I went and saw the new French movie Seraphine last night about a genius artist who ends up in an insane asylum. It got me thinking; there have been so many stories of people with mental imbalances, disorders or signs of ‘craziness’ who have proved to be the most successful in their prospective fields of effort and enquiry.
The other day my partner and I were listening to some music by the late African American singer and piano player Nina Simone. We were marvelling at her musical creations, so I went to Wikipedia to find out more about her (as one does in this day and age). Nina Simone suffered bi-polar disorder.
A while back I went to see the pianist David Helfgott perform live here in Melbourne; he’s the guy the movie Shine was written about. Again we have an arguable genius matched by an acute anxiety neurosis. We have so many names for these illnesses and afflictions: Schizophrenia, Manic-Depression, Autism, Clinical Depression, Obsessive-compulsive and the list goes on reportedly ad infinitum.
Check out this PDF file that lists ‘Famous people with mental illnesses’
Here’s also a massive list of renowned people who have or did have bi-polar disorder and one for famous people with depression.
For society in general, if someone mentions they have been diagnosed with a mental issue, automatically others often make judgments and can stigmatise the individual, even if it’s in a very unconscious or subtle way. What a paradox! In one instance we laud the accomplishments of these souls who have created works of genius, yet in another light, we feel uncomfortable around them with their peculiarities and unpredictable actions.
The funny thing is, maybe we’re all a little imbalanced at times, and it is this that evokes so much fear in ourselves when we witness someone acting ‘abnormally’ or in a ‘socially unacceptable’ manner.
Ernest Hemingway killed himself because of depression. Ludwig van Beethoven was bi-polar and self-medicated himself until he died of liver failure. Winston Churchill suffered the ‘black dog’ of depression and only survived by drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
If some of the people who’ve made the greatest impacts upon human society suffered from these painful disorders, it makes you wonder how you should judge the next person you see acting strangely, looking melancholy or anxious in the street.
(Creative Commons image taken from scriptingnews’ photostream.)
(Creative Commons image taken from C J Sorg’s photostream.)