Stating the obvious, there are many frustrations that come with being mentally ill. For me, one of the worst is the lack of understanding, even among medical professionals, of what mental illness actually is. Mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but that’s as far as it goes for specifics. There is no consensus what causes this chemical imbalance to occur, much less any idea how to either cure it, or prevent it.
One of my most frequent frustrations when dealing with the public (and this includes members of the medical profession as well as “civilians”, especially in the Emergency Room) is the assumption that crazy somehow equates stupid. There have been times, when I explain I’m bipolar and suffer from memory loss, where people will slow down their speech. They have over-enunciated their words. These same people often call me “dearie”, “sweetheart” or “honey” and frequently punctuate their suggestions with a pat on the back (one time, heaven help me, with a pat on the head).
Incidentally, while my manic side is noted for an irrational anger that would rival The Hulk, I still maintain that no jury in the world would have convicted me had I acted on my impulses with that one. But I digress.
While looking into the link between Bipolar and creativity, I came across multiple references to high IQ’s. For example, in the article “Creativity tied to mental illness” (published in the Harvard Gazette), William J. Cromie notes:
“Some students who scored unusually high in creative achievement were seven times more likely to have low scores for latent inhibition. These low scorers also had high IQs.
“Getting swamped by new information that you have difficulty handling may predispose you to a mental disorder,” (Shelly Carson, Harvard psychologist) says. “But if you have high intelligence and a good working memory, you are more likely to be able to combine bits of new information in creative ways.” … “Carson notes. “We saw creativity increase as IQs climb to 130 (the average score of Harvard students), and even up to 150.”
Ahem. Just for what it’s worth, the last time I was tested I scored just over 150. But again, I digress.
At the end of the article Cromie includes an old joke that perfectly sums up my inner “Forrest Gump”.
“A man is driving past a mental hospital when one of the wheels falls off his car. He stops and recovers the wheel but can’t find the lug nuts to secure it back in place. Just then he notices a man sitting on the curb carefully removing small pebbles from the grass and piling them neatly on the sidewalk.
“What am I going to do?” the man asks aloud. The fellow piling the pebbles looks up, and says, “Take one of the lug nuts from each of the other wheels and use them to put the wheel back on.”
The driver is amazed. “Wow!” he exclaims. “What a brilliant idea. What are you doing in a place like this?” he asks, nodding toward the mental institution.
“Well,” the man answers, “I’m crazy, not stupid.”
“That’s exactly what our research is about,” Carson comments. “It shows that, to be creative, you can be bright and crazy, but not stupid.”
If “stupid is as stupid does”, it’s time not only to take another look at creativity, but also at “stupidity”. Acting outside the norm is not necessarily “stupid”. The social connection between “stupid” and “crazy” simply strengthens the stigma against the mentally ill by reinforcing the stereotype.
I’m heartened to see so much new research being conducted in the last 5-10 years. What took so long?