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I'm Intelligent AND Mentally Ill. And That's Okay

Embracing the dichotomy

By Steven FitzgeraldPublished 3 months ago 5 min read

I am a relatively intelligent person.

I am university-educated and have worked as a college lecturer.

My primary field is the theatre but I am well-read, and - although my preference would be to bore you for hours talking about Shakespeare and Beckett - I would also be happy to have a conversation about F. Scott Fitzgerald, Maya Angelou, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, Frida Kahlo. or the French Revolution.

I also have a clear grasp of current affairs.

I could explain both the intricacies of the American electoral system, as well as its British counterpart, in addition to discussing some of the political, and economic situations affecting countries as diverse as Brazil, Turkey, and China.


I am also mentally ill.

My primary battles are with depression and anxiety - the actual conditions are more complicated than that, but - essentially - when all is said and done, they all come down to low mood, and feeling anxious.

What this means, in reality, is that, although I could explain to you in intricate detail why 'Macbeth' is one of the crowning achievements in English Literature, I also have days when I find it hard to take a shower.

Sending a text message can give me a panic attack.

Social occasions, such as a party, can literally make me so tense I am physically in pain.

Some days, I only eat once.

Managing my finances was, until recently, a confusing mystery.

And, despite knowing that I am fundamentally a decent person who has helped others, I have long periods lasting days, sometimes weeks, when I detest myself and believe myself to be the worst human being to have ever lived.

I am intelligent. I am, unquestionably, 'book-smart.' But I am also mentally ill. I am not 'life-smart.'

And that's okay.

Because intelligence doesn't preclude mental illness.

I have lost count of the number of people who have dismissed my mental illnesses because I have B.A (Hons) after my name. "You went to university - how can you be mentally ill?" Because, quite simply, it doesn't work that way.

It's like asking an asthmatic why they struggle to breathe - after, they have two lungs, don't they?

Being intelligent, and being mentally ill, are two entirely different things. Trust me, I wish that my cleverness took the edge off my depression and anxiety, but it doesn't.

And, being 'book-smart' doesn't give mean I can simply defeat my mental illness with the ideas I've learned; I truly wish it was, but mental illness is not always rational.

It's like expecting someone who has read a lot of books about baseball, and who has watched an untold number of games, to open for the Yankees, and smack every ball out of the park.

It ain't going to happen. Two different things; two different parts of the brain.

The part that enables me to understand Jacobean literature works very well, thank you. The bit that deals with emotional regulation, personal relationships, and self-esteem doesn't.

And that's why, despite being intelligent, I am also mentally unwell.

There's no conflict; there is no medical reason why that dichotomy can't exist. I am living, breathing proof it does.

As are millions of other people.

Can I use the part of my brain that handles linguistics, and language, to 'get better'?

I can try, but we are back at the baseball analogy again. I understand depression and anxiety implicitly and am able to further increase my understanding by continuing to read, and study. I know why I suffer from both conditions; I understand that they are a result of life experiences, and a brain that does not generate adequate levels of serotonin.

Does any of that make give me any advantage in battling my mental illnesses? To a slight degree, yes - of course, it does. Knowledge is power. And that knowledge is never going to be wasted.

But, the theory and the practical are two different things. Again, baseball; just because I understand how the physics behind hitting a home run works, doesn't mean I can actually - practically - hit a home run.

If I could, I would.

'Knowing' is not the same as 'being able.' And that is why is perfectly reasonable to be both intelligent AND mentally ill.

However, the fact that I am not dumb, and yet still suffer from depression, and anxiety still seems to confound people. It's almost as if only people with low IQ's can be mentally unwell - 'smart' people are obviously just putting it all on, aren't we?

It's a mystery I am still trying to fathom.

Because it's not as this any of this is particularly new.

I could give you a list of famous, successful and - nominally - intelligent people who have also suffered from mental illness.

I could tell you that Abraham Lincoln had (what we would nowadays call) clinical depression.

That Oprah Winfrey has endured the same.

However, I'm certain that even then some people would say Lincoln couldn't have done - how could he have achieved what he did AND get low?

Because depression, or any mental illness, doesn't care less if you're smart, and have a degree, or if you have none. It doesn’t mind if you are a President, or if you clean toilets.

As far as mental illness is concerned, you’re a human, and that’s good enough.

Academic or professional achievement is irrelevant to mental illness. If depression could be solved by getting a degree, governments would make university education mandatory. And, trust me, even if they subsidized everyone's studies, that'd still be hugely more cost-effective than the current system of care.

Being 'clever' or 'successful' isn't insulation from mental illness. Just ask Winston Churchill. Different parts of the brain. Different forces at work.

So, the next time someone has the bravery to tell you they're struggling, don't dismiss it simply because they've read 'Ulysses', or they're good at their job.

Mental illness doesn't discriminate. And neither should we.

People struggle because they struggle. That's it.

I am intelligent AND mentally ill.

And that's not just okay, it's perfectly normal.


If you've liked what you've read, please check out the rest of my work on Vocal -

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Thank you!


About the Creator

Steven Fitzgerald


Film, theatre, mental health, sport, politics, music, travel, and the occasional short story... it's a varied mix!

Tips greatly appreciated!!

Thank you!!

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