The Highly Functioning Abnormally Normal, Normal Person.

Don’t let the title scare you away, it’s a mouthful, and yes, yes I am crazy. Normality in society has become this unachievable baseline. I believe that everyone experiences some form of abnormal psychological thought processes at one stage or another in their life. Apparently being abnormal was to demonstrate a significant deviation from accepted behaviour, emotion or thought patterns. The concept of normality is based on a sense of ‘wellbeing’, how is this a completely achievable state of being? No one is completely well all their life, our state of mind always shifting depending on the circumstance.

Does having bipolar disorder make me abnormal? In my opinion no, I perceive it as my ‘normal’ state of mind, I function on a day-to-day basis quite well, better than most actually, I receive high grades at university, work full time and participate actively in social circles, yet my ‘disorder’ by societies standards would make me ‘abnormal’. The perception of normal is dependent on societal standards of the time which vary by person, time, place, culture, and situation. Normality is self-perceived and regulated by each individual, the individuality of normalcy makes everyone abnormal.

OK, my actual point was to look at the fact that society doesn’t automatically correlate geniuses who have a mental illness with being abnormal, as long as their creative works eclipse their madness. This double-standard contradicts society’s perception of normality. In some instances these highly dysfunctional yet creative types aren’t given negative stigmas, the population preferring to believe that ‘anyone’ can be that creative without a mental illness or an abnormal perspective. For me it has become infuriating that people are blissfully unaware that so many of the world’s creative types and leaders suffered or suffer from mental illness. How do so many people with a mental illness become the leaders of so many people? I’ve started to believe that maybe they needed that extra push or mentally different mindset to get where they are. The people I’m talking about are Marilyn Monroe, Florence Nightingale, Edgar Allan Poe, Joan of Arc, Jackson Pollock, Russell Brand, Frank Sinatra, Brittany spears, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Adolf Hitler, Chris Brown, Abraham Lincoln,  Beethoven, Michelangelo, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchhill, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Einstein, DaVinci and Napoléon Bonaparte (to name a few).

 “When times are good and the ship of state only needs to sail straight, mentally healthy people function well as political leaders. But in times of crisis and tumult, those who are mentally abnormal, even ill, become the greatest leaders. We might call this the Inverse Law of Sanity”

These forward thinkers and creative types of people suffered from a form of mental illness, so how do we judge ‘normalcy’ in society when we follow the ‘abnormal’ people? It seems that society overlooks the connection that a lot of literature pertaining to history’s brilliant minds is disregarded in its relationship to potential psychoses.  Socrates believed that a mental illness gives an already talented individual an edge. Everyone is located at a point on the mental health spectrum, mental health seen as a continuum, there is an association between the higher end of the spectrum and the capacity for a person to have an original thought.

  • In Plato’sPhaedrus, Socrates’ second speech he asks “If a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the inspired madman”.
  • Edgar Allen Poe – “Men have called me mad, but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence… [and] whether all that is profound, does not spring from disease of thought”Aristotle – “Why is it that all men who are outstanding in philosophy, poetry or the arts are melancholic?”
  • Cesare Lombroso – Theorised that a man of genius was essentially a degenerate whose madness was a form of evolutionary compensation for excessive intellectual development.
  • Neil Cole (psychiatrist) – “the word associations, puns, flight of ideas, that are an intrinsic part of bipolar disorder in its manic phase, and the reflective thoughts, ruminations and the stripping of life away to the bare essentials that are experienced during the depressive phase, in my view, considerably enhance the artist’s armoury of ideas”. Believing that the ‘genius’ factor hinges on eccentricity.
  • “When a superior intellect and a psychopathic temperament coalesce – as in the endless permutations and combinations of the human faculty, they are bound to coalesce often enough – in the same individual, we have the best possible condition for the kind of effective genius”

Mental illnesses can be incredibly destructive; it has to be considered that without obsessive research habits, extreme moods and neurotic drives we wouldn’t have a lot of our scientific knowledge, art and literature. Although not all people with a mental illness are geniuses likewise not all geniuses have a mental illness.


some-touch-of-madnessParting note: Society is extremely hypocritical of mental illness, not stigmatizing it when it becomes beneficial and not classifying it as abnormal. How can we then make clear-cut definitions of being abnormal and normal when it is dependent on the contributions of the person afflicted.

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15 thoughts on “The Highly Functioning Abnormally Normal, Normal Person.”

  1. I enjoyed this and applaud your intelligent use of quotes.

    Has “madness” truly always referred to mental illnesses such as bipolar? Are you just interpreting “mad” to mean mentally ill or are your sources (like Poe) really equating the word to a medical condition? Why is that word used so much? It has such negative connotations, I would be interested in getting into the nuances of it.

