Some of the most famous and highly revered individuals in history would have been classified as ‘mentally ill’ by today’s standards. Do we condemn people to the diagnosis of a ‘mental illness’ before seeing the possible genius trying to emerge? Is it a mental disorder or brilliance?
If you have ever experienced serious depression, panic attacks or the occasional psychotic fit (it’s okay to admit it), you may be harboring brilliance beyond all these sticky symptoms. Let’s take a look at Charles Dickens and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom suffered from severe depression throughout their lives. Charles Dickens was recognized throughout the world as an amazing writer by the time he was 30 years old. It was said that he went into deep fits of depression every time he started a novel, which would turn to mania before finally lifting as the work was completed. Abraham Lincoln was called, by one of his closest friends, “the most depressed person they’ve ever seen.“
Wikipedia states: “Psychotic individuals are said to display a capacity to see the world in a novel and original way, literally, to see things that others cannot.“
In this society we are destined to be labeled as this or that according to the way we ‘fit’ or ‘do not fit’ into the accepted ‘norm’, if we allow such characterizations. If found in front of a court of law or in a doctors office (especially a psychiatrist), I am sure that each and every one of us would fit into one mental diagnosis or another. The question is – is ‘mental illness’ a real thing? Or are we so interested in emotional and behavioral conformity in this country that we don’t know how to ‘deal’ with the ‘creative genius’ type? Is it a mental disorder or brilliance?
It seems we have set up a system of ‘acceptable’ reactions, behaviors and responses in this culture. Have we not? If someone asks you a question, you believe it is polite to respond in a timely manner, and if you asked another person the same question, you would expect a response. What if said person did not respond with words? What if, instead, they felt the creative inspiration to act out their answer instead…or to whisper it in your ear, or scream it from the top of their car? Would you consider this ‘normal’ behavior? No. Instead, especially if this person was ‘unknown’ to you, you might roll your eyes – visibly or after you turn away – and mumble how ‘crazy’ that person was. If it was really ‘weird’ you might even panic and slowly (or quickly) remove yourself from the situation.
We learned early on (in school) that certain behavior was ‘acceptable’ and other behavior was questionable and even punishable. In fact, if you were to find yourself in a court room for any reason at all, your choice to answer ‘creatively’, as you might call it, might land you in prison or with a fine on your head. Likewise, if questioned by any authority figure, police or otherwise, why you have chosen a certain action – if your answers are less than ‘standard’ you run the risk of being ‘turned in.’
So what are ‘creative types’ supposed to do?
Many people today, who are discovering their true voice and not wanting to ‘conform’ to social patterns are bravely attempting to answer to life in new and ‘different’ ways. Perhaps you have met them at the grocery store saying something other than the standard greeting, may you are one of these people, searching for ways to break the social monotony and ‘connect’ with people in a deeper and more profound way. It has become a new compliment to call someone creative ‘crazy.’ Portland, Oregon sports the moto “keep Portland weird” on bumper stickers and signs all over the city, somehow calling out to the brilliant madness within people.
So do mental illnesses really exist? For some folks there is a genuine disconnect from the social structure. If this is true, and these people try to interface with normal reality anyway, there is often conflict. Some people, who feel that they cannot respond in the ‘expected’ societal way, keep themselves ‘locked up’ in their homes, reducing the amount of interaction they have with the world. Others just simply cannot live in this 3-D world, and have lost all coping mechanisms for such a reality. These individuals are the ones we will find in our mental institutions, but is there another way?
What if we had some sort of occupation or someone took interest in these people to find an alternate way of communicating with them. Could there be brilliance recognized in these beings like so many before them such as Ludwig Van Beethoven who would’ve been diagnosed bi-polar in today’s world? Those who we see as autistic could be the Michelangelo’s of today.
All I see is a society that needs to expand it’s definition of ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ behavior. We need to open our conservative minds to recognize all the many types and varieties of minds that we co-exist with. Many in today’s world would rather abandon monetary structures and live as the ancient sadhus of India, wandering the country in search of enlightenment, eating little and visiting homes three days at a time for rest. This is not, however, an acceptable practice in this country and would be poorly received as though a ‘homeless’ person were trying to invade one’s home. Even though this practice is still common and highly revered in India today, America is a very different landscape, supporting a much narrower view of success.
The question I pose is do we have ‘mental disorders’ in this country, or do we have millions of brilliant souls unsure of how to express themselves in a culture that honors a 9-5 job, 401k plans and public school? Do we have mental illness or geniuses in disguise, unaccepted by a society that has no place for them? Is it possible to re-create this world to become a place where all people are free to be themselves – contributing to the greater whole with gifts previously untapped and unrecognized? I believe we can. The first step, is always awareness.
Written by: Stasia Bliss