Our discussions led into talking about the genes our families inherited that make us prone to mental illness. I commented that I see these genes as blessings and I told her of this experience.
A couple of weeks ago I heard Fred Frese speak at the annual NAMI Utah state conference held at the University of Utah student union building. Dr. Frese says that as far as he knows, he was the first person with schizophrenia to receive a PhD. He’s made great research and therapy advances in the treatment of this mental disorder. People worldwide applaud him for his accomplishments.
But it wasn’t always that way. In his late twenties he was committed to an Ohio state mental hospital and told that he would spend the remainder of his life there. That was after a Marine Corp diagnosis at age 26. Back then, that’s what was done with people like him. They were discarded from society and warehoused. He was placed in what was considered at the time one of the largest buildings in the U.S.
But a combination of his tenacity and the development of psychotropic mediations changed that. He went on to be a director of the very mental hospital to which he was once committed. What a success story!
He views his disease as not a deficit, but a difference from those who are “chronically normal.” People with schizophrenia usually have greater abilities in theoretical rationality. He put up as evidence John Nash, Nobel Prize winning mathematician on whom the moving “A Beautiful Mind” was based. Further, he projected five digital images of George Washington on the big screen with increasing levels of definition. Those with schizophrenia typically recognize the face at 1 or 2. It took me until 5!
Dr. Frese now gives frequent keynote speeches. He is witty, informative, and engaging. He almost persuaded me that I had been shorted with just having chronic depression and anxiety.
Mental illness can be a blessing if we recognize it, get help, get to a better place, and appreciate it for the thing of benefit that it is. I love this quote: “We must be careful that we don't resent the very things that help us put on the divine nature.”[i] I really believe that dealing with struggles like mental illness help us to be more God-like.
So today I am grateful for the blessing of mental illness among my other God-given gifts.
[i] Paul V. Johnson, Ensign, May 2011