I took piano lessons when I was a child but didn’t continue to play once I crossed the threshold into adulthood. As a kid, having the dexterity to move the fingers of my right hand to produce melodies while simultaneously striking chords with my left eluded me. I gave it up. About a decade ago, I re-engaged with the piano, using that part of my creative brain that had been dormant for too many years. Weekly lessons kept me practicing and I found that I could immerse myself for hours on end. It was transporting. During my hypomanic periods, it seemed that I could connect with music in a way that made it (and me) feel more alive. I believed that I was creating something more richly moving than I could have achieved in my baseline mood state but perhaps I was merely experiencing it through the amplifying filter of my elevation.
The connection between artistic creativity and mental illness has been well documented. No surprise given that what ends up on the canvas, in the musical score, in the written word or on the stage reflects our innermost emotional world. Conversely, the arts can provide great healing to those who suffer. Some of the most accomplished artists in the world have lived with psychiatric disorders: Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Edward Munch, Georgia O’Keeffe, Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann, Ludwig van Beethoven, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allen Poe and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few. Notably, many produced unimaginably beautiful art whilst in the throes of altered moods and psychosis.
Enter The Awakenings Project, (awakeningsproject.org) a wonderful nonprofit dedicated to fostering the creative efforts of artists living with mental illness. Their award-winning journal, The Awakenings Review, publishes the works of artists, writers and poets who have psychiatric conditions. I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Robert Lundin and Irene O’Neill, co-founders of AP. Their efforts help reduce the stigma that too often touches the lives of those struggling with mental health issues. In these difficult times, artistic creativity expands our world, provides us with comfort and allows us to experience deeper connections with ourselves and with those in our lives. The arts move us in the direction of our most human selves. We need artists now more than ever.
The Awakenings Project amplifies the voices of those who might otherwise remain unheard. I’m proud to walk hand in hand with them. We all have an obligation to support those courageous souls who share their stories with us through artistic expression. Their efforts light a pathway forward encouraging all of us to step out from behind the shadows of silence. Let’s support their bravery. By doing so, we’ll be striking just the right chord.