Why “Gifted” Children Make Me Nervous

As you might have guessed by now, I’m a little addicted to the New York Times. Today, I was particularly drawn to an article about “Mad Pride,” which is the reclamation of the term “mad” by mentally ill people as a badge of pride (similar to the reclamation of “queer” by, well, queers.) They don’t want to have their madness viewed as an impediment to a healthy life. I was totally with them up to there, until I got statements like this:

“The Icarus Project says its participants are “navigating the space between brilliance and madness…Some Icarus Project members argue that their conditions are not illnesses, but rather, “dangerous gifts” that require attention, care and vigilance to contain. “I take drugs to control my superpowers,” Mr. DuBrul said.”

Then they lost me. Here’s why:

Firstly, creativity is such a subjective term. Why does “creative” really mean? Does it mean that the person has come up with something wonderful that touches your soul, or something “out there” like feces and postage stamps staple gunned to a wall, and then sold to an art gallery for millions of dollars? The connotations are too open.

Secondly, I believe that there are people who are extremely creative, who also happen to be mentally ill. Let’s say that you’re a well received novelist. You’ve studied hard, practiced your craft, picked up all kinds of degrees. You’ve gotten skillful. But you have struggled with bipolar for you entire life. When the people around you discover your mental illness, the chance of them automatically chalking your creativity up to your mental illness is extremely high, even if you don’t. All that work and personal development is overlooked, down the toilet. You haven’t earned your place, it came “naturally.”

Who needs skill when you have magical bio-polar diesel?

Finally, a casual case study of a former friend. This was a friend with bad body image issues, poor self esteem, and wacky mood swings. In the time that I knew her she never went to the doctor to get properly diagnosed, but as soon as she found the term bipolar she instantly latched onto it. Why? Because “creativity” was listed in the definition. By the time she had labeled herself (meaning instantly) she was already talking about how medication would diminish her “creativity.” She hadn’t been diagnosed and she was already rejecting treatment.

So you might ask at this point: was she, in fact, creative? In some ways, yes. She was a very good singer and a talented actress. But she was also a terrible writer who could induce a diabetic coma in a Lifetime network executive. For the sake of her glass ego, I never told her this and would prefer that she never knew. But that’s just the way it was.

Now, was the bipolar favoring only one part of the brain, robbing the other? Would taking the medication flip these ability levels? Did she have bipolar at all?

I think we need to learn more about the brain and human nature before we start chalking up our “super powers” to the wrong sources.

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May 2008
The Hype Machine mp3 blogs Questions? Comments? Post suggestions? Leave a comment or mail me at: amherstdam....(at)....gmail.com

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