During the 2005 Horizon documentary “The Hawking Paradox”, American theoretical physicist Kip Thorne described how Stephen Hawking was able to turn his ALS to his advantage. Considering the severity of his disability (and that he was only given two years to live), Professor Hawking is a paragon of triumph over adversity.
The rate of progression amongst patients varies, and tends to be slower in patients under the age of 40 (Hawking was 22 at diagnosis). It’s a depressing irony that one of history’s most dynamic, engaging and formidable minds is effectively under siege within his own body.
Thorne describes how:
He had to develop a whole new way, different from the rest of us, for working with the mathematics of Einstein’s relativity. He learned to do it entirely in his brain, without the benefit of writing things down.
Compared to these two, my mind is dwarfed by factors of infinity. Whilst not drawing any direct comparisons with me or anyone else I’ve ever known personally; the story of Hawking’s adaptation could be a millimetre perfect analogy for the idea of ‘dangerous gifts.‘
The question: “What are the potential gifts/benefits when you’re bipolar, depressed, schizophrenic, anorexic…?” I won’t presume to speak for anyone when I infer that such dispositions actually have any benefits, so the focus should be on exploring what benefits we could draw from them.
There are some behavioural traits that spring immediately to mind, at least in my experience. I tend to notice them at work: higher energy levels, decreased need for rest or to eat. Thinking about Hawking however, I’m prompted to focus upon the cognitive aspects; which by their nature will be nebulous and harder to describe.
One thing I’ve experienced is a higher “processing speed.” I love pseudo-technical labels for my disposition, and I find this one quite apt. Presenting in hypomanic states, it ramps up my ability to grasp a concept or problem and strategise to a resolution. These resolutions aren’t always the most obvious or even the most effective, but I worth a go more often than not . Combined with a hyper-focus on ‘thinking outside of the box‘, I’m usually able to synthesize a new way of solving or achieving something that others around me may have missed. I work in a bookstore, so an obvious example is reorganising a section in a way which defies the merchandising guidelines but makes the section friendlier to the customer. This is easily quantifiable, as the reality of modern bookselling involves a lot of time staring at financial reports.
Enhanced empathy isn’t an unreasonable. Even if its a passive ability, it has to be there: the experience of emotional pain, mania, psychosis, obsession…a vast litany of states which you’re more likely to recognise when another is subject to them.
Speaking of Hawking and Friends, a curious one I think about more and more is time. Though it doesn’t capture the whole experience; one facet is that I imagine very real conversations with people in the past, often reliving the event rather than simply remembering it. This may or may not involve changing responses, which hinge on how well it went the last time around. As I get older I “experience” conversations I’m “going” to have with important people. Specifically nieces and nephews who do not, and may never, exist.
I think about the things they may ask or want to discuss. I explain my opinions and offer advice, sometimes just chew the fat with them. Its usually nieces and nephews because my brother and his wife aren’t far off from procreating. And given that I’m not wild about passing on my genes, there may be some kind of displacement going on. The benefits here? I’m amassing a cache of pre-prepared ideas that may be of use to others in the future.
There’s likely many I’m missing, and I’m curious if anyone reading this would like to offer any of their own? I wonder if my offerings aren’t as uncommon as I imagine, even among “normal” people. It would be interesting if the time one and the wings aren’t quite so freaksome as I believe.
I have a long standing love of science and particularly astrophysics. Anyone who fails to see how awe and wonder can come from the world of science would do well to look into the work of Einstein and Feynman and Dirac and Sagan, and a constellation of other thinkers. I’ve encountered people who, while seeking alternatives to the language and practice of mental health, seem distrustful of scientific terms and concepts. While not pure science, modern psychiatry (even in its darker excesses) benefits from its approximation to scientific veracity, so this is understandable even if not directly applicable to me.
The trend is towards more spiritual formulations. Shamanism is common and, I feel, very very useful as both a paradigm and an approach to the business of living. Its an area I’d like to dive into, and in the spirit of Chaos Magick (a subject I want to discuss at another time, just like Satanism), shifting between mystical and some more pseudo-scientific paradigms appeal even more. Given that I’m a colossal geek with a love of Japanese RPGs, the term “Magitek” springs to mind; but these are stories for another entry.
Kip Thorne said this too:
He had to develop a whole new way, different from the rest of us, for working with the mathematics of Einstein’s relativity. He learned to do it entirely in his brain, without the benefit of writing things down. He developed a way of doing it that involved manipulating images of the shapes of objects, the shapes of curves, the shapes of surfaces not in the three dimensional space but in four dimensional space plus time.