After the tragic death of Robin Williams, there have been many Internet articles exploring the relationships between creativity and mental illness, such as addiction. It’s a common belief that addiction is a close companion to creative genius, innovation, and expressions of originality. There’s no question that Robin Williams was a genius in the way that he used words and images to bring laughter to the American public.
Yet, throughout his life, he suffered from addiction and other forms of mental illness, such as depression. He was depressed for many years of his life and diagnosed with Major Depression and had a long battle with drugs. Throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s, Williams was addicted to cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. According to People Magazine, Williams quit cocaine and alcohol entirely in 1982 when his first wife was pregnant with their son Zachary. The approaching role of fatherhood as well as the recent death of his close friend John Belushi prompted him to find long-term sober living.
As a result, Williams was in and out of drug detox, sober living treatment centers, and hospitals to address his drug abuse and mental illness. In an interview with The Guardian, Williams described the way his first drink exploded into alcoholism:
I just thought, hey, maybe drinking will help. Because I felt alone and afraid. It was that thing of working so much, and going…’maybe that will help.’ And it was the worst thing in the world.”
It’s common for those who use substances to also have mental illness. The two are close companions, and both substance abuse and mental illness seem to accompany creative genius. There are certain mental illnesses that frequently co-exist with substance use, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Anxiety, Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When there is a co-existing condition, such as addiction and mental illness, sober livingtreatment must involve tending to both illnesses, or relapse is likely to occur.
However, for Williams, according to news reports, it was his depression that required treatment in his later life, more so than his addiction. Despite the fact that Robin Williams struggled with both throughout his life, some experts point out that his creativity was the result of neither his addiction nor his depression. Instead, as one writer put it:
Williams’ comedic genius was a result of many factors, including his compassion, playfulness, divergent thinking, imagination, intelligence, affective repertoire, and unique life experiences.
It seems that those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs frequently have a huge appetite for life. They are sensitive, passionate, imaginative, creative, and in many ways, wild inside and out. They have an intense relationship with existence, which seems to spill over into everything they do. This might be an apt description for Williams as well.
This intensity, this volcano inside, seems to be forever erupting, and without knowing what to do with it, perhaps it’s the cause of the compulsive lifestyle that is characteristic of addiction. Learning how to manage that fire inside is part of the journey of finding sobriety. Although in the beginning, many might attempt to quell the fire inside through the use of drugs and alcohol. Long-term sober living for some is learning how to manage the full expression of life without the use of substances.
Yet, this can get confusing when there’s also mental illness, such as depression, which was the case for Williams. His suicide was clearly the result of his depression and not his wild creativity nor his addiction. Research shows that depression is the leading cause of suicide. Debilitating thoughts that frequent a depressed mind slowly eat away at a sense of self, making the option of taking one’s life viable.
Certainly, the relationship between creativity, mental illness, and addiction runs deep. Yet, the genius of one’s creativity doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is prone to addiction or that the creativity is the result of mental illness. Yet, coincidentally, when an individual aims to acquire sober living, creativity and self-expression are often powerful tools for healing.
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