All my bosses wondered at a certain point why I liked to garnish some of my work with ridiculous mistakes. “Are you paranoid about the evil eye?” One of them asked with an air of disdain, which I deliberately misinterpreted as suspicion. Another doubted I secretly hired people to do my job because one task looked as if it were done by a criminal mastermind while the other looked as if I’d worked on it while beating eggs and smoking weed in a kitchen with a corpse stored in the fridge, but I believe the latter was trying to flatter herself; what I was paid was barely enough to hire a scarecrow.
My response? I’ll try to be more careful next time.
However, one thing everyone who worked with me agreed on was that I am quite talented and a great asset to any company.
The workplace sometimes rips open-mindedness and empathy off people. How would you explain to a boss who is busy playing detective about to unleash what a fraud you are that you suffer from some voodoo attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
Even if you did explain it, they’d think you’re either lying, which is demeaning, or making lame excuses, which is equally demeaning. If they believed you, they’d most likely dismiss you… if they didn’t have you sent to a lunatic asylum.
School isn’t much better. It was very obvious in many classes I’ve attended—unless it was something I really loved like Psychology, Artificial Intelligence or English Literature—that I was on a different planet. Nevertheless, I managed to pass most subjects with flying colors and I never failed at any course or subject. Many are oblivious to the fact that ADHD has a flipside called hyperfocus. Once an ADHDier gives something her undivided attention, she is very likely to rock and roll. I never ever cheated in my whole life. I don’t believe I am even capable of doing so.
In her TEDx speech (and I do encourage you to listen to the whole thing), Cecilia McGough, astronomy and astrophysics student at Pennsylvania State University and a super cool nerd, spoke about her experience as a schizophrenic college student and the social stigma surrounding her condition. One day, she called her mother up and told her about the hallucinations she was experiencing, and her mother’s response was, “You can’t tell anyone about this. This can’t be in our medical history. Think of your sisters, think of your sisters’ futures. People are gonna think that you’re crazy. They are gonna think that you’re dangerous and you won’t be able to get a job.”
Mental illness is an extremely broad term. It refers to any condition that affects a person’s behavior, mood or thinking, ranging from a mild anxiety to chronic depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or bipolar disorder. This makes us all mentally ill, but who’s open about it? We either ignore it or manage it discretely behind closed doors.
We’re always worried about the consequences, the social stigma and, above all, our careers. The more serious a mental illness is, the more buttoned-up the patient is about it. Once it’s out in the open, many employers will freak out and refrain from hiring us. It is said that people are enemies of that which they don’t know, so they prefer to hire someone they can read well, but this is an illusion. A recruiter who cannot understand mental disorders certainly cannot decide which candidate is best for a given post.
Now let me tell you one thing about mental disorders: they are fountains and wells of cleverness, innovation and creativity.
In a study titled “Polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder predict creativity” and published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists in Iceland found that genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are associated with artistic society membership or creative profession.
Painters, musicians, writers and dancers were, on average, 25% more likely to carry the gene variants than professions the scientists judged to be less creative, among which were farmers, manual laborers and salespeople, the Guardian reported.
If you were an employer or an employee, take a closer look at all the strikingly gifted and ardent people at your company. They are usually the weirdos and maniacs. Many of them get so far in their careers and are amongst the most talented individuals.
Psychopaths and narcissists, too, are mentally ill and talented, and despite their association with evil, many of them are widely accepted and even celebrated because they usually hold powerful roles and can normally make their way to the top. This takes us to Niccolò Machiavelli’s explanation of why wicked people tend to win: They are willing to employ the darkest duplicity and cunning to further their cause.
So, let’s stick in this article to the good kind of mental illness—I mean the one which doesn’t involve employing dark powers, and allow me to share with you a list of 7 of my favorite crazy world-changers of all time.
1) George Bernard Shaw, Anglo-Irish playwright, novelist and co-founder of the London School of Economics
Bernard Shaw’s portfolio includes more than 60 plays. He is the only person to be awarded an Oscar and a Nobel Prize for Literature for the same film, Pygmalion. Shaw suffered from ADD (attention deficit disorder) and was not a fan of traditional education.
2) Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister
Churchill’s doctor, Lord Moran, wrote in his diary “Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival” that he had diagnosed the PM with bipolar disorder. Despite his personal battles, or because of them, Churchill was a man of boundless wisdom and immense accomplishments.
3) Agatha Christie, the best-selling author of all time
Christie, whose books were translated into at least 103 languages, is believed to have suffered from ADHD as well as a learning disability called dysgraphia. She had a hard time spelling correctly, and described herself as an “extraordinarily bad speller.”
4) Vincent van Gogh, artistic genius, both martyred and liberated by madness
The New York Times reported in 2016 that “medical professionals and art historians have concluded that Vincent van Gogh suffered from a form of psychosis, but they could not come to a consensus about the underlying cause of his mental illness.”
5) Ludwig van Beethoven, musical genius and fabulist
While Beethoven is renowned for being a deaf composer who came up with masterpieces like Symphony Nº 9, he also suffered from bipolar disorder and depression.
6) Edgar Allan Poe, father of the American short story
The celebrated American writer, poet, editor and critic suffered from recurrent depression, suggesting a bipolar disorder, as well as alcohol and drug abuse.
7) Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet of the High Renaissance
Creator of several magnificent and famous artworks, including the Last Judgement on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, the statue of David and St. Peter’s Basilica, Michelangelo suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Shift a$$, everyone, and embrace your creative madness!