Drunk? Demonic? Deranged? Be a Writer!

08/11/2012 12:18 GMT | Updated 07/01/2013 10:12 GMT

A BBC news article has confirmed what so many might suspect: writers are nuts, or to put it more politely, "creativity is part of a mental illness, with writers particularly susceptible ... Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression and substance abuse, the Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute found. They were almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves."

(Michelle Roberts, health editor, BBC News online)


I have published my first book. So apparently all I can look forward to is going crazy, having my mood go up and down like a yo-yo, becoming delusional, snorting cocaine and dying young'ish.

The older I get the more it seems that those who excel in certain areas seem to make up for it by throwing themselves straight down the plughole in certain others. Jimmy Savile's once-fine legacy of fundraising for Stoke Mandeville and making children's dreams come true now seems like a smokescreen erected by a dirty old man, behind which he preyed on the young and the vulnerable. Lance Armstrong, who fought back from cancer to win the Tour de France seven times, should have been an icon of inspiration to others, but has instead been exposed as a serial cheat and a bully. He has been charged by the United States Anti-Doping Agency with doping and trafficking of drugs, and is likely to be stripped of his Tour titles.

Nor are the feet of our revered leaders free from clay.

Back in 1996, Lisa Marshall of Glasgow Caledonian University proved that psychopaths and politicians had many similar character traits, and her report was received with no great surprise by Parliament. Lewis Moonie, then Labour MP for Kirkcaldy, wryly commented that, "nothing I have seen in the Commons contradicts these findings."

So it seems fundraisers are fiends, sportsmen are stoned on success and steroids, our current frontbenchful of MPs could be swapped for the inmates of Carstairs State Hospital without there being any discernable difference in the way Britain is run and writers are bouncing around gaily with bipolar disorders.

But wait a minute, amidst all these torrents of eccentricity and madness lies the fact that I wrote a story, found my muse, virtually got a vampire for a flatmate (long story!), got that mythic connection with a character writers dream of (that was the vampire) and made friends with a film star into the bargain.

Why am I not in Carstairs State Hospital, tied to a bed and gibbering away happily? Why, even in the midst of a torrent of creativity flowing like a river in spate, was I completely free of anxiety, schizophrenia, depression or the desire for death? Why was my vampire flatmate more like a good companion than a demon bent on sin?

I've never written while drunk in my life, I've never taken drugs and I'm reasonably certain I've never killed myself. On the other hand, I once heard that after writing In Cold Blood, the writer Truman Capote became a recluse, turned up drunk at talk shows and died in a pool of his own vomit.

There is a fine line between creativity and obsession, between fantasy and delusion, but I seem to be able to walk the line and turn out the work without any ill effect.

Could this be because of the atypical wiring of my autistic brain?

I have a theory that autistic brains may be better able than those of neuro-typicals (the majority of the population) to handle the ups and downs of the creative impulse. One of autism's few universal symptoms is a tendency to be artistic and creative. It is possible that the design of the autistic brain's wiring makes it more able than the mind of a neuro-typical (NT) to accommodate that vital spark which drives the artist to perform.

I've no easy answer with which to finish this article. I sit down to write and stuff happens. Afterwards I put my feet up and enjoy the sunset. Around me, in the streets of the city, I hear the sound of breaking glass as tormented neuro-typical writers hurl themselves to their doom.

I cannot understand them and they cannot understand me.

James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives and works in Glasgow.