Amy Winehouse appears to have been similarly touched. The British songstress, as troubled as she was sensational, had turned her self-destruction into art. “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, ‘No, no, no,’ ” Winehouse sang in her 2008 Grammy-winning hit, “Rehab.”
And sure enough, she was found dead Saturday in her home in London from a suspected drug overdose.
By some estimates, about 3 million people in the United States suffer from manic depressive disorder. The rate of alcoholism and drug abuse within that group of people is said to be three times that of the general population. Cocaine, heroin and alcohol are often used to self-medicate, but they only end up making the problem worse.
About 1 out of 5 people with manic depressive disorder commit suicide.
What a confounding disorder of the mind, this melancholia mated with mania, the driving force behind creative genius.
Mental illness — the subject shows up in all kinds of music, from “19th Nervous Breakdown” by the Rolling Stones, to “Lithium Sunset” by Sting, to “Down on Me,” by Janis Joplin, a manic depressive who died of a drug overdose in 1970. And yet, there is so much more to understand.
“I do drink a lot. I think it’s symptomatic of my depression,” Winehouse said in an interview on a British TV show. “I’m manic depressive, I’m not an alcoholic, which sounds like an alcoholic in denial.”
Actually, it sounds like a manic depressive who used alcohol to treat her condition — with tragic consequences.
“We have also seen that there is a greatly increased rate of depression, manic-depressive illness and suicide in eminent writers and artists,” Kay Redfield Jamison wrote in her 1993 book, “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.”
At the same time, she argued that there is “something about the experience of prolonged periods of melancholia — broken at times by episodes of manic intensity and expansiveness — that leads to a different kind of insight, compassion and expression of the human condition.
“From virtually all perspectives . . . there is agreement that artistic creativity and inspiration involve, indeed require, a dipping into pre-rational or irrational sources while maintaining ongoing contact with reality and ‘life at the surface.’ ”
These colliding worlds create a lot of friction, and not everyone can handle the heat.
For all of her talents, Winehouse would show up for concerts too drunk or drug-addled to perform; she’d get into fights with innocent bystanders; she’d go out in public looking like death warmed over, her body scarred with needle marks, scabs and bruises.