When People Say, 'You're Too Smart to Have a Mental Illness'


As a child, I was labeled a gifted student by my teachers. The PTA liked to show me off, and I was always a better reader than a kickball player. As a grown woman, I can’t help but laugh at that, but I suppose I do well. Sometimes I get paid to paint. Playing the cello has come to me quickly and easily. I knew to hold off our wedding until he and I had some traffic tickets disappear and our credit scores evened out. Sure, being artistic and practical at the same time may not make me “gifted,” but there are others navigating their 20s with less.

And, even if those attributes did somehow make me especially gifted, they wouldn’t rid me of mental illness. It seems like that would go without saying, but, as many of us have unfortunately come to realize, it usually has to be said even to the point of exhaustion.

Maybe someone told you that you were too smart for all that medicine. Perhaps they said you’re too smart to be so overwhelmed or that you could just snap out of everything if you thought long and hard enough. There’s a chance they said you’re too smart to honestly believe all of that new age psychology stuff. I’m sorry if I’m getting these right. Hopefully, and I sincerely mean this with a breaking heart, hopefully, your own brilliance wasn’t used to shame you for asking for help.

The looks they give us when they tell us we’re too smart for it — there’s desperation, disgust, every ounce of feeling dug up and painted onto their faces. They’re trying to help. They’re as lost as we are.

But they’re wrong, and we’re the ones struggling. After all, what they aren’t saying comes through with much more clarity than their backhanded reference to our intellect. If being smart means overcoming mental illness so easily, never taking medicine or seeing a doctor or facing overwhelm, then what do they think I am I when it’s not easy or when I do need things? What must I be when I’m in the hospital if I should’ve been too smart to let that happen? Don’t they realize our minds are already fighting harder than we ever knew was in us?

You’re not too smart to have a mental illness. You’re a work of brilliance, a masterpiece, carefully and beautifully constructed. And you’re really, really smart. But that has nothing to do with your mental illness.

Mental illness isn’t something one dimensional. It isn’t a formula or a series of brush strokes. Unfortunately, you can’t intellectualize it to nothing.

Fortunately, though, that means it isn’t your fault. You can be a genius with panic attacks, the next world renowned brain surgeon with OCD. It takes a really, really smart and strong person to say they’re mentally ill, to express a need for help and willingness to seek it out. You’re a glorious genius — with or without mental illness.

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Image by Michele Piacquadio


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