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3 December 1996

Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament

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Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament


The relationship between bipolar disorder and creativity is extensively explored in Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison. Originally published in 1993, Jamison refers to bipolar disorder as manic depressive illness. Jamison debates and argues the connection between bipolar disorder and artistic creativity but also warns that “labeling as manic-depressive anyone who is unusually creative, accomplished, energetic, intense, moody or eccentric both diminishes the notion of individuality within the arts and trivializes a very serious, often deadly illness.”

Jamison notes that there is a common concern among some writers and artists that if their illness is treated, they will no longer be as creative as they once were. She explains that some concerns stem from a misunderstanding of the actions and side effects of medication, while others are based on a romanticised notion of ‘madness’ that does not ‘take into account the severity and consequences of untreated manic depressive illness’.

Warning! Touched with Fire is not an easy read. Packed full of quotes, literary passages and poetry by writers as diverse as Leo Tolstoy, Robert Burns, Sylvia Plath and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Touched with Fire is an education. Though these writers have long passed, their words, which vividly describe how it feels, and what it means to be creative and living with a what can be debilitating illness, live on.

Kay Redfield Jamieson
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