Does Being Mentally Ill Make You A “Better” Person?

After I did my first cutting that required median nerve reconstruction on my left wrist, I was invited to stay with my aunt and uncle on my (non-biological) father’s side. I must admit, this was probably the most support I have ever been given by my extended (or immediate) family. I didn’t feel like being alone for the weekend so I took the approximate two hour drive to their house.

At the time, my uncle was dealing with a transient form of depression. He was taking a med (Effexor) and we went for a coffee/tea and spent some personal time talking about being ill together. He told me that dealing with it had “made him a better person.” I asked him what exactly he meant. He told me that for one, it had made him more compassionate. It made PA think for a bit. She wasn’t quite sure what to say as she was just beginning her own journey into madness.

She has spoken to a few other people that seem to share similar views about how being mentally ill has somehow “changed” them for the better. It seems the “C-Word” comes up a lot among other various positive qualities about their character or person. Well, PA only has one thing to say about that: “Just what the hell were you like before?!”

PA hasn’t changed at all. She was just the same before she went nuts. She was the same sweet, kind “compassionate,” generous, sensitive, “sugar and spice and everything nice” girl that she is now. If anything, she is not any “stronger” but she might express that strength a bit more so and perhaps she’s become a bit more of a mouthpiece. But not in a rude or idiotic way–or at least she hopes not! Apologies are always offered if so.

feartheseeds (old moniker) senators in six posted this quite some time ago but it’s worth a read. It speaks to the fact that Bipolar/Manic Depression does not make you a better artist–among other things. He’s pretty outspoken and forthright so fasten your seatbelts.

I’m not ripping it off as I had posted something similar about this myself some time ago but I didn’t go into great detail about it so it’s really not worth doing a linkback. But what I did say was that in my (hypo)manic state, I did feel that I was more creative and had the ability to produce better work as a writer. That is a myth. Absolutely, totally, completely. I will admit that I could write faster, I had more energy to produce and I could crank it out like you would not believe but was it any better? Unfortunately, PA threw out all of her essays when she quit university for the second time so no one can argue the point. And really, putting together a paper–is that art? Another point to argue. Within them is simply arguing points and citing references… A lot of point arguing there.

Along with senators in six, I do feel that indeed, there have been some great artists that may have suffered from some form of mental illness (how can we prove these people from the past had these illnesses? I want to see their charts!) but has it been what was responsible for their creativity? Look at all the people that are not mentally ill and create equally great works of art.

It seems, along with other things that are stigmatized that become less so, it’s almost “fashionable” or too easy to romanticize, to twist and turn what was formerly looked upon as disgraceful as something very chic. I know of one other person who blogged about this and seemed to piss a lot of people off. That’s not what I am trying to do here. I’ve often said that “Bipolar (or insert “mental illness–I simply say Bipolar as that is my diagnosis) is the new gay.” If it weren’t for good old Stonewall and so much more kicking it off, so many more people would still be in the closet. After which–and it’s still happening–there is a whole lot of bullshit in the “gay community” with people posing and fucking around (literally) who really aren’t GBLT and for those of us that are, it’s a big grand fuck over (not literally) if you actually get involved with them. You get burned and you get hurt.

Is it the same with mental illness? Not so much that it messes with us. I mean, we’re already as messed up as we can be. But do people really think that it’s such a great thing to pretend to be? I mean, I’ve never met anyone who has “pretended” to be mentally ill (well, not that I know of) but supposedly this seems to be a trend with young people. That is pretty much how things started out with the whole gay thing too (but it wasn’t limited to them–adults did it as well and it’s still not over.) With the long lists of people that were supposedly great artists of the past, again that romanticism, does it add fuel to the fire? Does it in fact create an impression that it’s cool to be mentally ill and it will make you a “better” person? I can’t say for sure. But if it’s out there, it certainly is a rather strange phenomenon.

  1. sodajerk

    if i am being honest,at this point…i have no idea what the “real”me is.

    self medication/self harm(same thing really.just a coping mecahanism),followed on by prescription meds.

    kinda feelin at the moment almost “too good”

    life and work is too easy
    .my memory has returned.
    i am reading books agin………and the biggie……………at work ,i am volunteering for extra tasks.

    i go down to the beach most lunchtimes,listen to and watcjh the waves……..maybe that is it.

    whatever,i am gonna try and enjoi and surf this good mood to the shore.

    the next crash may be lurkin around the corner.


