Zebras

When it comes to creative people (or great thinkers) and mental health issues, we often hear hooves and don’t think horses.

seamless-vector-zebra-pattern
Not a horse. Source: freecreatives.com

Why? Their eccentricities are often what make them brilliant.

If they don’t sleep for days because their ideas are too large to fit into a normal day/night cycle, we call that passion. If anyone else doesn’t sleep for that reason, we call it a manic episode.

If they lock themselves away, barely eat, barely interact, and simply live in their minds so that they can access those emotions more fully and create soul-crushing yet relatable work, we call that dedication. If any one else does it, we call it depression.

If they conduct experiments with their loved ones, manipulating and testing them in order to prove some theorem or hypothesis, we call that innovation. If anyone else uses people as a means to an end, we might say they have a personality disorder.

If an artist expresses that they are the reincarnation of those who have come before them, the very embodiment of everything that is great, Warhol in the flesh, the greatest of our generation…we might say that’s just hip-hop. If anyone else does it, they’re having delusions of grandeur.

I’m not saying it’s wrong. We don’t want to overdiagnose mental illness, or pathologise creative quirks. It’s beautiful that there’s this room for interpretation in these cases…but is it dangerous? Where do we draw the line? When do we start encouraging people to seek help? How many undiagnosed individuals are walking around, their condition degenerating slowly while everyone turns a blind eye because their behaviours and beliefs are deemed essential for their craft? When do we know when someone we know who has a brilliant eye/ear/mind starts to be more horse than zebra?

Edit before publishing: This post previously featured a clip of a famous musician giving a bizarre interview typical of undiagnosed psychosis, along with a minute by minute breakdown of all the signs and symptoms displayed. A few days before publishing, it was brought to my attention that said artist had been involuntarily admitted for psychiatric observation. I have since retracted that portion out of respect for him as a mental health user and his dignity, and regret ever having intended to publish it, even though I knew no more than two people would actually read it.

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