'm on the meds.

You will pry my Lamictal from my cold dead hands, it's that good.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:53 PM on December 16, 2011

I was on bipolar meds for a while - as it turns out, I'm not actually bipolar, so my experience may vary. But I felt pretty unproductive and uncreative, and I actually was. After the medication merry-go-round (I've taken everything mentioned thus far, and then some) I actually ended up leaving school.

I would wait until your assessment to determine next steps.
posted by sm1tten at 4:04 AM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

in comparison to being unmedicated, being medicated does make you *feel* less creative, but as others have pointed out, it's largely subjective. feeling sedated never helps, and even if you are awake seroquel can kind of dampen things (as it should!).

i had to do a lot of work to retrain my brain and adjust my expectations. instead of ideas just pouring into my head unbidden, i started paying more attention to things around me that sparked my interest. sometimes i have to do a bit more thinking about what it is i want to do with those things, instead of being bombarded by ideas.

tl;dr - all your creativity is still there, it just looks a little different now.
posted by unlucky.lisp at 8:29 AM on December 17, 2011

I too have found Lamictal to be the most effective drug in my life of bipolar depression. I also found that I was getting lead-headed and low energy after a couple of years on it. A dosage reduction made a world of difference. Like-a-new-person-kind-of-difference. From that, I believe that the dosage doesn't have to be constant. You'd usually think that you'd need an increase of meds over time as your body accomodates to it, but just the opposite happened to me. There was a brief increase in mood polarity, which was effectively managed by adding Wellbutrin.
posted by buzzv at 12:47 PM on December 17, 2011

Hopefully you have a doctor who actually cares about your creativity and will work with you. It could be a lot of different things and there is no knowing how you react to different drugs, over time, in combination, variety of factors, etc. etc. How long have you been on these meds? Have you adjusted to them? Can you be on less? Without knowing anything, I'd say the Seroquel has the most possibility of reducing your motivation, cutting down on your thinking, etc. but is it helping you sleep regularly, clearing your head, etc.?
Get to know as much as you can about what you are on and how it is affecting you, as well as other factors like diet, sleep, etc.
Depression will kill your creativity more than anything else, and making art is mostly about hard work. You may have to rethink your process. You may have to marshal your discipline. The creative state mimics hypomania to the point that they are indistinguishable. This isn't a problem unless there is the possibility it escalates into mania.
Making art is usually hard, intensive work. If you got through it before by being driven through on a cloud of creative energy and inspiration, maybe it's an issue. Maybe you haven't gotten to the point of intense projects yet, but it's good to be able to make the extra effort. That being said, anything that is unnecessarily making it hard for you should be dealt with.
The thing about a certain mild level of depression, before your thinking is haywire negative, is that you have a clearer view of reality without any delusional optimism to skew the ugly facts of the world. The thing about a touch of hypomania is it can keep you motivated, generative, and willing to work.
Depending on what you ultimately want to do, it's good to see what you are capable of, knowing yourself in every possible way, what you are willing to do and for what reasons.
School is as much about the connections as it is about getting the skills and knowledge, if not more so, and art is not an easy gig.
I could go on and on, but I won't. if you want to know more about bipolar disorder and/or art school, feel free to ask.
posted by provoliminal at 12:09 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

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