My brain naturally goes off on lots of tangents. My psychologist said that creative brains do. It's also exaggerated by my diagnoses of bipolar disorder (type 1 which has full mania) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
'Loose associations' is an indicator that one is in a mood episode. It can become distressing in extreme levels, as my brain is linking loads of things from decades ago to recently, very fast. This is very taxing on the brain and can be anxiety-inducing if the links go back to trauma, overwhelming me with trauma triggers (all the links are actually potential triggers).
However, if this can be managed, the going off on tangents, going with how my brain naturally works, can be therapeutic. I can turn the triggers into part of my storytelling instead (I currently write about romantic and sexual relationships with bipolar and PTSD in storytelling form (memoir, novels).
Brains have connections that link like the internet. Mine happens to link lots of things very quickly at once. This is how I get the inspiration from my own story for my art and my books. My mind is like an internet browser with many tabs open at once, quickly leaping from one thing to another. If there is too much going on, everything can shut down.
The downside of a mind like mind is that I struggle with my short-term memory and retrieving things when I want to. The memories and ideas tend to come to me when I am listening to music that fits my mood (often an earworm) on repeat. What I have been processing, I pull apart and put back together in a new way for my art (paintings, writing etc).
Occasionally, as song will be triggering and I will cry a lot (but usually I needed the release) or rarely, I will feel anxious listening to a song. So I can change it to something else. I usually find other people's choice in music annoying but when I can choose, which music and the volume, I can control the pace of my processing.
Most of my processing grief and trauma has been some kind of improvised expression to music. At my own pace. If I am listening to music excessively (for me, over 2 hours per day total, that is an indicator that my mood is elevated and/or I am anxious). If I do too much processing at much, it can elevate my mood too much (which then results in a big crash).
The improvised expression can be singing along, writing out some of the words/lyrics, painting, dancing, walking, dance-walking, building a sculpture out of repurposed/recycled materials.
I started the loose mind map above while listening to music. This is pretty much how I journal (only my journals are messier). I since added more details in biro. The words and symbols are key themes in my writing.
Starting Bipolar Courage (independent mental health advocacy) was actually going off on a tangent when I had setback writing Pet Purpose: Your Unspoken Voice. I am currently writing a memoir called Bipolar Courage, which is another tangent towards my goal of writing Soar Purpose (sequel to Pet Purpose). I self-publish so I don't have the pressure of deadlines and also so others don't control my voice.
Two solo art as therapy exhibitions were also going off on tangents. I struggle with my cognition a lot and can lose my capacity for words. That's when I find it better to use visual art such as painting. My paintings are actually visual mind maps that helped me with my themes for writing. All my art is linked.
Rainbow Pi, below, is the largest visual mind map I have done. I painted it in a mania episode, while sedated with meds. It actually has the main themes to Pet Purpose, to sort out the thousands of ideas in my head, yet unable to process in a way that others could understand (other than you could see my mind was busy). It was since cut up and made into two more process art works. Cutting up is also often part of the creative process.
I write best when I am in an elevated mood (hypomania) but not too elevated (mania). The more elevated I become, the more tangents I go on and the harder it is for others to understand me. Also, in mania, my mind races too fast to capture all the ideas, so painting can capture this metaphorically as well as calm my mind (like a meditation in motion).
Making hundreds of improvised You Tube videos while talking about aspects of my diagnoses and my creative process (my passion) was actually a tangent. My channel, Bipolar Courage has apparently had nearly 83,000 views. I haven't made any money from it (haven't reached thresholds) but I don't mind as I like to share my insights and views have said they have found what I share helpful.
Some nearly impossible goals with going off on tangents along the way has been therapeutic. Also kept me going when I have had many setbacks. This sense of purpose keeps me going when I am in a mood crash and severely triggered and struggling. I rest and recover quicker than previously. Also, switching from one creative project to another, all in the same general direction, helps me to avoid chronic burnout.
My therapy with a clinical psychologist is at a slower pace than most people as I go off on tangents (which is my indirect way of processing with less risk of re-traumatising myself). My psychologist acknowledges that I have done most of the processing on my own in creative ways (which I shared with my blog and vlog and also my novel, Pet Purpose).
My mood was elevated into what is hypomania for me in the video below. I go off on tangents in it but I am also hopefully showing a glimpse of how my mind pulls ideas from many sources (inspired by the song I was listening to initially). Creating the mind map above.
Xanthe finds creative expression including writing and painting to be therapeutic and helps her to manage her diagnoses of bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).