Intelligence and Mental Illness

I’ve always found it interesting that highly intelligent people often also suffer from depression or anxiety or some other affliction of the mind. I often find myself wondering why that is. After pondering the subject for quite some time, I think I’ve settled on a hypothesis of sorts.

Since I was very young, I have been told that I am very intelligent. I never had to study to get some of the highest marks in grade school and college. There were a lot of things that came very easily to me, which I saw my peers struggling with. Along with that intelligence, however, I have always suffered with mental illness. And it only seems to have gotten more pronounced since I have been out of school.

I don’t think that is a coincidence by any means. I’ve come to believe that losing that academic outlet has given my mind more time to fester and cultivate that mental illness. I think that without some type of distraction, some means of challenging myself, it’s easier to fall into anxious and brooding states of mind. Perhaps a highly intelligent mind requires more stimuli to keep it happy and healthy than one of average or low intelligence. That could explain why I am always trying to dull my sense with substances. And why many great minds throughout history have done the same.

I am always happier when I have something to occupy myself with, especially if it is truly engaging and requires intense focus. It was truly a gift to be in a learning environment for so many years among my peers. On my own I am not very good at staying busy. I don’t often have the courage to challenge myself willingly.

It seems like intelligent people who are highly motivated and have something they are passionate to work on aren’t as likely to be burdened by the symptoms of mental illness. However, this could be a “chicken and egg” scenario. Perhaps their motivation and passion is only possible because they aren’t suffering mentally.

Still I wonder how I can use this new insight of mine to improve my life. I feel like I am chasing my own tail in a sense. I know giving myself more to do, challenging my limits, will lead to more happiness. But at the same time, my severe anxiety keeps me from making any of those changes in my daily routine. It was nice to be somewhat forced into beneficial situations by structured education. I regret taking that for granted. Hopefully some day I can figure out a way to simulate something similar for myself on my own.