June 26, 2008

Who's Got What and Why?

I have noticed recently that the attributions of diseases and disorders for many famous people are shifting. Vincent Van Gogh, for example, has long been considered epileptic, but recently, has been decreed bi-polar instead. The symptoms are the same, but the designation has been changed.

Did I miss something? Is there some ridiculous shortage of past disabled  heroes that means they must be periodically shifted from one disordered universe to another so that we may all share them? 

I think not.

I do think, though, that in order to continue to make a kind of academic news, researchers like to go back in time periodically and re-diagnose those who have already been diagnosed and then declare that they actually suffered from something entirely different! 

D. Blumer, writing for the American Journal of Psychiatry, "The illness of Vincent van Gogh" splits the difference between diagnoses: he tells us that Vincent had temporal lobe E. that was aggravated by drinking absinthe, but that in his early years, his symptoms included depression, manic behavior and such, and that this suggests he was troubled with bipolar pathology.

With much respect, I would suggest that if the writer were familiar with the intricacies of TLE, he might dismiss any suggestion of bi polarism and instead declare that symptoms of TLE are known to mimic both bipolar and schizophrenic pathologies. 

Mistakes in diagnosis have been common over the history of TLE.

There are even those working on a reappraisal of Dostoevski's epilepsy.

This kind of transformative research does nothing for either the dead or the living. If we are to progress as a community, then we must insist that our social history be kept intact. Because there is prejudice against the condition, this cannot mean that the lives of historical figures should be altered to reflect a more acceptable diagnosis, particularly when the individuals themselves are self-declared persons with E. 

No comments: