After writing my blog post Clinically Creative, I starting thinking about how mental illness can actually create an advantage in some people – the advantage being strong creative abilities. I remembered the movie Phenomenon – in the movie, John Travolta’s character transforms from a man with ordinary intelligence to one with extraordinary intelligence and superhuman powers. It turns out John’s character is suffering from a rare form of brain tumor which has been activating his brain cells in unusual ways. When I first saw this movie years ago I wondered, “Perhaps something like this can happen in real life?”
I’ve learned that Bipolar Disorder has the strongest link to creativity so I decided to research into the condition further. I learned of one of the facets of this condition called hypomania. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania where the person becomes goal-oriented, fast-thinking and working, and has an inflated self-esteem. I’ve also read a bunch of articles on how beneficial hypomania is for entrepreneurs and how some VC’s even test for hypomania when evaluating them:
And then I found this series of brain activity images showing the difference between normal and hypomanic states – as you can see the hypomanic brain is amped up!
I’ve also been reading books and articles on mental health websites target towards teaching people with Bipolar Disorder on how to use hypomania to their advantage, for example:
Lastly, I found a TED talk by comedian, Joshua Walters who refers to his Bipolar diagnosis as a mental skillness, not illness. The talk has over 650,000 views:
So, to answer the question I had after seeing Phenomenon those many years ago – yes, it does appear there is such an illness which has the propensity to cause superhuman-like abilities. And the illness is Bipolar Disorder.