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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Mental Illness: Curing the Solution?

      - Jospeh Brean, National Post

We used to view left-handedness as a problem that needed solving; this approach was like force-feeding people apple seeds then stigmatizing them with a genetic proclivity towards cyanide poisoning.  In far too many places, homosexuality is still viewed the same way.  Much more broadly, mental illnesses and learning disabilities are seen as problems that need fixing rather than latent abilities and responses to conditions that are themselves at least partially causative.  Given the long, historical connection of mental illness to leadership, drive and innovation, this is an approach we take to our own social detriment.

I have ADHD (or to be more precise, have been diagnosed with a series of traits ascribed to the term Attention Deficit Disorder, defined as a learning disability), so I can speak from first-hand knowledge.  Focusing on one task at a time has been a lifelong challenge of mine.  This isn’t to say I can’t do it; just as, say, connecting ideas or events together or understanding different points of view is difficult for others, one learns to cope.  As we hope of everyone, I find ways to manage my challenges and build my strengths.

There are several accommodations I employ to help me stay centered; exercise, routine, music, caffeine and yes, periodically Dexedrine are part of this regimen.  This is no different than wearing glasses or watching your calories.  Too much of any one thing is bad; an overdose of any substance or activity is harmful, regardless of who you are.  Along with this - everyone has strategies for self-regulation.  This can be going to the gym, managing diet, writing a "to-do" list, having a cup of coffee in the morning to jump-start your cognitive engine.  People with alternative cognitive abilities might need more involved strategies to hold the line, but for most of 'em, with the right internal and external accommodations they can function normally, yet retain their exceptionality.

I’ve always laughed at the idea of being “disabled” – my ability to cycle through thought trains quickly (and several of them in short succession) has always meant I can consider more variables in shorter time frames than others.  Discipline and experience have helped me develop the internal tools to focus that process towards a given end.  In practice, this means I often jump ahead to where the narrative puck is going to be, whether it’s in a conversation or in broad social trends.  It's like filling in the blank spots on a temporal map rather than waiting for the next sequence in a chain.  Some people call this intuition; Carl Jung called it “seeing around corners.”  To me, it’s just the way I think – and I’m hardly alone in this.

You tell me – is a capacity like that really a disability to be managed, or rather a skill to be nurtured?

Time will tell.  Or, you can just ask.

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