Bitterly Brilliant

Painting 2New, breaking research shows that over-thinkers tend to be creative geniuses. Although, in my mind, this study is hardly breaking unless it is breaking the mold that says enthusiastic extroverts are the highest performers. Or breaking the spirit of the insuppressibly happy. Or breaking the glass ceiling that prevents the bitter among us from rising to societal success (while we are still living, of course).

This study by Dr. Adam Perkins of King’s College London has found that anxious personalities plagued by negative thoughts trend toward greater creative problem solving than happy-go-lucky types. Although I appreciate when the scientific method is utilized to back up what we intrinsically know to be true, I think we can all look through history and acknowledge that the Greats of each era suffered for their genius.

Or we can just read through my old blog posts. Or talk to my mother. She has suffered my genius, lo these many years.

selfportraitVincent Van Gogh, iconic Post-Impressionist painter, suffered from severe depression and eventually committed suicide. He wrote to his brother, “I am unable to describe exactly what is the matter with me. Now and then there are horrible fits of anxiety, apparently without cause, or otherwise a feeling of emptiness… at times I have attacks of melancholy and of atrocious remorse.”

Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found that writers are 121% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder and nearly 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and Ernest Hemingway all appear to have suffered from clinical depression. Charles is my gloomy groupie, Leo is my caustic comrade, and Ernest shares my melancholy mojo. We are indeed Brothers in Bitterness.

Open TabsThe Karolinska Institute also discovered that creative types tend to have higher levels of schizotypy. *Twitch, twitch* They are less able to ignore extraneous details; their brains do not allow them to filter. As a result, they take in more information than most, exhibiting keen skills of observation.

Think of famous fictional detectives: Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Adrian Monk and Miss Fisher. All of these champions in intuition share a remarkable attention to detail, and this characteristic, coupled with their ability to synthesize vast amount of information, is largely what made them brilliant.

SherlockMasterful detectives see patterns and connections that others miss. According to American psychologist Scott Kaufman, “It seems that the key to creative cognition is opening up the flood gates and letting in as much information as possible because you never know: sometimes the most bizarre associations can turn into the most productively creative ideas.” But the very attention to detail that makes these characters so great also lends itself to bouts of overthinking, anxiety and OCD.

Great inventors through the ages also frequently suffered from a neurotic fretfulness. HigherPerspectives writes, “In a sense, worry is the mother of invention. When you think about it, it makes sense. Many of our greatest breakthroughs through the years were a result of worry. Nuclear power? Worry over energy. Advanced weapons? Worry of invasion. Medical breakthroughs? Worry over illness and death.”

broodingDr. Adam Perkins explained his research, saying: “It occurred to me that if you happen to have a preponderance of negatively hued self-generated thoughts, due to high levels of spontaneous activity in the parts of the medial prefrontal cortex… that means you can experience intense negative emotions even when there’s no threat present. This could mean that for specific neural reasons, high scorers on neuroticism have a highly active imagination, which acts as a built-in threat generator. Cheerful, happy-go-lucky people by definition do not brood about problems and so must be at a disadvantage when problem-solving compared to a more neurotic person… It is easy to observe that many geniuses seem to have a brooding, unhappy tendency that hints they are fairly high on the neuroticism spectrum.”

Anxiety is linked to a stronger imagination. OCD is associated with concentrated skills of observation. Depression is correlated with deep thinking and heightened brain function. People with these traits often exhibit what are perceived to be negative personality patterns as a result of incredibly developed, creative brain function. Like so many things in life, this creative genius is a double-edged sword. “But he who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” – Anne Brontë

Authentically Aurora

Uniquely Captivating

On Friday night, I had a first date that left me… curious. Pleased but cautious. Puzzled. Interested.

It’s not often that I find someone who can keep up with me intellectually. I don’t mean that in an arrogant or unkind way; I just mean it factually. Usually when I go on dates, I can show up, look pretty, be charming, and my date is easily won over… too easily won over.

I can read my dates like a book, dissecting stories of their family life growing up and its implications on their relationship style. I pick up on clues they don’t even realize they are giving away; insights into who they are and what makes them tick based on offhand comments made unthinkingly. Meanwhile, most of them never even learn that I almost married someone else this summer because they never bother to ask questions of any depth whatsoever. They want to talk about sports or movies or the weather or work.




But last night, I went out with a guy named Bryan who was not only my intellectual peer, but also extremely perceptive. I take for granted that none of my dates are observant or mentally deft enough to catch my subtext. But Bryan didn’t miss a thing. In fact, he picked up more than I meant for him to.

Bryan asked good questions. Hard questions. Revealing questions. And he read between the lines and heard all the things I didn’t say. I felt like we spent the evening proverbially circling one another, each trying to solve the other’s puzzling persona. I may have found the Irene Adler to my Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock-See-ObserveDriving down the highway to dinner, Bryan had to slam on the brakes at one point because traffic backed up unexpectedly. A few moments later, he commented, “Now you keep tensing up every time I come up on another vehicle. What do I need to do to regain your trust?” I hadn’t even realized I was tensing. Reveling in his emotional intelligence, I teased him that I never let guys pick me up on the first date, so he should feel very trusted that I gave him my address. His response, curious and not accusatory, was: “And why do you have trust issues?” Then, after I answered, “Why did you decide to trust me?”

Over butternut squash ravioli, I took a turn. Bryan had mentioned that he and his best friend Russ had both gone through a rough breakup at the same time a couple of years back. “I was able to help him since I’d just gone through it,” he told me. “Interestingly, we’d each started dating our respective girlfriends within a few months of each other, too. The timing just lined up.”

A few courses later into the meal, Bryan let slip that Russ was having trouble meeting people because he’d dated his last girlfriend for five years and was out of practice. I put the pieces together and asked, “So you dated your last girlfriend for five years?” Bryan looked at me sharply, surprised and not pleased at my revelation. I explained, “You said that you and Russ had started dating girls at the same time and broke up with those girls at the same time.” Bryan furrowed his brow; then chuckled. “I hadn’t expected you to put that together. You’re a lot smarter than you let on.” A back-handed compliment, to be sure.

After dinner, walking around the zoo lit up with Christmas lights, the wind caught my scarf, and I got it tangled in my purse strap. When we climbed back into his truck an hour later, I arranged my scarf to drape over the seatbelt so it wasn’t bunched against me. Bryan tweaked his eyebrow and asked casually, “You don’t wear scarves often, do you?” Guilty. I was born and raised in the South, where Christmas is usually 80 degrees. I squinted at him. “I would have been more coy from the beginning if I’d realized how observant you are. I don’t normally have to be so on my toes.” He smiled. “I could say the same about you.”

Irene-AdlerAt the end of the evening, I asked Bryan why he’d asked me out. He smiled sideways at me, as is his way, and said contemplatively after a moment, “You have a uniquely captivating personality. And you have lots of interests, which makes you interesting.”

I actually don’t even know if I like him, romantically I mean. I was just so fascinated by him – excited to have a conversation parter who wasn’t entirely predictable and boring – that we stayed out for seven hours together: first to dinner; then the zoo; then a wine dive.

I want to see him again. I want to understand him. And I want to be understood. But do I want to be loved? Or just solved?

Authentically Aurora