Choosing Madness

The Mad Pride community is a tiny space being carved out by activists, artists, writers, philosophers, researchers, educators, and visionaries who are finding meaningful ways to choose madness. A few months ago, I asked a group of Mad Pride and Disability Pride activists to share a time when they actively chose madness. I asked them to share the craziest/Maddest thing they’ve ever done, that they are proud of. While some of these acts may not have been “chosen” in the moment, the decision to be proud of these acts and share them in celebration was very much a choice. Without further ado, I now present some of the responses.

Toward a More Balanced View of Coming Out

What all of these questions, the well-meaning ones and the not so well-meaning ones, have in common is the assumption that coming out was an active choice I made, a plunge that I boldly or brashly took. To some, my act of coming out represents a noble and worthy sacrifice, a giving up of career opportunities or relationships for a worthy cause; to others, it is a quixotic sacrifice worth mocking, an exceedingly idealistic decision made in my 20s that I will come to see as irresponsible.

The reality is that my coming out did not feel like much of a choice.

Learning from Larry Kramer and Challenging the "Recover to Resist" Narrative

That narrative - the idea that one must pass as sane, as able-bodied and able-minded, in order to effectively work toward social change - has followed me throughout the time I’ve spent engaged in activism. From my DBT therapist’s advice that I must recover from my “borderline tendencies” in order to be taken seriously as a critic of psychiatry, to my family’s instruction to stay in the closet about my experiences with the mental health system to preserve my credibility as an “intelligent, productive member of society who has smart ideas for changing the system,” to other mental health activists’ suggestions to “play the game” and conform to mainstream values in order to challenge them, this narrative, which I have deemed the “recover to resist” narrative, is ever-present.

Why I Love to Gossip

There is a difference between “gossiping down” and “gossiping up.” Gossiping down is when we spread rumors or insults about those with less power than ourselves - usually, those with less social or financial than us, or those who are less accepted and valued than we are. Gossiping up is when we critique those who have more power and privilege than we do. Sometimes, gossiping up involves critiquing the people in power in our family system, school system, or workplace (e.g. parents, teachers, supervisors); other times it involves critiquing people with political power or social power.

The Perfect Victim: A Resignation Letter

There is a perfect victim of psychiatry. Like the perfect victim of sexual violence, she is a white young woman whose bodymind was “unbroken” and “intact” before her involvement with psychiatry. She was not wild, rebellious, or crazy; rather, she was struggling with a minor case of anxiety or depression, or she said the wrong thing to the wrong person, and somehow, by some cruel trick of the universe, this sweet, polite, hardworking young woman ended up being involuntarily committed or put on drugs. The drugs made her crazy: they broke her kind, polite, hardworking, unbroken bodymind. They made her disabled, mad - they took the real her, the non-disabled her, and trapped her in a disabled and mad bodymind, a horrific fate. But nevertheless, despite this cruel plot twist, this perfect young victim managed to work her way off the drugs and get free from the mental health system. Thanks to her strength, perseverance, and resilience, she is now recovered from the effects of the drugs. She has realized that she does not need to rely on unnatural substances to make her feel better; instead, she has all the tools she needs inside herself to cope with life’s ups and downs without medication. Like the perfect victim of sexual violence, she embodies the ideas of hard work, restraint, and self-discipline. Although we are reluctant to believe that psychiatry could ever be harmful to anyone, we believe her story, and we are morally outraged on her behalf.

Blank Space, Taylor Swift, and Borderline

Taylor Swift is a superb songwriter, but I believe her success is fundamentally dependent on her ability to cultivate a deeper and more nuanced persona than most. It’s an incredibly powerful tool, but it only works if she is in control of her own narrative. This is why the song Blank Space, the second single from 1989 released in 2014, is key to understanding Taylor. The rest of 1989 is excellent, sure, but this song is Important with a capital I. Blank Space is an acknowledgement of the separation between her public persona and her private self, the beginnings of an epic power struggle, and a glimpse into the gender politics of pop music.

Borderline Jewish

Because I grew up Jewish in Alabama, people tend to assume that the worst experiences I’ve ever had are due to anti-Semitism that is pervasive in many parts of the southern United States. While it’s true that I’ve had some pretty terrible experiences with anti-Semitism growing up (you know, the run-of-the-mill accusations that I killed Jesus and am going to hell), those haven’t been my worst experiences of marginalization by any means.

In fact, some of my worst experiences of marginalization have been within the Jewish community itself.

Polyphemus and "Nobody" —a tale of epistemic injustice

The Odyssey is the story of my life. I left the sheltered hills of Ithaca 8 years ago to go fight a war, and I've been tempest tossed, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and driven mad ever since. I'm a complicated man, polytropos

I've often found myself and others in my life perfectly embodying Homer's characters. I've been Penelope, playing host to suitors who just won't leave. I've been Telemachus, outraged at injustice but powerless to stop it. I've been Odysseus, using my cunning and guile and ability to tell stories in order to survive. I've even been Argos the aged dog, laying on pile of dung while waiting to die. 

