Blogging Against Stigma: Nikola Tesla
Welcome to week 2 and post 7 of my blog series, Blogging Against Stigma. Someday, with a cumulative effort across society, people may stop dying from things like depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Towards this end, this post is dedicated to Nikola Tesla (1856–1943), a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, and mechanical engineer who was truly ahead of his time. Nikola Tesla's inventions paved the way for radio and the remotes we use today to control our everyday appliances. Being ahead of his time, Tesla's struggle with mental illness is being shared as a means of combating the one remaining factor that continues to haunt our approach to mental health as much today as it did throughout Tesla's lifetime - stigma.
It wasn't until the 1990's that a public fascination with the life and work of Nikola Tesla began to reemerge. Following his death in 1943, Tesla's contributions to our current understanding, and our daily utilization of electricity and wireless technology, fell into obscurity for many years. Most recently, a film was released based loosely on the rivalry that existed between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, which featured Tesla's ingenuity as a major component of the eventual outcome of their 'Current War'. Knowing I was writing this blog, I stopped by a local theater and watched the film. They did a lot to highlight Tesla's social awkwardness but, within the scope of the film, had no way of simultaneously highlighting how his brilliance was at times overshadowed by his exploitation. People who struggle with severe mental illness can be some of the most kindest and simultaneously loneliest of souls - and thus also some of the most easily exploited among us. In my work with people who struggled with serious mental illness and homelessness I saw this dynamic play out time and time again. And I recognize this same dynamic in Tesla's life.
Upon arriving to the United States with four cents in his pocket, Tesla began working with famous inventor, Thomas Edison. He quickly helped solved some of Edison’s problems. However, following discussion of payment for his work, Edison refused to pay him an agreed upon amount, leading Tesla to resign. While Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi is often hailed as the inventor of the radio, his machine depended on infringement of some of Tesla patented ideas. While Marconi went on to win the Nobel Prize for physics in 1909, Tesla wound end up dying alone and in poverty. It is true that we can look at Tesla's ability to accomplish all he did in his life despite mental illness a testament to his strength. His legacy is profound. But let's also learn from his struggles. Too many who are struggling today with similar illnesses, and without the support and understanding they need.