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Natasha Tracy Headshot

Do the Mentally Ill Have to Be Extraordinary to Be Accepted?

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BRAIN THOUGHTS LIGHTS
DrAfter123 via Getty Images

There is a pervasive myth out there that people with bipolar disorder are geniuses. There is a pervasive myth out there that people with schizophrenia are tremendous artists. There is a pervasive myth out there that people with mental illnesses are destined for brilliant, world-class things.

Well, we aren't.

We are normal, average, everyday people with illnesses, not genetic predispositions to greatness.

Positive Television Examples of Mental Illnesses Like Bipolar

Let's face it: When we see mental illnesses, like bipolar, on television, it's most often associated with killers, but when mental illness isn't seen in a negative light, it's seen as some sort of "gift."

We see examples of this in recent television shows. For example, Mind Games shows a person with bipolar who is brilliant at human psychology and can use psychological constructs to make people do whatever he wants them to and thus has an entire company built around that ability. We see this in Perception, where a person with schizophrenia is a world-class neuroscientist and author who solves crimes for the FBI with the help of his schizophrenic delusions and hallucinations. We see this in the new series Black Box, where a woman with bipolar disorder is, again, a brilliant, world-class neuroscientist.

These are the images on television where people with mental illnesses are seen in something other than a negative light -- and they are all mad geniuses. But why do people with a mental illness have to be only killers or geniuses? Why is it that being a regular human being isn't enough? What about all the rest of us who aren't artists, poets, musicians or world-class anything? Why is there this double standard that in order to be seen in a positive way, we have to be extraordinary?

People Are Looking for the Upside to Mental Illness

People always want to believe there is a meaning, there is an upside, to something horrible, like a mental illness. People who suffer, and those who see that suffering, what to believe that in the end, something good will come of it. It's human psychology. We're looking for meaning; we're meaning-making machines.

But I can tell you, from the bottom of my heart: there is no upside to my bipolar disorder. I am sick. I hate being sick. I would give anything to give this particular "gift" away.

Mental Illness and Greatness

I'm not suggesting that there haven't been amazing minds that have, in part at least, been influenced by mental illness. Kay Redfield Jamison has done a brilliant job of illustrating the link between creativity and mental illness. What I am suggesting, however, is that far more of us are your average siblings, parents, children, friends and coworkers -- not world-class geniuses. And there is nothing wrong with that. I shouldn't have to be extraordinary to be accepted. I should just have to be me -- bipolar disorder and all.

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