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The Jury Is In. Creative Consensus Part II: Amy Dodd Pilkington

(Where do creatives weigh in? I wanted to find out, and gave some contemporaries the following question: "Mental health and creativity. How does one affect the other?" Amy Dodd Pilkington speaks on it.)

Amy is a close, personal friend, author, advocate, genius, and one of the bravest people I know. She is continually ripping down curtains to expose her past, her abuse, her own battles with mental illness, and even her shortcomings so that others may have better experiences than her own.

Amy insists that she found success because of bipolar disorder, not in spite of it. In a world where Amy felt she had little control, writing gave her a place where she could call the shots. When Amy was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the social climate was a bit different. Champions of mental illness weren't nearly as prevalent, and having this label meant you were, in Amy's words, "violent and hopeless." On top of all that, she felt alone. In a sea of internet articles and blog posts describing the condition she had been told she had, she felt like an island. Among misfits, she was a square peg. She felt that her symptoms were more extreme than others, and feared a life lived like those in the asylum of her small town.

To help Amy process her feelings, she began writing blogs without an audience in mind. It was a way for her to get her thoughts and words out. It was a place for her to pour her busy brain into paragraphs. She gave an honest account of the storms she had brewing. Quickly, she found she wasn't the only one who had clouds in the forecast. Amy said, "I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t worse than everyone else. What I had read were watered-down and sugar-coated versions of bipolar disorder symptoms. I was normally abnormal, and there was comfort in that."

Amy continued giving a voice to the parts of her that were stigmatized. She gave honest accounts about things that weren't always so pleasant, and unlike the others, she did not sugar-coat. She wrote about her battles with suicidal thoughts, psychotic breaks, and hallucinations. She wrote openly about everything that was taboo. Her honesty drew people in. She wasn't the only one experiencing these things, she just seemed to be the only person brave enough to bare all and write about all of it.

Amy recalled, "A reader pointed me to Lachance Publishing and a submissions call for writers with bipolar disorder. I decided to submit some of my work and it was published. Health magazine noticed me." Health magazine wasn't the only publication to notice, and Amy gained traction. Amy stated, "This wasn’t in spite of being mentally ill. It was because I was mentally ill and trying to connect with others like me. Having a community - connecting with others - helped me in so many ways, but it encouraged me to keep writing and keep pushing forward so others would know having bipolar disorder didn’t mean you were hopeless." Bipolar disorder wasn't the asylum sentence she had dreaded in the early days after her diagnosis. It sort of became her superpower.

Amy explains, "In a depressive state, my writing is more poignant and powerful. There is a lot of feeling in the words." This is where her fiction work grows best. She calls her writing that she pours out in the sweet spot beyond sadness and short of outright despair, "my idea of perfection." Manic episodes bring millions of ideas without the task of brainstorming, allowing her to accomplish a lot in a short period of time. These are ideal conditions for writing nonfiction. The storms haven't stopped, Amy just figured out how to read the forecast. She knows when to ride the waves and when to batten down the hatches.

While some degree of depression, and conversely, mania, have helped Amy's creative process, they still come with their detriments. Drifting into despair can cause creative paralysis for her. Amy draws into herself, retreats, and her cold, steel walls shoot up from the ground to protect her. She goes off-grid, socially, and tends to disappear into the mist. When she's really "gone," I check in, but no amount of coaxing can force her to emerge if she's not ready. It's cyclical, but irregular. The sun may come up tomorrow, and it may not. As scary as it is for me in my friend capacity, I can't imagine how it is for her. Still, she's a bit of a superhero and always manages to wriggle from the villain's grip eventually. The black finger marks left on her arms from captivity drip down her wrists and pour out as the most beautiful words you've ever read . . . when she's ready.

Amy has her hands in many projects, and you can find links to her work here:

I'm a big fan of this book: The Lesser of Two Evils and her podcast: Speak On It.


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