Full Spectrum Auditions

Joshua Walters: On being just crazy enough

Filmed:

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?

- Comedian, activist
Joshua Walters is a bipolar comedian whose work explores language, creativity, beatboxing and madness ... Full bio

My name is Joshua Walters.
00:15
I'm a performer.
00:18
(Beatboxing)
00:21
(Laughter)
00:30
(Applause)
00:33
But as far as being a performer,
00:37
I'm also diagnosed
00:40
bipolar.
00:43
I reframe that as a positive
00:50
because the crazier I get onstage,
00:52
the more entertaining I become.
00:54
When I was 16 in San Francisco,
00:57
I had my breakthrough manic episode
00:59
in which I thought I was Jesus Christ.
01:01
Maybe you thought that was scary,
01:05
but actually there's no amount of drugs you can take
01:09
that can get you as high
01:12
as if you think you're Jesus Christ.
01:14
(Laughter)
01:16
I was sent to a place,
01:20
a psych ward,
01:23
and in the psych ward,
01:25
everyone is doing their own one-man show.
01:27
(Laughter)
01:31
There's no audience like this
01:36
to justify their rehearsal time.
01:38
They're just practicing.
01:41
One day they'll get here.
01:43
Now when I got out,
01:47
I was diagnosed
01:49
and I was given medications
01:51
by a psychiatrist.
01:53
"Okay, Josh, why don't we give you some --
01:55
why don't we give you some Zyprexa.
01:57
Okay? Mmhmm?
02:00
At least that's what it says on my pen."
02:05
(Laughter)
02:07
Some of you are in the field, I can see.
02:12
I can feel your noise.
02:15
The first half of high school
02:19
was the struggle of the manic episode,
02:22
and the second half
02:25
was the overmedications of these drugs,
02:27
where I was sleeping through high school.
02:30
The second half was just one big nap, pretty much, in class.
02:32
When I got out
02:37
I had a choice.
02:39
I could either deny
02:41
my mental illness
02:44
or embrace
02:46
my mental skillness.
02:50
(Bugle sound)
02:52
There's a movement going on right now
02:56
to reframe mental illness as a positive --
02:58
at least the hypomanic edge part of it.
03:01
Now if you don't know what hypomania is,
03:04
it's like an engine that's out of control,
03:07
maybe a Ferrari engine, with no breaks.
03:09
Many of the speakers here, many of you in the audience,
03:12
have that creative edge,
03:15
if you know what I'm talking about.
03:17
You're driven to do something
03:19
that everyone has told you is impossible.
03:21
And there's a book -- John Gartner.
03:23
John Gartner wrote this book called "The Hypomanic Edge"
03:25
in which Christopher Columbus and Ted Turner and Steve Jobs
03:28
and all these business minds
03:31
have this edge to compete.
03:33
A different book was written not too long ago
03:35
in the mid-90s
03:37
called "Touched With Fire" by Kay Redfield Jamison
03:39
in which it was looked at in a creative sense
03:42
in which Mozart and Beethoven and Van Gogh
03:45
all have this manic depression that they were suffering with.
03:48
Some of them committed suicide.
03:51
So it wasn't all
03:53
the good side of the illness.
03:55
Now recently,
03:58
there's been development in this field.
04:01
And there was an article written in the New York Times,
04:04
September 2010,
04:07
that stated:
04:09
"Just Manic Enough."
04:12
Just be manic enough
04:14
in which investors who are looking for entrepreneurs
04:16
that have this kind of spectrum --
04:19
you know what I'm talking about --
04:22
not maybe full bipolar,
04:24
but they're in the bipolar spectrum --
04:27
where on one side,
04:31
maybe you think you're Jesus,
04:33
and on the other side
04:37
maybe they just make you a lot of money.
04:40
(Laughter)
04:42
Your call. Your call.
04:45
And everyone's somewhere in the middle.
04:48
Everyone's somewhere in the middle.
04:50
So maybe, you know,
04:53
there's no such thing
04:56
as crazy,
04:58
and being diagnosed with a mental illness
05:00
doesn't mean you're crazy.
05:03
But maybe it just means
05:05
you're more sensitive
05:07
to what most people can't see
05:09
or feel.
05:11
Maybe no one's really crazy.
05:13
Everyone is just a little bit mad.
05:17
How much
05:26
depends on where you fall in the spectrum.
05:29
How much
05:33
depends on how lucky you are.
05:35
Thank you.
05:39
(Applause)
05:41

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About the Speaker:

Joshua Walters - Comedian, activist
Joshua Walters is a bipolar comedian whose work explores language, creativity, beatboxing and madness ...

Why you should listen

Joshua Walters is a comedian, poet, educator and performer. He incorporates elements of spoken word and beatbox into his shows in a mash-up of comedy, intimate reflection and unpredictable antics. In the last two years, Walters has performed at theaters and universities throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East.

His eclectic combination of performance disciplines and activity as an educator in mental health has given Walters a national platform and audience. In 2002, Walters co-founded the DBSA (Depression Bipolar Support Alliance) Young Adults Chapter in San Francisco, one of the few support groups specifically for mentally ill young adults in the country. As a facilitator, Walters developed humor to address the subject of mental illness, reframing it as a positive. Walters speaks as a mental health educator and has engaged in mental health advocacy at conventions and in classrooms nationwide.

More profile about the speaker
Joshua Walters | Speaker | TED.com