Mental Illnesses That Can Give You Superhuman Brain Powers

Mental illnesses have an unbelievable amount of negative social stigma associated with them. One hundred years from now, the medical profession will likely look back in absolute disbelief on how these illnesses are demonized and misrepresented in media. By focusing on the positive side effects, in terms of superpowers these illnesses can give you, perhaps we can begin to remove some of the negative stigma.

Dissociative identity disorder can trick your brain into not feeling pain

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is often shown in movies and television in pretty baffling and often offensive ways. In the movies, a person has a "split personality," and those personalities with minds of their own create hi-jinks in the world around them. However, it's not all drama, hijinks or, daresay, Me, Myself, & Irene.

The dissociative brain is actually covering up bad experiences and feelings by altering its identities. Psychologists now consider this phenomenon more of a coping skill — why would you want to be Mary when Mary's husband left her for Bob? Instead, Mary can dissociate and become Susan, to avoid all of that pesky emotional pain. However, DID is still categorized as a mental illness, because, yeah, they still often take on the identities of several people at a time.

When a person with DID dissociates, their brain completely tricks them into thinking that they are someone else, with absolutely no memory of what happened during their mental vacation. For example, when Mary dissociates to avoid the painful feelings, she will have no recollection of what happened while Susan was steering the ship. DID may also trick your brain into ignoring physical pain as well. The dissociated "alter" identities report amnesia following the traumatic event that led them to their altered state, whether it be physical abuse or surviving a near-deadly accident. So now, you weren't in a car accident at all! You're a new person that just happens to have to take the train.

OCD can give you super memory

A study from the Journal of Psychiatric research noted a link between patients with anxiety, via a word memorization task. Participants were given a list of 320 words, plus 140 nonsense words. Of the 280 words repeated, both groups showed positive results in recall, but the OCD group could recall all words faster, and with more accuracy.

Hoarding is a phenomenon often associated with OCD, but it isn't just objects that OCD patients are hoarding. "Memory hoarding" is a term used to specify the unique hoarding traits common among most OCD patients. It occurs compulsively, as people with OCD can biologically pay extra attention to specific details of their memories, unlike their non-OCD counterparts.

When analyzing the brain scans of OCD patients, neurologists discovered a unique enlargement in the area of the brain responsible for both repetitive recall, this leading to an increased formation of memories of past events. According to research at Irvine University, studies show that patients with OCD have a profound ability to recall information beyond what the average brain can do. In short, when the obsessive brain is obsessing, it is also remembering everything it could possibly obsess over.

ADHD can make you a creative genius

A person with ADHD gets more ideas before their morning coffee than the average person has all day. The constantly wandering mind isn't always filled with the next great American novel, oooooh shiny thing! But the impulsivity attached to ADHD symptoms can actually allow people to take more risks, resulting in more creative thinking, according to a study at Dublin's Trinity College.

Often wrongly associated as people who can't sit still or pay attention, individuals with ADHD have a good reason for their restlessness or inattention. The ADHD brain has zero tolerance for things of no interest to it, and works tirelessly to instead hyperfocus on things of interest, especially when these things involve risk taking. Creativity is, in essence, a risk. The creative mind is a risk-taker, challenging normalcy and popular beliefs to see things in a new light. While he might not get a 100 on his algebra test, it is likely that the creative ADHD mind belonged to the first kid in class to ask, "Why do we have to learn this in the first place?" The ADHD brain seeks to find creative solutions for answers when a typical brain just accepts that two plus two is four. Perhaps you challenge it further, become Thom Yorke of Radiohead, write a song called "2+2=5," and accidentally become the poster boy for Russian ADD medication.

The impulsivity associated with ADHD can be also used as an evolutionary strength. The impulsive mind makes decisions faster — in terms of survival, that could be the difference between getting hit by a truck, and making a quick decision to creatively avoid the collision. The ADHD mind can act on a decision before it's even cognitively aware that a decision's been made. ADHD overrides all that pesky risk analysis, and instead reacts creatively. The ADHD brain is reliant on a high level of arousal outside what the typical world may have to offer.

When the ADHD mind is daydreaming, it's really developing new creative adaptations to any given scenario, or perhaps arranging the first prelude to a symphony, or outlining a novel he will probably write. Historically, creative geniuses with formal ADHD diagnoses exist in all fields, from grunge rock to Romantic literature. What do Lord Byron, Kurt Cobain, Justin Timberlake, Will Smith and Michael Phelps have in common? You guessed it: they all have ADHD.

Bipolar disorder can give you superhero resistance, increased empathy, and a super sense of smell

According to research from the Journal of Affective Disorders, bipolar patients possess heightened empathy, spirituality, and resilience. Empathy is something that happens deep in our brains that allows us to feel the pain of others, and evidence of the phenomenon of increased empathy is structurally present in the bipolar brain, allowing bipolars to have more intuitive empathy than others.

The effect of depressive realism common in patients with bipolar actually give these people a much more realistic picture of the world around them. Repeated episodes in bipolar patients can actually make them more resilient in the long run. Something bad happens, you have an episode, then if the bad thing happens again, bipolar patients will be more resilient in coping when life gives them lemons, yet again. An astonishing majority of people, 90% of them specifically, regard their own spirituality as a source of comfort in their world full of chaos. However, bipolar people also see the most results in this department. Because of their heightened spiritual senses, bipolar patients are more successful than others in spiritual healing.

Because bipolar patients experience heightened emotions surrounding all experiences, the perception in recalling experiences isn't just in increased empathy or memory affect. According to another study on bipolar patients, the same areas of the brain associated with sense of smell show increased activity. One symptom of bipolar disorder is hypersensitivity, and hypersensitive people also report hypersensitivity to smells. So bipolar patients can recall smells surrounding experiences more than non-bipolar patients, meaning certain smells may trigger actual memories. Instead of, "Oh, I smell pizza, I like pizza," it's "Oh, I smell pizza, one time my car broke down with a pizza in it."