    I think of myself as having “abnormal” psychology, but have never thought to use the word “madness” to describe my bipolar conditions. That’s why I’m curious. The quote that resonates with me best is Neil Cole’s, and I’d be more inclined to say my mental illness lends itself to eccentric behaviors and thought patterns, rather than to madness.

    I have never heard of Joan of Arc having a mental illness; do you have a source for this or is this your own inference?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thankyou for your feedback 🙂

      “Is madness medical disease, problems in living, or social labeling of deviance? Does the word merely refer to behavior peculiar enough to be disturbing? Are the mad mad because of mental, physical, or environmental vulnerabilities? No one knows the answers to these questions because there is no scientific validation for any theory or specific causes of madness. Nonetheless, a view of madness as medical/bodily disease has been receiving concrete and rhetorical support from the government mental health bureaucracy, Big Pharma, mental health lobby groups, the organized profession of psychiatry, hundreds of thousands of providers of mental health services and countless books and articles”

      – Porter’s definition, the “generic name for the whole range of people thought to be in some way, more or less, abnormal in ideas or behaviour”.

      Throughout history (from what I’ve read) mental illness has been classified as ‘madness’ because it has in some instances presented extreme elation/excitement or rage etc (lots of other symptoms..too many). I personally don’t consider myself to be ‘mad’, I happily call myself ‘crazy’ sometimes, I honestly have times when I act crazy, is crazy just the new word for ‘madness’?

      …”more provocatively, merely a word for a semantic category referring to all manner of behavior peculiar enough to be publically disturbing at any given time?”

      Abnormal psychology still uses the phrasing of ‘madness’ in my university textbooks (when I use to study psych), I guess people still consider ‘madness’ for Bipolar Disorder because of the extreme mood poles, the socially different behaviour that is only defined through ‘areas of grey’ in psychology. Guess that is where normality and abnormality come in, society considering those with ‘abnormal’ minds to exhibit a form of ‘madness’ through their different changeable mindsets.

      Society does seem to interpret eccentric behaviors and thought patterns as ‘madness’ though, the interpretation of ‘madness’ becomes completely dependent on the context that it is being understood from. As for Joan of Arc and other historical figures it can only ever be speculation, as a personal evaluation is needed to deduce if they have a mental disorder. Mostly she is considered to be schizophrenic or suffering from some form of psychosis due to her delusions and hallucinations. Although no concrete evidence exists.

      You said “Are you just interpreting “mad” to mean mentally ill or are your sources (like Poe) really equating the word to a medical condition? ”
      You don’t consider a mental illness to be a medical condition? When looking at the writers I think it is one and the same.

      “A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.” http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness

      Sorry this is so long. The article I quoted was:
      Gomory, T., Cohen, D. and Kirk, S. (2013). Madness or Mental Illness? Revisiting Historians of Psychiatry. Curr Psychol, 32(2), pp.119-135.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the research and clarity!
        Sorry I was obviously unclear in my Poe question.Yes, mental illness is a medical condition. I am just concerned with the semiotics of “madness.” That word, in my mind, evokes the idea of dangerous…Which is upsetting to me, as my boyfriend’s dad, upon finding out that I have bipolar, asked his son if he ever felt like he was in danger with me. Totally crushing and ridiculous. Madness has a rather intense meaning, whereas “eccentric” fundamentally just means abnormal. Abnormality is often considered positive, because abnormality leads to progress. Madness can be seen as a destructive trait. It doesn’t simply mean abnormal; to a great extent it means lunacy. And lunacy can be dangerous. I know that mental illnesses can put people in danger and be destructive, but I find it harsh to use “madness” as, basically, a synonym for mental illness.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I completely agree with you about how people view madness, I try and see it from more of an abnormal psych perspective, but to be completely honest, people aren’t educated enough to treat the terminology differently usually, they think we are dangerous or will lash out.
        The psychologist in this said that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent then the general public – unless (like everyone else) they are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Was based on a study conducted.

        Its a dodgy video, but he can be a little bit entertaining.
        People have definitely classified madness as a destructive trait, I think of old school asylums with people in padded rooms. Sorry to hear about your boyfriends dad, sometimes its worse when you tell someone you have bipolar, but they then refuse to believe you because you aren’t ‘mad’ and function better then them. The history of the word madness is interesting, guess that’s where it all started to change to create our current perception of it.
        Hard to trace the complete semiotics, interesting article by Wladimir Krysinski and Raili Mikkanen ‘The Mimesis of Madness and the Semiotics of the Text’ – If you can’t get your hands on it I’m happy to email my pdf copy.
        I found this other one extremely interesting as well, had valid points, a bit off topic but an awesome read. It’s based on the interpretation of the movie ‘Donnie Darko’ (haha I will read almost anything obviously).
        Un-Characterizing Madness – The Semiotic Revolution of Donnie Darko By Joseph Morcos
        http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~jsterron/expose/pdfs/morcos.pdf
        If you read them let me know what you think 🙂 or if you have any suggestions of your own I would love to read them.