  2. Hi sodajerk, I am glad that you are feeling good right now. That’s great. That’s what we all need to work toward. Try not to worry too much about the next “crash.” Yes, self-monitoring is important and sometimes things change. It’s important to self-monitor, absolutely, but not to the point of losing sight of the stability that is currently happening in your life.

    Sometimes as well, the road to finding stability is pursuing such “simple” things that you mention. Don’t discount them. After experiencing setbacks, relapses or crashes it can take a little while to get back on your feet. We need to give ourselves time and learn to not take on too much. I know it’s hard for me to do that a lot but I am learning–or trying to…


  3. Mild depression apparently makes you more perceptive in social situations. Mild mania makes you more confident and proficient. When things go further either way, the result is impaired functioning. “Impaired functioning” might actually be a good general definition of mental illness.

    I don’t think mental illness has made me a better person. I’ve been occasionally more perceptive and occasionally more proficient than usual. Most of the time it’s made me completely misjudge situations and unable to do the things I want to do. At times I’ve been a horrible person to be around.

    Byron’s probably to blame for whatever fashionability mental illness (and particularly bipolar) has. He made being troubled, moody, self-destructive, introspective and by turns arrogant and racked with self-doubt look so very cool; and the Byronic hero has appeared consistently (and stylishly) in literature and film ever since. It’s an easy archetype to buy into.


  4. Hi chimpy, that’s an interesting position to take about the varying degrees of the more mild states of depression and mania. From my personal experience, however, I would beg to differ. Perhaps my “mood pendulum” has just swung too far in both directions? Let me think about this…

    I was always perceptive when I was younger (and I mean a child here)–but I may have been slightly melancholic–no, I was. Would that fall under your definition of “mild depression?” But at times, I would totally miss the mark and not have a clue socially. I was so inept. I didn’t understand my peers and this continued on to my teenage years. I was an outcast, forever teased and ostracized. Even as an adult this happened, actually! Ugh…I don’t even like to think about it! It’s no wonder I tend to sit here and isolate myself *laughing* Socially, the world has not been kind to PA.

    As far as my mild manias, sure I got things done and was more confident but along with that came a lot of other things that just got me into a lot of jams. So in that respect…there was usually a price to pay for the level of confidence and proficiency.

    So for me…no. I think having Bipolar (and even being a depressed, screwy little kid) may have messed up my perception of the world. Either that or I have a very different perception of the world…okay, now PA’s treading off into another realm altogether…but I still think she falls short of the mark in some areas of social functioning. Maybe? Hmmm. Well, throw in the ADD and sometimes she gets impulsive and gets a little too gung ho. Oh, comorbidities!

    But like you, I do have my moments or flashes of keen insight into people, the psyche and how it/they work. But again, at other times…damn! Completely wrong! It’s like a form of social Bipolar!

    Yes, in terms of tragic literary types, I’ll meet you there serve you up a female: Virgina Woolf.


  5. borderlinecrazy

    I’ve met someone who pretends to be mentally ill: my mother. She HAS legitimate mental illnesses, but she denies those and contrives to have others (usually whatever I had at the time when we still had contact—anorexia, alcoholism, etc). I think if you’re pretending to be mentally ill, save yourself the trouble: THAT IS a mental illness!


  6. Hi borderlinecrazy, I don’t think I’ve seen you here before so welcome to my blog. That is interesting to hear about your mother…rather strange indeed. And yes, I wonder if they might come up with some sort of diagnosis down the road for a kind of “copycat” behaviour for those that do pretend to be mentally ill? The only thing that immediately pops into my head is some sort of attention seeking behaviour–now whether that is classifiable as a mental illness, who knows. I guess it could be how far one takes it.


  7. PA, borderlinecrazy: This would be factitious disorder, distinguished from malingering by the lack of any financial or similarly rational motivation.


  8. Thanks, chimpy…no such thing as an original thought…figured there would be something…


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