Can Illness Be A Creative Opportunity?

The ancient word “daemon” has returned to use as a way to describe the creative spirit within the unconscious. A person’s daemon is in charge of their calling or their life path and works to ensure that developments move forward as they should. It is an unnecessarily fanciful way of describing a genuine and observable phenomenon, but for the moment, we will allow the concept to stand.

Illustration from War of the Worlds - French Edition (1906)

Out of work, suffering from tuberculosis, and coughing blood, H. G. Wells saw his situation as a great opportunity. (Photo: public domain)

The daemons of psychologists Carl Jung, James Hillman, and similar others take advantage of accidents in the furtherance of their life goals. If a particular personal mishap does not suit, the daemon will wait for another. If none is forthcoming within a reasonable period, then self-sabotage may occur in order to generate the necessary life experience. The daemon must have what it needs to further the “calling” which it both guards and promotes, although this can be hard to perceive since each daemon, each calling, has its own unique requirements.

I prefer to see the daemon or calling as an act of will, and offer as example the case of H. G. Wells. Wells desperately wanted to be a professional writer, but found himself trapped in a dull teaching position that, although it gave him his daily bread, devoured most of his time. After writing part-time for some years, he became ill with what proved to be advanced tuberculosis, which put an end to his job. British schools would not knowingly allow anyone with the then incurable disease to work in a classroom filled with youngsters.

Out of work and coughing blood, one might expect Wells to have been daunted and dismayed by his plight, yet nothing could be farther from the truth. His daemon (or will) saw in his terrible misfortune an excellent opportunity. He writes that he felt elated, for now he would have no choice but to earn his living with his pen! Circumstances had provided him with a guilt-free way of doing what he had really wanted to do all along – devote himself exclusively to his writing. Why did he feel guilty? Wells felt, as we all do, obligated to behave in what society would regard as a responsible manner. Yet look what the world would have lost if H.G.’s “daemon” (really his authentic will) had not taken advantage of his tuberculosis.

For those who do not regard Wells as a writer of much substance it is worth noting that D. H. Lawrence had a similar experience, although, being less sanguine than Wells, he consistently denied that he had tuberculosis. Yet he too was quick to exploit the forced end of his teaching career and take up writing as a full-time occupation. It is worthy of note that Wells, who accepted his illness and happily saw it as an opportunity, survived his TB while Lawrence, who often declared that he was merely “chesty,” died horribly at the famous tuberculosis retreat, Ad Astra, in southern France. Ironically, his last words were, “I am better now.”

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

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