The emotional superpowers associated with bipolar disorder transcend the limits a seemingly "healthy brain" is capable of experiencing. Hey, if nothing else, at least there was a pizza in your car.

Psychotic disorders may give you crazy math skills

According to research from Reykjavik University in Iceland, scholars with exceptional mathematical abilities perform largely within the realm of their own psychosis. The study concluded that the best math students at Reykjavik share symptoms of psychosis, and the scholars who scored highest on the math assessments were later hospitalized. Not for their sick math skills, but for their sick heads — they had bonafide schizophrenia.

John Nash, one of the most popular mathematicians of our time, suffered from schizophrenia too. Nash's altered visual perception allowed his brain to see math in ways that would make your high school Algebra teacher want to abandon ship and join the circus. Nash, popularized by the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, famously claimed that most mathematicians (the good ones, anyway) dealt with some form of "maniacal characteristics, delirium and symptoms of schizophrenia."

The neurons firing inside of the brains of schizophrenics greatly alter their visual perception, but sometimes, they can distort reality in more favorable ways, in terms of deducing mathematics. So if you suck at math, that might actually be a good thing.

Anxiety can make you extremely intelligent

The anxious mind wanders — there are endless paranoid outcomes to infinite possible terrifying futures, for tasks as simple as waking up and leaving the house. It's like an online message board for conspiracy theorists, except you can't turn it off, and you're forced to listen to every single asinine plot.

Incredibly, this kind of thinking has a magical way of pushing your brain to make profound new connections. When focusing directly on the Ashkenazi Jews, a unique cultural group noted for their high levels of anxiety, there's a direct correlation between their anxiety and high IQs. Elsewhere, a study by SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York also links anxiety with high IQ. Generalized anxiety disorder is also linked to abnormally high verbal skills.

Another study reveals that socially anxious people have more empathy than others, which is indicative of heightened emotional intelligence and verbal skills. The latter's kind of important when you're trying to express all those anxious feelings and fears, and the anxious brain has to remember all of those aforementioned fears in the first place, leading to higher recall and critical thinking skills. So, bad news: you're having a panic attack. But good news: you're way more likely to convey what's happening, and can use your emotional overload for good.

Also, you definitely didn't leave the door unlocked, but we know you went to go check anyway. But hey, had it been unlocked, the Walking Dead zombies could have just walked their dead selves into your house and interrupted your Netflix binge session, so better safe than sorry.

Tourette's can give you superhuman athletic precision

Tourettes is often misrepresented in movies and television as a Cartman blurting out obscenities, with little control over them. It turns out, in the mind of person with Tourette's, everything is a constant cognitive battle of impulses and controlling unwelcome impulses. This gives a person an extra step in cognition where they're actively sifting out welcome and unwelcome impulses, focusing on every little impulse a billion times more than the average person. Some people with Tourette's, like Manchester United goalie Tim Howard, can harness these impulses in superhuman ways. (This might also be the secret to David Beckham's precision on the field too.)

It's not just footballers with this unique trait. Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Jim Eisenreich both suffers from it and runs his own Tourette's research foundation. NBA Superstar Chris Jackson (aka Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf) has Tourette's, which is often visible when he's on the court. However, his OCD is also what keeps him practicing until he can hit ten free throws in a row. Anthony Ervin, from the US Olympic swim team, attributes his precision in the pool to his Tourette's, claiming that it makes him swim faster than his opponents and have quicker reflexes.

So in other words, go ahead and accept your twitchy friend's challenge for a game of one-on-one, but don't be surprised when they dunk on your head.

Depression makes you creative

Can crazy writing ideas come from actual crazy? According to a study at Karolinska Institute, people working in creative fields were dramatically more likely to be depressed. Basically, writers are often secluded in their room, with only the chaos of their overwhelming internal monologue to keep them company, thus frequently battling depression.

While we're certainly not praising depression, it's important to recognize its influence on creatives. Take Vincent Van Gogh, for instance. He was depressed enough to mail his actual ear to a former lover, but creative enough to turn all of his terrible thoughts into beautiful art. Or how about Edvard Munch's The Scream, one his most famous paintings? As he explained it, "The sun began to set — suddenly the sky turned blood red. I stood there trembling with anxiety — and I sensed an endless scream passing through nature." The depressive mind has the capacity to not only misconstrue a sunset as a terrifying vision, but also see a scream passing through nature. They can then turn that depressing vision into one of the most recognizable paintings of all time.

Van Gogh and Munch weren't the only artists you probably studied in undergrad afflicted with this disorder. Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Tennessee Williams, Sylvia Plath, and probably every author in your college's required reading syllabus all suffered from depression. Honestly — without depression, would art even exist?

Autism may make you a savant

When you think of autism, you probably think of Rain Man, the 1998 film starring Tom Cruise and his autistic counterpart Dustin Hoffman. In truth, Hoffman's card-counting brilliance isn't far off from what autism actually is. While certainly not a majority, a good 10% of autistic people are categorized as savants, meaning they're absolutely amazing at one particular thing, whether it be art, music, adding large numbers, or increased memory that allows them to remember every Grunge article ever written.

In fact, the mathematical prowess of the autistic savant overwhelmingly dominate scientific fields. According to a 450,000-member study out of Cambridge University, adults working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields scored much higher on the autism spectrum than adults in other professional fields.

Okay, reader, we know what you're thinking: STEM's great, but what about the literary professionals? According to the study, these professionals might not be autistic, but were much more likely to experience manic depression. But hey, at least they probably write the best stuff you could ever dream of.