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Joshua Walters: On being just crazy enough

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My name is Joshua Walters. I'm a performer.

(Beatboxing)

(Laughter)

(Applause)

But as far as being a performer, I'm also diagnosed bipolar. I reframe that as a positive because the crazier I get onstage, the more entertaining I become. When I was 16 in San Francisco, I had my breakthrough manic episode in which I thought I was Jesus Christ. Maybe you thought that was scary, but actually there's no amount of drugs you can take that can get you as high as if you think you're Jesus Christ.

(Laughter)

I was sent to a place, a psych ward, and in the psych ward, everyone is doing their own one-man show. (Laughter) There's no audience like this to justify their rehearsal time. They're just practicing. One day they'll get here. Now when I got out, I was diagnosed and I was given medications by a psychiatrist. "Okay, Josh, why don't we give you some -- why don't we give you some Zyprexa. Okay? Mmhmm? At least that's what it says on my pen." (Laughter) Some of you are in the field, I can see. I can feel your noise. The first half of high school was the struggle of the manic episode, and the second half was the overmedications of these drugs, where I was sleeping through high school. The second half was just one big nap, pretty much, in class. When I got out I had a choice. I could either deny my mental illness or embrace my mental skillness.

(Bugle sound)

There's a movement going on right now to reframe mental illness as a positive -- at least the hypomanic edge part of it. Now if you don't know what hypomania is, it's like an engine that's out of control, maybe a Ferrari engine, with no breaks. Many of the speakers here, many of you in the audience, have that creative edge, if you know what I'm talking about. You're driven to do something that everyone has told you is impossible.

And there's a book -- John Gartner. John Gartner wrote this book called "The Hypomanic Edge" in which Christopher Columbus and Ted Turner and Steve Jobs and all these business minds have this edge to compete. A different book was written not too long ago in the mid-90s called "Touched With Fire" by Kay Redfield Jamison in which it was looked at in a creative sense in which Mozart and Beethoven and Van Gogh all have this manic depression that they were suffering with. Some of them committed suicide. So it wasn't all the good side of the illness.

Now recently, there's been development in this field. And there was an article written in the New York Times, September 2010, that stated: "Just Manic Enough." Just be manic enough in which investors who are looking for entrepreneurs that have this kind of spectrum -- you know what I'm talking about -- not maybe full bipolar, but they're in the bipolar spectrum -- where on one side, maybe you think you're Jesus, and on the other side maybe they just make you a lot of money. (Laughter) Your call. Your call. And everyone's somewhere in the middle. Everyone's somewhere in the middle.

So maybe, you know, there's no such thing as crazy, and being diagnosed with a mental illness doesn't mean you're crazy. But maybe it just means you're more sensitive to what most people can't see or feel. Maybe no one's really crazy. Everyone is just a little bit mad. How much depends on where you fall in the spectrum. How much depends on how lucky you are.

Thank you.

(Applause)

Video Details

Duration: 5 minutes and 31 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDTalks
Director: TED.com
Views: 384
Posted by: tedtalks on Jun 24, 2011

At TED's Full Spectrum Auditions, comedian Joshua Walters, who's bipolar, walks the line between mental illness and mental "skillness." In this funny, thought-provoking talk, he asks: What's the right balance between medicating craziness away and riding the manic edge of creativity and drive?

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