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      3. I do think that “crazy” is used more than “madness” nowadays. Here’s something about the word “mad”: It is used to describe an animal or person with rabies. Aka, someone with an EXTREMELY dangerous illness. So by the transitive property, people could derive that something like bipolar disorder is an extremely dangerous illness. Maybe this analysis is a stretch, but interesting nonetheless. So, while crazy is a synonym for mad, it is more likely to imply oddness or senselessness rather than danger. I will take a look at the articles soon, I basically went to bed right after work yesterday cuz I had a very early morning. Thanks again for the research.

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      4. And speaking of the word “mad,” you seem to have a thing for Alice in Wonderland…which makes use of that word. 🙂 Interesting to think about what that book can add to one’s interpretation of madness.

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      5. Sorry, one more thing. As someone who is now afraid to tell people I have bipolar, I’m curious as to what sort of reaction you would like people to have when you tell them? Just wondering since you said you don’t like it when they don’t believe you.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I’m extremely hesitant to tell people I have Bipolar, my psych told me today that there isn’t any doubt anymore (use to be 80% positive and were going to monitor me), completed my diagnosis, only started seeing her in Sept, so I’m new to it and don’t know how to tell people. So I guess I’d only tell people who were close to me, them denying it just makes it harder for me to accept, but everyone else doesn’t need to be accepting or aware, haven’t met anyone who thought I was dangerous. I really like Alice in Wonderland, madness in that book comes across as a distinctly different way of thinking from everyone else, guess that’s how I want to interpret my thoughts/actions/moods, making madness more of a positive through that perception. On another thought: How do you feel towards people saying you’re mentally ill? It happened to me repeatedly today, it made me feel awful, I don’t see myself as ‘ill’, saying I’m ‘ill’ is far worse than ‘mad’ for me.

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  2. I love this, I salute your work and time. I agree with you and I add that I refuse to let a word like ‘mad’ weigh even an ounce again. When I was still ignorant, I easily said some were mad. Now, I use the word to provocatively stigmatise stigma. I coined my own term, Shaggy! It’s all for fun. However, may be deemed not normal by society but l give a big damn! Cheers to all

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    1. Thanks Marie :). The word is nothing without the power you give it, guess that’s the worst part about stigmas. Shaggy is a great word! I hate societies standards, they are always hypocritical, I’m not normal either apparently 😉 Think being abnormal is more fun anyway.
      Thanks for your feedback! xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. and u know sweet, u r right that as long as ‘shaggys like myself’ continue to be ‘productive’, any apparent abnormality is last place. I am currently reading the memoir of a great blogging pal who has been diagnosed and indeed battle schizop… for long long now: in it, she recounts that when she started writing excellent poetry and won prizes, she was amazed that her ‘madness’ now took 2nd, 3rd and last place whenever she was mentionned. My personal example, just one, is wn my mother always insisted I don’t use as many abbreviations, nor reveal so much about my ‘shaggy self’, I told her I am not scared of what will happen and she better got used to that or she was soon going to be shaggy too…

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  3. Awesome! I feel the exact same way and it’s actually amazing to find someone who just spouted the thoughts and words I’ve been spouting lately to people who don’t seem to understand or care.
    I’ve always felt like mental health is the same as physical health – everyone is touched by physical health issues at some point in their lives, some more than others (broken bone, flu, cancer, etc). The same is with mental health issues (whether it’s a bout of depression or schizophrenia).
    Thank you for writing about mental health and for trying to get rid of the stigma and ignorance around it :). I look forward to reading more.

    Like

    1. Thank-you for your comment!
      It’s really good to know when others share my thoughts. Think everyone has different mental health issues, they just don’t understand it or maybe the ‘issues’ we see in mental health aren’t issues, merely our normal behaviour that allows people to have different experiences, guess that could apply to both mental and physical categories. I would love to hear some of your own opinions on mental health 🙂
      All the best!

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      1. Yeah, I agree. Sometimes it feels like people get labelled with mental health “issues” or “disorders” when really it could just be another way of dealing with life (example: ADHD). I hope to write about my opinions more on my blog 🙂 Maybe we could chat through your blog and mine about our thoughts in the future.

        Liked by 1 person

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