When I attempt to conceptualize schizophrenia I think of it in the words of Nancy Andreason, as a “misconnection syndrome”, almost reflecting a strong disconnect from reality. What really sparks my interest in this disease is the relationship it has to the existence of genius in our world as a representation of a strong internal dichotomy. In the case of the genius and the mentally ill one evidently see how both kinds of individuals are disconnected from the world in one sense or another. Like the misconnection in their brain, they are different and stand out making it difficult to ‘connect’ them in any way to the average person in the ‘real’ world. The videos posted on our blog were perfect depictions of genius in the face of extreme illness. In the case of the cat painter Louis Wain, he used art as a mode of expression. Art has the ability to integrate opposite ideas in life: joy and grief, clarity and bewilderment, humour and absurdity, hope and despair- thus encompassing sets of bipolars in one expression. In the increasingly technological trance we encounter each and every day, art and imagination are able to awaken us to self consciousness and to naturally repair ourselves and reveal what it is to truly feel. In my opinion art is a form of expression that often connects one with the inner self. If one cannot connect with the outside world, what is better than to strengthen your ties and become exceptionally good at something that connects you with yourself? In this sense, on some metaphysical level, I feel like the brain almost acknowledges this compensatory need of the ill individual. Subsequently alternative function, in the brain and hence behavior, is enhanced enough to produce a living genius. Whether art or math or language, the ability of the mentally ill to also be a mental genius is clearly not mutually exclusive.
In thinking about the debilitating illness with respect to a simultaneous brilliant mental functioning on levels that are otherwise lacking in ‘healthy’ people, my attention was brought to Andreason’s explanation of the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia:
“This modern reconceptualization defines positive functions as an exaggeration of normal functions…and negative symptoms as a loss of normal functions…”
In extending the same idea of extremes beyond the seemingly contradicting one of ‘mentally ill-genius’, this disorder is generally wrought with a more overarching bipolar quality of a positive-negative existence that forced me to compare the illness to Manic-Depression. Here the “misconnection” lies in the dichotomous existence of the extreme positive and negative symptoms. As I see it, there seem to be many similarities that I believe could make it easy to confuse the two illnesses. Couldn’t just the negative symptoms of schizophrenia be likened to those of depression and the positive symptoms to mania?
I guess what most fascinates me about this illness, is the existence of the seemingly vast contradiction between genius and mentally ill, and positive and negative within one person who by society is otherwise regarded severely impaired and inferior. But I believe it is important to consider this illness in a more superior sense. Looking at the contradictions and “misconnections” of this syndrome through the words of Walt Whitman almost helps me to see it in a brighter light- “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”