Home    Workshops    Members Only    Contests    Join    Contact us                       RWA Chapter

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Author Viola Ryan
by Viola Ryan 

Poet Lord Byron once said, “We of the craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.” He should know. Lord Byron is the poster child for bipolar poets. Mood disorders, including bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depression, occur with a vastly higher frequency among creative people. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, a professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins Medical School, herself bipolar, wrote about this in Touched with Fire, Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. 

Being diagnosed with any disorder is a terrifying experience. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in November 2004. I was just beginning to get back into writing after my kids started school full time. I was terrified what this meant for my future aspirations of being a writer. 

I took great comfort that the list of writers who are believed to have suffered from mood disorders included many of the people who inspired me to write, including many speculative fiction writers--Hans Christian Anderson, James Barrie, Samuel Clemens, Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson. Handel composed The Messiah in 24 days in a manic episode. Everyone is familiar with the mood swings of Van Gogh. What is remarkable is if you line up his paintings chronologically, you can witness these. His paintings are evidence of his moods.

When someone is manic, there brain scans light up. This is called the Christmas Tree brain. When neurons fire, the brain makes connections. Normally, a person makes connections between A, B and C. For a manic person, we have to make sense of A, B, C, M, Q, T and Z. This helps drive our creativity. 

Depression also affects creativity. We all have to make sense of the world. Mood disorders affect our perception of reality. That is the hardest part of being bipolar for me. It is hard enough to trust your own perception. When I am manic or depressed, I know my perception is off. It is hard to even know when I am manic or depressed. It took years of therapy for me to recognize the warning signs. The highs of mania and the lows of depression have to be reconciled with the times I am level. All this gives me an interesting perspective of the world and also drives creativity. 

When I was diagnosed, I was terrified what being medicated would do to my creativity. That list of amazing writers weren’t medicated. I came up with some wild ideas while I was manic. How could I write, if I couldn’t come up with ideas? What I was unable to see was I came up with amazing universes when I was manic and I could stay up and write for hours and hours, but what I wrote was unintelligible to others. These great ideas were impossible for others to follow since I jumped around a lot. 

I agreed to seek therapy and take medication because I didn’t want to hurt my family. If I lost my creativity, that was a price I was willing to pay. It would tear me apart, but nothing was more important than my children having a stable upbringing. 

What I didn’t realize was being medicated wasn’t going to kill my creativity. It made it so it was more accessible to others. Being medicated doesn’t mean I’m always level, though I joke I take drugs to prevent what others take drugs to feel. Being manic can be compared to being on crystal meth. Being medicated means my life is manageable and my highs aren’t so high and my lows aren’t so low. The times I am level is much greater. 

Years of therapy taught me how to use these to my benefit. When I am manic, I am big idea girl. I come up with some amazing things. I can’t write, since what I write will be so disjointed, but I can do mind maps and research. I love researching when I’m manic. Net surfing is a manic person’s paradise. I can surf from one thing to another. It is also a great time to read, since I get so obsessive, I shut out the world. Reading is an important part of writing. 

When I am depressed, I can’t write either. It goes beyond writer’s block. I have trouble remembering words or anything for that matter. Writing becomes an act in frustration. There are better ways to spend my time. The world slows down and I’m hypercritical. This is the perfect time to edit. 

Then when I am fairly level, I write. I take all those big ideas and edits and turn them into a book that others will enjoy.  

Thank you FF&P for having me. You are one of the important parts of my support network. Thanks to you, my debut book, The Mark of Abel, came out  December 2012, a full eight years after I was diagnosed and thought I would never be able to make my dream of being a published writer come true. 


Blurb for The Mark of Abel:

Lucifer is fed up with humanity. He created hell to deter evil but man’s inhumanity is only escalating. He just wants to return home to heaven and Eve, but ever since that little problem in the Garden of Eden, the Pearly Gates remain firmly shut to him. It doesn’t help that he’s the first vampire, an abomination in God’s sight.

Fortunately, two thousand years ago his estranged brother, Jesus, gave him a prophecy--The path back to heaven can be found in terrors in the night turned into art and transformed by divine wisdom. Seems simple enough. The artist even bears a symbol so he knows who she is. If only she would stop dying every time he finds her. 

Janie’s a frustrated artist and college art teacher who wants two things—a  guy she can show her paintings to and a night without nightmares. Each nightmare plagues her until she paints it. She doesn’t realize these paintings are key to unlocking her destiny, one that could redeem the original fallen angel.

Bio: A very good friend of Viola Ryan in high school said, “You don’t think outside the box. You blow the thing up.” Sometimes boxes need exploding. That’s why she’s here. She has a whole bag of C4 and isn’t afraid to use it. She’s blessed with people who treasure her eccentricities or at least put up with them. 

Sometimes the box can be a cozy place. Without some sort of stability, her two daughters’ and her life would be unmanageable. That stability comes from her husband. He’s the rock holding her family together. 

On the flip side, his career is anything but stable. He’s a Chief Marine Safety Technician in the US Coast Guard. They’ve lived from Kittery, Maine to Yorktown, Virginia. Fortunately, the moves have all been on the east coast. Then again, the Coast Guard tends to guard the coast. 

Her oldest daughter (15) was born on Cape Cod, not far from Plymouth. Massachusetts. Her youngest (11) was born in Yorktown, Virginia, down the road from Williamsburg. Viola jokes they’re doing the colonial America tour. 

You can find her at:

Website     Blog     Facebook


Edith said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Even though I don't know you I feel proud of your achievement. Your story is an inspiration to so many more writers who live at various points on the bipolar and depressive arcs. What a wonderful achievement! :) xxx

Nancy said...

Inspiration and explanation can only help all the authors that visit and read this post. Thank you for opening yourself to us.

Viola Ryan said...

Thank you. Sometimes I think about forming a bipolar writers support group. Writer's block can be bad enough, but when you are depressed, it knocks you out. Sometimes my only goal of the day is to be functional.