Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review: The Power of Different

I've often wondered why so many creative individuals struggle with the demon of depression. Is it the very capacity to feel so deeply that causes them to be pulled so low by emotion while also enabling them to soar so high with their creativity? This book, The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius, by Gail Saltz, M.D., highlights a variety of supposed disabilities that often open up a world of creative endeavor. Given my own experience with clinical depression and intense anxiety episodes, I eagerly devoured the pages of this book for insights into making the most of my personal weaknesses.

The book is structured in an unusual way. Instead of highlighting famous individuals who have battled various mental disorders yet found a measure of success, the author has organized the book around the symptoms of disorder and focuses on each symptom separately, using examples within each of the seven different chapters highlighting learning differences, distractibility, anxiety, melancholy, cycling mood, divergent thinking, and relatedness. I was surprised that the examples were often unknown individuals the author encountered in her research. I expected to learn more about a wide array of famous individuals (I can think of quite a few examples off the top of my head), but really only encountered a few, like Hemingway and Darwin.

I appreciated how the author dissects the various disorders, revealing the intensity of the struggle each causes, while also offering up suggestions for working around the problems and focusing on the strengths as opposed to the weaknesses. In the end, the author really champions the benefit of even the most devastating disorders. She writes, "I am convinced that there is something special about the brains of those struggling with mental illness that also yields some of the most astounding and beautiful achievements. I think this is an enormously positive and encouraging message for the nearly 50 percent of Americans who will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime."

Moreover, I agree wholeheartedly with her goal of removing the stigma of mental incapacity and pushing to emphasize the positive aspects of such illnesses. As she observes, "Every brain and every life holds potential. Squashing that potential by dismissing those outside some standard mold is not only cruel on an individual level, it is a sad waste on a societal level. Armed with the knowledge of how to treat and manage the differences that cause suffering and knowing how to best mine the potential that accompanies those differences, we can not only increase the genius output of many but also enhance the quality of life for many millions."

Although I expected a bit more out of the book, it was still an interesting topic to explore. It is sure to appeal to anyone who is fascinated by the correlation between disorder and creative genius. For those who struggle with these disorders, it is a primer for how best to work around the disadvantages and glean the many hidden advantages.

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