Many famous thinkers—Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton—were at times labeled "slow" or "difficult." Yet they earned the title "Genius with a capital G." That’s the connection that Health’s resident mental health pro, Gail Saltz, MD, explores in her new book, The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius ($26; amazon.com). Here, she gets into the gifts of atypical brains and explains why none of us have a "normal" mind.
Do you think everyone has an atypical brain to some extent?
I think many people have this idea that either your brain looks like everybody’s brain exactly or you have a mental illness and then your brain looks different. That is not the case. Everyone struggles with sadness, stress, anxiety. It’s when something is going on that interferes with your ability to function day to day that we start calling it a disorder.
Can you have a specific strength that’s a direct result of a brain difference?
Absolutely. High achievement is often a direct result of the differences that produce a disorder. For example, people who experience cycling moods might go from a depressive state to an exhilarated one. In those energized states, many have amazing charisma or experience incredible creativity. Obviously, it's key to get treatment if your cycling mood is severe, but if you harness it, there is a lot of power to be found.
You want readers to walk away understanding...
Our brain’s wiring and complexity can result in potential weaknesses—but also potential strengths. We need to cultivate those strengths, as opposed to marginalizing anyone who has a brain difference.
Gail Saltz, MD, is a psychiatrist and television commentator in New York City who specializes in health, sex, and relationships.