Breaking the silence on centuries of abuse and mistreatment

www.thebrattlebororetreat.com

This anonymously published site attempts to break the silence on centuries of abuse of mad people committed by the Brattleboro Retreat, formerly the Brattleboro Asylum. The page contains a .pdf of a brochure detailing the history of slave labor and brutal treatment resulting in hundreds of deaths, the vast majority of whom have no record of a final resting place. 

Also on the page is a .pdf of findings of misuse of forced drugging, seclusion, and restraint of an elder with a life threatening medical condition. 

Mad people will not silenced.

Forced treatment is torture.

Confinement is violence. 

All Gods Are Bastards

Lessons from various extreme states over the last few years, and from various migraine visions over the last year: 

1) The laws of thermodynamics apply to literally everything, including oppressive systems and social change. 
2) Insects are better than people.
3) Mushrooms are better than people and will save the planet.
4) The state is trying to killing us.
5a) All social constructs are gods 
5b) All gods are bastards

The Violence of Likeness Stigma

As psychiatric survivors, it is easy to see just how violent and oppressive unlikeness stigma can be. The notion that we are fundamentally different from everyone else and that our behavior is controlled by a distinct biological entity that needs to be cured or treated for our and others’ safety has been used to justify overt, state-sanctioned acts of violence against us - and to silence us from speaking out about these forms of violence - for decades. Unlikeness stigma is what leads to us being locked up, forcibly drugged, electroshocked, restrained, secluded, etc. A great deal of critical psychiatry work revolves around challenging unlikeness stigma whenever possible, and I wholeheartedly support those efforts.

But too often, I have seen the psychiatric survivors community fall into arguments based on likeness stigma. And that is completely understandable. After hearing that one is “mentally ill” and needs to be “fixed” via drugs or ECT, it is comforting to hear that one can instead alter their behavior without medicalization, by just taking responsibility and thinking differently.

Victimhood as Expertise

Every so often, I am told that I am "harping on my trauma" or "wallowing in self-pity" for speaking at length about the times I've been victimized.

Much more often, and more benevolently, I am told that I am so "brave" or "bold" or "strong" for my willingness to be vulnerable and share personal details about my life.

But it is very rarely, if ever, that I am treated as an expert.

Bootstraps Baby

What happens when your therapist takes the side of people who traumatized you?

Therapy sessions can be a blur of words and reactions. Many times, I’ll be conscious of the clock and try to fit in everything I want to discuss within the 50 minutes allotted.

With my mind and memory being somewhat faulty, I can miss things said in the moment that only sink in later.

This is one of those times and now I have lost any desire to see this therapist anymore.

This Is Mad Culture

Mad culture is trading stories of psych wards, therapies, drugs, and discrimination. It is the shared sentiment of horror and disillusionment that arises from these stories, and the pervasive recognition of the painful impact of sanism.

Mad culture is recounting Mad legends: telling and retelling the tales of those who have rebelled in both small and grand ways against structural sanism. It is the chronicles of Judi Chamberlin, who dedicated her life to fighting for the human rights of Mad people, and the adventures of George Badillo, who helped his fellow psychiatric inmates escape so they could be with their families on Christmas Eve, and the epic of Judene Shelley, who was declared crazy after leaving the Mormon Church and ended up rebelling against both the Church of Latter Day Saints and the mental health system. 

A Transformation Story

In our culture, we are often inundated with recovery stories - narratives of individuals who have overcome mental health challenges or disabilities. These stories usually frame distress or disability as located within an individual, and something that the individual needs to overcome by taking responsibility and choosing to get well. The focus is on individual transformation and is often closely tied to bootstrap theory - the idea that if an individual just works hard enough, they can overcome any obstacle.

Rarely do we hear stories about contextual transformation - about the impact that addressing issues within our environmental and social contexts can have on our well-being and quality of life. 

My Preliminary, Highly Complicated Thoughts on the Notion of "Vicarious Trauma"

As an editor, one topic that crosses my mind a great deal is the notion of "vicarious trauma," i.e. the negative emotional effects that can result from bearing witness to or being exposed in some way to another person's trauma. Much of my job involves being inundated by the stories of individuals who have been horrifically and brutally traumatized both inside and outside the mental health system. 

Suicidality as Identity

When I say that I’m suicidal, people usually assume that I’m “in crisis.” That I’m having an emergency they need to address. My suicidality is grounds for panic, for immediate action. I need to be kept “safe.”

Underlying this response to my expression of wanting to die is the assumption that suicidality is a distinct and separate entity from myself. The assumption is that my suicidality is a series of thoughts or feelings that I struggle with. Like antibodies, they attack my brain. And those around me believe I need to “fend them off” or “cope with them” in some way. It is almost like demonic possession - some foreign body has taken over my brain and made me think dying is appealing, and I need to writhe myself free from their grip.