I wanted to list here all the ways I am currently maladaptive to my environment. I thought I might do so to sort through my thoughts on how, evolutionarily speaking, bipolar has persisted despite rendering us incapable of looking out for ourselves. And I know that’s not the whole truth either—I have good days and bad. But anyway, my list is depressing, and today is already not a very good day. So, a less personal, more theoretical exploration is in order.
Some of my favorite courses at university were in anthropology and philosophy. Recently, I’m veering more towards evolutionary psychology and history. I can’t say I’m particularly well read in any of these areas. But I imagine I know just enough to be potentially harmful in my misinterpretations. But you see, I have bipolar insight, and so believe I have a direct connection to universal truth. So maybe that’s enough to string it all together in a neat little web.
I started reading George T. Lynn’s Genius! To better understand my daughter’s neuro-eccentricity, but soon found it offered me a more positive outlook on my own as well. From that reading (and I can’t remember if he suggested it) I took away that there is something adaptable about bipolar that has enabled it persist throughout time. His suggestion (as well as that of Mad Pride and related movements) is that folks with “mental illness” have been our adventurers, warriors, prophets, medicine/holy men and women, artists, and inventors. And thus, throughout human history we have performed essential roles in the survival of our communities as a whole. As I see it, that’s about right.
The thing is, individually, we simply cannot take care of ourselves. Perhaps it was with the birth of the individual and the notion of personal rights and so on (roughly around the Renaissance) that we began to view all these seers and healers and altogether magnificent beings as ill. We stopped taking care of them and began to see their neuro-eccentricity not as the link to the change we needed in society, but as “mental illness,” a dangerous difference that required sequestering, medicating, and fixing. (The irony is, it was very likely neuro-eccentrics who enabled the Renaissance to happen in the first place.) So, without our public to care for us, we now live our lives underground or institutionalized, our visions feared, our difference shunned.
This is all to say that on the surface, I find very little adaptive on an individual level in neuro-eccentricity. But the thing is, evolution works in populations over generations—not on an individual level. And evolution doesn’t seem to want to let us go. Evolutionarily speaking, our genes (thus, our gifts) are adaptive, supportive of the survival of humanity—perhaps even essential.
So, I may not be able to cook anymore, and have to take care when I choose to drive, act a little strange under most circumstances, and sometimes fail to meet others’ hygiene standards, but there is something in me that you all need. There is something we neuro-eccentric folks have that you likely cannot survive without. Perhaps the Mad Pride folks are right: the change required is not at the individual level, “fixing” our “broken” minds, but at the community level, accepting us and even cherishing the gifts we bring to your otherwise animalistic existence. As a population, we should provide the care necessary for our neuro-eccentrics to thrive…so that we all may survive.