What Chopin Can Teach Us About Mental Illness Today and in the PastSometimes I wonder how anyone living hundreds of years ago survived into adulthood. My daughter wouldn’t have–she has had a couple of terrible illnesses that in an earlier era would have been untreatable. It wouldn’t take much: things as simple as an ear infection, a deep cut, or even being very near-sighted would have been debilitating in bygone eras.

Mental illness and other cognitive dysfunction, in particular, must have been tremendously difficult. It’s not easy now, although there is (comparatively) widespread awareness and at least some treatment options. Think about how it must have been at a time when mental illness was often thought to the work of the devil, or something to be hidden, shamed, or punished. At the very best, mental illness was thought of as the flip side of genius, a distortion of the creativity a fertile imagination engendered.

Polish composer Frederic Chopin was one of those whose genius came with “madness.” He often saw “cohorts of phantoms,” thought his friends were walking dead, and saw creatures climbing out of his piano. At the time, people chalked up these hallucinations to the vivid imaginings of a brilliant artist. But scholars have recently come up with a probable diagnosis. Can you guess what it is before checking out the article?