Sunday is Vincent Van Gogh's birthday and Wednesday was Tennessee Williams's, two artists who created beautiful things out of their own depression, and there were many others. When you read the lives of great artists, depression or bipolar is as common as having brown hair.
Tchaikovsky was one who suffered. He said, "Without music, I would go insane." Some psychiatrists think he did go insane, that he suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. He was gay at a time when it was a capital offense in Russia. He married a woman, Antonina Milyukova, for respectability's sake, which was a disaster, and he tried to kill himself. All through his successful career ---- Swan Lake (1877), the 1812 Overture (1880), The Sleeping Beauty (1890), and The Nutcracker (1892) ---- he suffered terrible bouts of depression and worrying about public discovery of his sexual orientation, which, it's believed, was why he committed suicide in the end.
Beethoven was bipolar. He had a violent temper, he suffered from continual melancholy for weeks at a time and brood about his sad life and feel a void in himself and talk about commiting suicide, and then he'd get busy composing several different works at the same time. His deafness brought him to the verge of despair. He said, "I would have put an end to my life but it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence-for the sake of my art, I did not end my life with suicide."
Tennessee Williams was in and out of mental hospitals, was compulsively restless, travelling, moving from hotel to hotel, a chronic hypochondriac, and in the end addicted to Martinis and barbiturates, but he also gave us Blanche DuBois who always depended on the kindness of strangers.
There's a lot of speculation about what ailed Vincent Van Gogh. He himself wasn't sure ---- he wrote, ""I am unable to describe exactly what is the matter with me; now and then there are horrible fits of anxiety, apparently without cause, or otherwise a feeling of emptiness and fatigue in the head....and at times I feel I am bound hand and foot and lying at the bottom of a deep well."
Some think he suffered from epilepsy, others lead poisoning, others say bipolar. But he surely was psychotic the last two years of his life and then committed suicide at age 37.
Is there a connection between mental illness and creative genius? We don't want to think so. We don't know. But on Sunday, Van Gogh's birthday, think of the bravery of those who endure mental illness and who go on and live as best they can.