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Lessons From Losing My Mind: Andy Dunn (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of mental health advocate Andy Dunn’s talk titled “Lessons From Losing My Mind” at TED 2023 conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


The Messiah for a Week

When I was 20, I was the messiah. For about a week. And for those of you who haven’t had the privilege of being the messiah, I have to tell you something. It is awesome.

Imagine, you are the person that’s going to save the world, bring peace on Earth, and no one knows it yet but you. I arrived as the second coming my senior year of college. New Year’s Eve, 1999.

After a night of partying, I came to a stunning conclusion. I was Jesus 2.0. For the next 100 hours, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, but I did spend a fair amount of time preaching my gospel at the Burger King in Evanston.

Turns out, though — and this may be a disappointment to my supporters — that I was in fact not the messiah. I was just a 20-year-old Midwestern kid having a manic episode later diagnosed as a symptom of bipolar disorder type I. And it was very much not awesome for my family and my friends.

Symptoms of a Manic Episode

And so what exactly is a manic episode? Typical symptoms include a lack of sleep, grandiosity, relentless optimism, high-risk behaviors, racing speech, and ideas that are seen as delusional. Does that remind you of anyone?

Because it sounds to me like an entrepreneur having a good day. And in fact, it is estimated that three percent of all of us have bipolar. A staggering number in its own right. For entrepreneurs, that number is 11 percent. And at the intersection … Hi, mom, that’s me. The best of both worlds.

And it’s not just bipolar. According to a study from the University of California at San Francisco, entrepreneurs also over-index in ADHD, in depression and in substance use. And maybe this correlation between neurodiversity and innovation shouldn’t surprise us.

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