Is mental illness the thin line between genius and insanity?

Throughout history some of the greatest minds with the sharpest intellects have made contributions that have, literally, changed the world.

LincolnAbraham Lincoln was the great emancipator. Ludwig Von Beethoven could compose numerous works at once, many of which are still played in symphonies today. The incomprehensible work of the Sistine Chapel makes Michelangelo a name familiar to even young school children. Charles Dickens gave us literary works that share timeless insights into human nature and behavior. Winston Churchill produced 43 books on top of helping the world return to sanity from a global war waged in madness.

It would be hubris to place ourselves at the same level of accomplishment and brilliance as any of these gifted individuals.

Yet it is thought that Abraham Lincoln possibly suffered from clinical depression, that Beethoven worked through bipolar disorder, that Michelangelo was autistic, that Dickens may have also had severe depression, and that Churchill was yet another who was bipolar.

At the time many of them were given the benefit of the doubt and people would politely say that they were a little eccentric.michelangeol

Everyone was willing to endure a little madness from these people, because in exchange mankind benefited from the results of their intelligence. It was a reasonable price to pay.

Do we still do the same today?

Robin Williams was considered a brilliant comedian with endless talent in voices as well as acting. He could not only keep you laughing for days, but could also bring you to tears with his depth of dramatic portrayal of what could be painful subjects.applauseThe world only saw the genius.

Maybe we should have paid a little more attention to the mental illness that pulled him to the edges of insanity.

depression3It is pretty exhausting to always tuck deep down inside what would appear as abnormal and go out and compete with the rest of the human race on what are perceived “normal” terms.

I think eventually that would drive anybody mad.

For years I tried to use my bipolar and OCD to my advantage in the work place. And for years it made me very good at what I did. There was rarely a detail that escaped me. The controllable mania not only made me extremely fast and energetic , but also gave me the ability to zero in with razor sharp exactness on problems. I had already moved on to finding solutions while others were still waiting for the meeting to begin.teens

When Ann and I started down the road of searching for correct diagnoses to explain the neurologic and mental issues, a neuropsychologist tested my IQ. He seemed a little surprised that I scored consistently in the top 3-5% of the population.

I always knew that I was smart.  I also knew that it was hard for me to stay focused in a classroom setting and I would miss things because my mind had zoomed on to other interests.

studentsBut I handled it.

Heck, I was smart enough to figure it out.

But in my 30’s the controlled mania started to get out of control. In a development meeting at corporate headquarters, I suddenly realized that I was standing on top of the conference table yelling at the person on the other side of me because she just didn’t see the real problem and was wasting everyone’s time.conference-room

I don’t remember climbing up on the table. I just remember thinking this person is an idiot and then comprehending the stunned silence and scared looks of everyone in the room.

Another time we were in an upper management meeting and the vice president was dressing us down for poor performance and things we hadn’t done. One of those things was that we weren’t showing enough enthusiasm for the current product. Before I realized it, I had jumped up and started doing my own version of the “wave” with accompanying “whoop-whoops.”

It wasn’t long before I lost that job.

I think that after decades of trying to fit my square peg into everyone else’s round hole that I just got too tired to snap myself “on” as needed. I was snapping “off” at not only inappropriate times, but downright bad ones.

No one considered me eccentric.

They probably just considered me mad.

Not sure I can blame them.

There really is a very fine line between genius and madness.

And I think it is called mental illness.pool

It’s kind of like suffering insanity would be drowning, while being a highly contributing genius would be swimming with strong and swift strokes over the top of the water.

I guess mental illness would be like fluctuating between sitting at the bottom of the pool and at times getting our heads above water for a breath.

Not being able to breathe too often, we deeply cherish the clean oxygen when we get it.

I wonder what kind of a difference we could make in this growing battle with mental illness if instead of only seeing the body at the bottom of the pool, we also carefully watched for the occasional head as it breaks through the surface to inhale?

I would bet that we would be surprised at the bursts of genius here and there between the waves.watching sunset

When you look, which do you see?


5 thoughts on “Is mental illness the thin line between genius and insanity?”

  1. I see the genius of your soul. We’ve walked many roads of dreams together and even shared moments of pure mania…I prefer to call us dreamers… unfortunately dreams can turn into nightmares just as you so eloquently shared. Sadly I can completely comprehend the standing on table and wave-n-whoops…smiling and crying with you at the same time. Thank you for sharing those defining moments. You continue to inspire me . All of you and all that encompasses you and how you continue to dance in the rain. Keep on dancing…it’s such a beautiful day!

    – B

  2. Amen, Greg!
    Amen, Bryan!
    I feel I know both of you pretty well. And although am not nearly as bright as either of you, I have seen this time and time again in so many settings. With educational text books like…Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders by James T. Webb… you know this is real with plenty of evidence to back it up. It takes a little “fringe” behavior to really light up the world and bless the rest of us with such genius.

    There is a song by RUSH called “Mission” ending in the following lyrics…

    It’s a cold comfort
    To the ones without it
    To know how they struggled
    How they suffered about it
    If their lives were exotic and strange
    They would likely have gladly exchanged them
    For something a little more plain
    Maybe something a little more sane
    We each pay a fabulous price
    For our visions of paradise
    But a spirit with a vision is a dream
    With a vision

    You’re amazing, Greg! Keep lighting up the world.

    1. Thanks Angie and Bryan for your words. Sometimes it’s a little nerve wracking to put it out there. It helps a lot that you don’t think that I’m any crazier than I am.

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