A lot of people like to think of themselves as geniuses. Probably even more people with psychiatric disorders like to think of themselves as geniuses.
Who can blame us – with examples such as Albert Einstein, Edgar Allen Poe, Beethoven, Michaelangelo, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton… just to name a few.
As all of these stellar personalities are now deceased and most died before the advent of modern psychiatry, we can only surmise their disturbance – their genius however is clear.
Aristoteles, a Greek philosopher, once said, “There is no genius without having a touch of madness.”
Today, most who are diagnosed with a mental disorder– be it bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or even major depression, would be classified in previous times as “mad”.
A recent article in Psychiatric Times, by an actual physician – Nicholas Pediaditakis – attempts to link the occurrence of major mental disorders and genius. Freud called the difference in “temperament” of genius from that of “normal” people – “narcissistic neurosis”.
The basic theory as proposed by the author of the article says that people with certain mental disorders – bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and OCD in particular – ‘tend to “think” the world rather than “feel” it.’ He goes on to say that many are dysphoric and tend towards feeling a void and aloneness within themselves which can often lead to substance abuse and suicide – all too true. His conclusion is that these illnesses cause an absence of adherence to social norms, not because you want to, but because you have to – but that it frees up parts of the brain for creative processes.
In addition, many artists, actors, comedians, writers acknowledge that much of their creativity comes from pain – psychic pain not physical pain that is often experienced by those with mental disorders. This doesn’t seem to translate to genius in science, math, or other concrete areas, but the idea of a mind that has free space to concentrate on specialty areas does fit.
While I, personally, find offense in part of his statement (the part about wanting to think rather than feel) – I also find it true. I, and those I know, would rather “think” rather than “feel”, but often we feel too much and cannot stop.
Aside from my bristling at the implication that mental illness is a choice – I find it amusing that science may be able to prove that there is a “mad genius” in me – someday.