Not long ago, I gave a lecture at the University of Southern Mississippi about my attempts to combat growing worldwide Islamophobia, brutal human rights abuses by the current Iranian regime, and global stigma surrounding mental illness.
I fully admit that tackling these three topics simultaneously in a one-hour presentation (let alone setting them as life goals) may strike some as a bit overreaching, not to mention a tad haphazard, even mad. Yet to me, my “madness” seems perfectly measured, even methodical.
The way I see it, if you’re going to take on issues like bigotry and injustice, you’d be insane not to tackle as much as you could get away with at once. So, when I was presented with the title of my talk, “The Activist Writer: Writing for a Cause,” I took the broad theme as an invitation to run, or rather fly, with whatever topics or ideas struck me as readily related and relevant.
As it turns out, what seemed so obviously “related and relevant” to me came across as unrelated and random to a significant sector of the Southern Miss student population. I promptly discovered this upon reading the comment forms that all of the attendees were required to fill out after the lecture.
Scatterbrained: Is it such a bad thing?
Initially, I was delighted to see a slew of positive evaluations. Reading words like “passionate,” “brave,” “hilarious,” and “entertaining,” I found myself grinning like a madwoman. My head was inflating with each new accolade.
Then I came across some other appraisals of my presentation: “scatterbrained,” “random,” “unorganized,” and “all over the place” to name a few. Were it just one individual’s opinion, I might have been able to easily dismiss the observation; but it wasn’t.
I was forced to take stock. After only a few seconds of reflection, I came to the swift conclusion that these assessments were, indeed, correct. I admit it. I am scatterbrained.
But so what? Is that really such a bad thing?
I can’t help but believe that it’s not, and not just because doing so is a convenient way to deflect criticism—although it’s certainly an added bonus. My convictions here are deeply rooted in personal experiences, which have taught me that there are some huge benefits to being “all over the place.” And no one knows this better than those of us blessed with bipolar disorder.
High flying ideas
Sure, there are significant liabilities associated with the common symptom known as “flight of ideas.” When ideas fly too high, for example, they can easily hit a nasty fog, quickly lose direction and crash. But when they’re flying at reasonable altitudes and when the air traffic control tower is running smoothly, those ideas can lead to brilliant breakthroughs.
We can see patterns and make connections that often elude others, and if we can slow down long enough to explain how our ideas relate to each other, we can translate them into realities that even “normal” people can understand.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been accused of talking and thinking too fast and about too many things at once. My friends and parents used to constantly cut me off midsentence and beg me to slow down because I wasn’t making sense. This used to annoy the hell out of me, until I realized that it wasn’t my ideas that were confusing people, but rather, the fact that I was failing to clearly express those ideas. By the time I got to high school, it became indisputably clear that concepts and connections that made obvious and immediate sense to me weren’t quite as easily and readily understood by most everyone else around me. Eventually, I took this as a challenge to become a better translator.
That’s when I found writing: a way to get all of my thoughts out as quickly as they came to me, plus the chance to revisit, revise and edit.
I still occasionally have trouble communicating my ideas in unprepared speeches —and yes, even in some prepared speeches, as those insightful Southern Miss students so politely reminded me. But I’m OK with that. I wouldn’t trade for a second my flying ideas for walking ones. They are more than a symptom to me. They are a gift.
Melody Moezzi is a regular columnist for bp (Bipolar) Magazine and a blogger for the bpHope Blog.