136

Why it's so easy for jazz musicians to be "bipolar"

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

Sign in to view read count
This excerpt is adapted from The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius (Shrinktunes Media, 2011) by its author, psychologist and All About Jazz columnist Judith Schlesinger. It appears in Chapter 3, "Elastic Madness: One Size Fits All," which explains the ongoing backstage controversy over the definition of so-called mental "illness." This shows how easy it is for jazz musicians to be labeled bipolar, according to the standard psychiatric manual, the DSM-IV, although in reality they may be no such thing.




Moody, Mad, or Just Really Creative?

We don't need to dive into the whole pool of confusion to understand why there's such a stubborn linkage between bipolar disorder and genius. We only need to see how it works in a real-life context.

Let's say you're a jazz musician. According to the DSM-IV, you are experiencing a manic episode if you exhibit any three of the following seven symptoms:



1. Inflated self-esteem

2. Decreased need for sleep

3. More talkative than usual

4. "Flight of ideas" or the experience of racing thoughts

5. Distractibility or difficulty differentiating between the relevant and irrelevant

6. Increased goal-directed activity (either socially, at work, at school, or sexually)

7. Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities having a high potential for painful consequences


Here's how these symptoms could manifest in your daily life:



1. You decide to finally finish your CD, planning to quit your day job once all that money comes rolling in (symptoms 1 and 7).

2. You use every spare moment to work on it (symptom 6), including staying up all night (symptom 2).

3. You allow yourself to free-associate and generate random creative ideas (symptoms 5 and 4).

4. You talk excitedly about it (symptom 3).

5. You feel really confident about the whole thing (back to symptoms 1 and 7).


This scenario, instantly familiar to any creative person with an exciting new project, already gives you more than twice as many symptoms as you need for the diagnosis.

All that's left is for your "mania" to meet one of the following three conditions:



1. It causes marked impairment in occupational functioning or in usual social activities or relationships with others

2. It necessitates hospitalization

3. It has psychotic features


The first condition is a cinch. "Marked impairment in usual relationships" could simply mean irritating the hell out of friends and family by being so obsessed that you're oblivious to them and their needs. And if you're sleeping on that day job because of all those late nights, you've racked up some serious "occupational impairment" as well.

The other two options (involuntary hospitalization and psychosis) are the most serious. Once the definitive hallmarks of madness, they're no longer required to make the diagnosis. Neither is promiscuity or excessive spending, traditionally the two riskiest behaviors with the worst long-term consequences.

But if you loosen the net, you catch more fish. This also encourages the invention of marginal categories where people acquire the ominous blush of a serious disorder, if not its full coloration, like the "subsyndromal" person who is only a "little bit" manic-depressive and "must struggle on alone, wondering what is the matter with him."

This has absolutely nothing to do with science.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read A Conversation with Mike Mainieri Book Excerpts A Conversation with Mike Mainieri
by Anthony Smith
Published: June 2, 2017
Read The Royal Roost: Birthplace of Bop Book Excerpts The Royal Roost: Birthplace of Bop
by Richard Carlin
Published: March 30, 2016
Read Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion Book Excerpts Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion
by Jason Bivins
Published: September 24, 2015
Read Zappa and Jazz: Did it Really Smell Funny, Frank? Book Excerpts Zappa and Jazz: Did it Really Smell Funny, Frank?
by Geoffrey Wills
Published: September 15, 2015
Read Mingus Speaks Book Excerpts Mingus Speaks
by John Goodman
Published: July 22, 2015
Read "A Conversation with Mike Mainieri" Book Excerpts A Conversation with Mike Mainieri
by Anthony Smith
Published: June 2, 2017
Read "Sometimes Jazz Takes Guts" From the Inside Out Sometimes Jazz Takes Guts
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: February 28, 2017
Read "Thundercat at the Bluebird Theater" Live Reviews Thundercat at the Bluebird Theater
by Geoff Anderson
Published: March 3, 2017
Read "Jerome Wilson's  Best Releases of 2016" Best of / Year End Jerome Wilson's Best Releases of 2016
by Jerome Wilson
Published: December 13, 2016
Read "Bud Powell: The Scene Changes - 1958" My Blue Note Obsession Bud Powell: The Scene Changes - 1958
by Marc Davis
Published: April 4, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.