Stigmas are under attack lately.
End the “special needs” stigma.
End the “gay” stigma.
End the “addiction” stigma.
And – of course, lest we forget – end the “mental illness” stigma.
As a victim and perpetrator of stigmas, I understand why people don’t like them and I also understand why people will always employ them. The mind is wired to judge and mislabel, so the tendency to stigmatize is as natural and human as the tendency to feel hurt in reaction to these judgements.
But I’m not here to end any stigmas.
Mental illness remains somewhat taboo, and for some reason that never seemed to bother me.
I think a part of me just sees things differently.
I never considered mental illness an “illness” or “pathology,” to begin with.
Perhaps I over-glorify the creative icons who turn their struggles into art and insight.
Or perhaps it’s just a mechanism of defense.
A way to make myself feel better about feeling worse.
But after finishing the book “A First Rate Madness,” I feel validated in my hunch that mental illness is not a medical condition (though it certainly has medical implications) so much as it is an emotional sensitivity that offers a range of blessings and curses.
The book argues that mental illness has what to offer — notwithstanding its plethora of obvious challenges.
Abraham Lincoln, JFK, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. — all struggled with mental illness.
And, according to Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, these struggles paved their paths to greatness.
On a personal level, my favorite people – and presumably many of yours – are strugglers.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that emotional strugglers tend to be so likable and charming?
I don’t. I think they have been softened and deepened by their experiences.
I think they help us feel more human and that’s why we secretly admire their rawness, even if it comes with a mega load of baggage.
Much ado these days about greatness and happiness and wealth and leadership and serenity — but, all of the above?
I think a certain degree of unhappiness — though certainly not a clinical dose — is a necessary ingredient in the overall recipe of any significant accomplishment.
Mental illness can fuel the fire of mental will-ness.
And if we stigmatize the illness, we can also recognize the will-ness.
Blessings and curses are not always so enmeshed.
But in the case of mental illness, I’m inclined to believe they are.