In July of 2013, I was officially declared dumb. Overnight my IQ dropped twenty points. Did I lose some of my neurons? Did I crush my head in a car accident? No, I was diagnosed bipolar. Once bipolar entered my life, my colleagues stopped emailing scholarly articles. I noticed that some people talked to me slowly as if I had lost my capacity for understanding. My teaching engagements collapsed almost to zero. The society agreed, “Alfredo, you are dumb.”
A Game of Give & Take
I’m a strong supporter of mental health advocacy. But I wonder if each time we issue a demand, even if justified, we place ourselves in a position of weakness. I don’t like to ask unless I give something in return. The exchange may be unnecessary. However, it endows me with dignity. Alongside our demands, the mental health community must proudly offer its precious asset: profound wisdom.
But to internalize and share our wisdom, we must resist the “dumb effect.” There is an unfortunate correlation between the cartoon society makes of us and what we come to believe about ourselves. It is a perfect storm for self-deprecation. The two distortions feed each other trapping us into a cage of low self-esteem. We are deemed dumb, and we doubt, “are they right?”
The first item on the agenda of mental health must be pride. Ending stigma is not enough. We must strive for dignity. I wish for a bipolar pride parade! I want the world to ask me, “what are you proud of?” And I will proudly answer “a precious wisdom forged in the anvil of profound struggle.”
The Value We Bring
The question is not what we want to gain but what we have to offer. Our societal status and portion will increase as we share our wisdom. We are spiritual and existential life coaches, and many of us do not realize it. The obstacles we face are the source of our precious wisdom. We must harness that wisdom and deliver it to society. Every mentally ill individual must become an ambassador of life experience.
Who better than us can teach about resilience?
Courage? Loneliness? Disappointment? Stamina?
Who has endured the deepest darkness, uncertainty, exhaustion, or fear? Who but us can look at a person in despair and, with empathy, say, “you will get out of this pit? We are a reservoir of profound wisdom. We have strong souls. But we have overlooked our gifts because our illness and society tell us that we are dumb. Our task is to resist that narrative.
A week of depression teaches us about the wisdom of darkness and redemption. A week at the psychiatric ward about restraint, trust, and supportive partners in struggle. OCD teaches us about the search for self-control and the power of order. Schizophrenia teaches us about moments of clarity and the fear of losing them. We must translate all those experiences into life lessons. Who can teach about the core existential and spiritual dilemmas of life but you? Dumb? No! Filled with wisdom.
In July of 2013, I lost 20 IQ points. But since then, I’ve been a genius at life. I take that trade any time.
Now, take a piece of paper and think of yourself as a life coach. What lessons would you deliver to the world?