My whole life (so far) I've been called weird or eccentric. My family would agree:) The thing is, I felt normal inside. I was just being myself. However, when people would label me as the strange one, I felt alone. I felt pressured to keep my imagination to myself. To a child, this can be very confusing. I felt much more comfortable alone because no one could judge me. Those with a mental disorder deal with a similar situation because discrimination and stereotypes almost force them into solitude. No one should be forced to identify with his/her illness.
It took me many years to embrace my eccentricities. As an adult, I don't like think I'm weird, rather, everyone else is too normal. Marylin Manson was once asked how he feels to be called weird and he simply said, "define normal". You can't. Society has become blinded by its obsession with normal. We live in a world where you have to watch what you say, feel or do. What's wrong with being different? I think different is quite normal.
I am reminded of a time when I was in kindergarden and my teacher would not let me leave class until I finished a daffodil picture by coloring neatly inside the lines. I kept refusing. She must have handed me the same daffodil picture five times until I finally buckled and colored inside the lines (I had to catch my bus :). All she wanted me to do was follow the rules without question. Instead of encouraging creativity, she was concerned with what was normal. Maybe this was the moment I decided to live my life outside the lines.
Bertrand Russell once said, "Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric." Ironically, Russell, an influential mathematician and philosopher, had a strong history of mental illness in his family. I think that eccentricity breads new ideas, questions and change. Without it the world we know would cease to exist. We would sacrifice inventions, movies, art movements, literature, and most things that give life meaning. Sir Isaac Newton, known to be very eccentric, would never communicate his ideas. When asked to shed light on the theory of gravity, he returned a few years later with a book (he created along with Gottfried Leibniz: Principea Mathematica). This book uncovered a new, valuable mathmatical method called Calculus. Einstein, best know for his theory of relativity, was more comfortable in solitude but became a public figure for issues that he believed in. His son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I will post more in the future regarding the connection between creativity/genius and mental illness.
I personally love people who are brave enough to challenge what we view as normal. These people are fearless and passionate. They don't allow the majority to think for them. If more people had this attitude, we could start to erase the stigma that surrounds mental illness. We would begin to accept people for who they are and stop telling them who they need to be. One famous quote that still holds true, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" -FDR. Only fear will hold us back from opening our minds and our hearts.