Honestly, the question of what defines mental illness, what sets of behaviors have over recent history been categorized as something undesirable, is so varying in relevance by time and situation from a more bookish point of view, more strict in its interpretation of historical evidence (Marie Jahoda, Current concepts of positive mental health, 1958), that approaching this topic from somwhere within the last couple of centuries seems the most prudent way to proceed.
So that said, with due diligence to make the definition of mental illness as topically true as possible (Jane Murphy, Psychiatric labeling in cross-cultural perspective, 1976), I want to talk about different people whose body of works and achievements have been attributed in part to non-standard thinking influenced by symptoms of mental illness. Goddammit I need to write shorter sentences. But I'm high so if you trust me to take you somewhere interesting, I'll appreciate the patience with the belaboured diction.
Why is this discussion relevant? Well, there is established proof of at least a connection between mental illness symptoms/diagnoses and unusually intelligent behavior (Nicholas Pediaditakis, MD, The Association Between Major Mental Disorders and Geniuses, 2014): "From an evolutionary standpoint, the normally occurring small temperamental variability, or traits, confers flexibility and resilience for the survival of the tribe as a whole, irrespective of advantage or even disadvantage to the individual." In other words, you need genetic deviation from the norm in order to get remarkable results. There is a price to pay.
Who are some people who did indeed pay a price, and whose stories are well known enough that they affected the species more than the bulk of the individuals within the bell curve marking out fleshy influence in a very incremental way? I'll structure the rest of this post as a list, hopefully with less lazy Google-ing than usual, and add to it as I can. Right now I've just got one example I felt the energy to discuss, and the best and most relevant example to this community I'm saving for the last (or at least after a few entries).
- Take Jacobo Fuckin' Árbenz Guzmán, for example. Do you know what this guy DID? Not only did he captain a strained and relatively small country out of deep corruption and begin the institution of state-sponsored attempts to achieve real justice and political stability. If you are feeling romantic, I encourage you to read up on Decreto 900. What he did broke him. It broke his family. His daughter committed suicide. He died in an alcoholic stupor in Mexico in 1970. The only reason he couldn't make it happen was the fact that the United States of America was and is a global empire capable of crushing any opposition or dissent, and when its rage turns on a country of a little over 3 million, no amount of genius can save that country.
But again, we're not talking about the toll of a lot of stress or responsibility. We're talking about mental illness influencing genius behaviors. Every bit of historical evidence suggests that his academic performance was outstanding. Especially when he was in the military academy. Later on he taught a fucking variety of social sciences as well as physics there. Árbenz's father committed suicide halfway through his time there as a student. Enough circumstantial evidence exists in various sources of biographical information to suggest that the man at the very least struggled with depression.
Anyhow, feel free to discuss this as you feel like it. Thanks for reading.