In his book Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure, disabled activist Eli Clare discusses what it is like to live in a world that ruthlessly and endlessly seeks to prevent and eliminate disability. “We un-choose disability in hundreds of ways,” he writes. “We condone genetic testing for pregnant people and rarely question the ethics of disability-selective abortion. Some pro-choice activists justify late-term abortions with talk about fetal abnormalities - or, in plainer language, disability. We accept as a matter of course that sperm banks screen out donors with a whole host of body-mind conditions considered undesirable, including deafness, alcoholism, cystic fibrosis, depression, and schizophrenia. We walk to end breast cancer, run to end diabetes, bike to end multiple sclerosis, dump ice water on our heads to end ALS. We want to control how, when, and if disability and death appear in our lives.”
An essential component of our collective efforts to prevent and eliminate disability is a focus on preventing, treating, or curing madness. Large-scale mainstream mental health advocacy organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, and the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance encourage people with psychiatric symptoms to seek treatments such as medication and therapy; many alternative or peer-run organizations encourage people with psychiatric symptoms to recover through nutrition, meditation, exercise, or self-help groups. Organizations like Mad in America and the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care work to emphasize the role psychiatric medications can play in exacerbating psychiatric symptoms, promoting withdrawal from psychiatric medications as a way to become well.
My intention in writing this is not to lambaste or berate these organizations. It is important to acknowledge that many people are helped by medication, therapy, lifestyle change, self-help, and withdrawing from medications. But what all of these organizations support are ways to un-choose madness, to make an active choice to reduce the presence of madness in one’s life.
Rarely, if ever, are we given the opportunity to choose madness. Madness is by and large seen as a medical condition - an issue that needs to be talked about in terms of cure, treatment, prevention - an entity that we need to take action upon, do something about. There are almost no opportunities to recognize madness as a social identity - as a culture, a community, a way of being, an experience, a set of values even.
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:
1) “Every time I am reminded of something terrible about ICE, if it's during call hours, I look at a map that shows different ICE detention centers and I call one and yell at them about a bunch of different things. I sometimes start repeating words over and over again that could be impactful. Sometimes I sing those words.”
2) “I’m told that sometime in grade school the teacher was yelling at me to move my desk away from my group and then I moved it all the way onto the playground. Also the school counselor told me that other kids wanted to be my friend but were intimidated by me because I didn’t smile. There was also the painting teacher who favored art that was ‘commercially viable’ and during a critique I told him that my only reaction to a painting he liked was that I wanted to throw it. I kept silent days at school sometimes and really pissed people off just by not talking all day.”
3) “Having sex with my boyfriend in a mental hospital when he was a patient and in a regular hospital when I was a patient (why aren't ‘sick’ people supposed to fuck?)”
4) “Maybe six years ago, while we were locked in a room in some generic hospital (waiting for a ‘psych bed’ to open up), we asked for our cell phone and teddy bear. It was barely a few hours after we'd been assaulted again and, in a panic, we had made a few comments about suicide to our then-psychiatrist, who called the cops. Frankly, we were a fun combination of traumatized and extremely pissed off by the realization that, in all likelihood, we're the only ones who will ever be locked up because of anything that happened to us, and depriving us of these two, extremely non-lethal items because ‘it's hospital policy’ felt like the last straw. We asked them how we might harm ourselves with a cell phone or teddy bear, and they didn't really answer and walked away, so we proceeded to yell all the ways we could harm ourselves with everything they had left in the room (in extremely graphic detail). They quickly removed everything we'd been screaming about and brought the teddy bear and cell phone.”
5) “Going cold turkey off my meds while I was travelling in Scotland.”
6) “Having an epic meltdown, getting taken out of a treatment center in handcuffs, taken to the hospital and made it back the same night to their great dismay. And not being intractably crazy like they thought.”
7) “As a teenager, we were part of a group of friends who were all very into extreme sports and pulling all sorts of crazy, awesome stunts that, thankfully, never led to any serious injuries (just one twisted ankle from cliff diving, and stepping on a sea urchin while surfing). This led to one of these friends' therapists telling him that our whole group of friends seemed ‘passively suicidal.’ We all found this to be hilarious, and would frequently receive a text asking something like, ‘Hey, want to do something passively suicidal tonight?’”
8) “Driving my teachers nuts by doing technically innocuous things like making every single grade 11 art project about Condoleezza Rice”
9) “Managing to cover my arms in tiny scars with only my fingernails and teeth”
10) “I relieved an evil corporation of thousands of dollars worth of surplus material goods by using my masterful social engineering skills... No regrets.”
11) “Firing a Psychiatrist after I told him the following:
Him: How are you doing today?
Me: I’m angry but I’m not going to show you how angry because then you’ll label me bipolar.
Him: Why are you angry?
Me: Because people like you are drugging and killing all of my veteran friends.
He also wrote in my record that day that I said ‘the farther I get away from medicine the better I feel.’”
12) “Talking to plants and animals and narrating my life.”
13) “I'm proud of the friendships and brief connections with other patients I made in hospitals and day treatments. I felt and still feel that these places, while bleak, held some of the most fascinating and cool people, way more than at school or other places. The people I spoke with made my experiences survivable and interesting. I thought the way we were held there didn't ever celebrate the fact that we were special, cool people and that is so wrong...they just thought we were crazy and that's all pfff.”
14) “Treating myself with all kinds of drugs warned against for ‘people with mental illness’ - psychedelics and dissociatives played a large role in helping me realize what bullshit psychiatry/'mental health/illness’ is”
15) “One of the times I was in, a guy detoxing from meth (yeah detoxing on psych ward not substance unit) smuggled a radio into his ass. Like a small CB radio. They missed it for days so he pulled it out at the nurses station and I was sitting there on the phone. He said, ‘You people are so dumb, you didn’t even notice the radio in my ass.’ And then he just pulled it out right there! All the nurses restrained him right in front of me because he was yelling about it.”
16) “Bursting into my former friends’ suite to tell them off for cutting me out of their lives because of a suicidal episode and for doing the same thing to my best friend who was still living with them”
17) “Communing with ‘demons’ when I had my hearing voices/ having visions episodes as a young teen”
18) “I feel proud of having left my damn day treatment/ monitored / baby sat life behind”
19) “I've smuggled Dunkin Donuts and a phone onto a psych ward, damaged the reputation of one of the largest employers in Maine, as well as made total idiots of their security manager and supervisor. Ran one of their directors out of town. I lied to the cops and convinced them not to search a mad homeless friend’s car that had paraphernalia in it. I helped a not so legal immigrant get driving without a license tossed, I got assault charges against a mad woman dropped. I talked down a friend in crisis who was surrounded by a fucking SWAT team last November and then helped get him out of the psych jail at the hospital before they could transfer him to the mental institution here. I along with some comrades doxxed a few sexual predators in uniform, one of which we scared so fucking bad he wiped his phone number and completely closed out all social media. He is afraid to even have pictures of himself on his profiles now. Trust me, he had it coming. I also screamed at an entire line of hospital mall cops and a couple real ones too. I refused to pay hospital bills to [the local psych hospital] and collections got the wrong date so I'm getting those dropped too. I worked at a call center talking to customers while tripping balls on mushrooms. Oh and all the witchcraft and drugs… I summoned Kali Ma in the shower while in crisis and tripping on HBW seeds that contain LSA. It's basically acid but natural. Oh I also made a Facebook page trolling Maine's former DHS commissioner, who blew off thousands of reports of sexual abuse, neglect, deaths of disabled people in group homes psych hospitals etc. We reached 30k people with that page and the commissioner acknowledged us. She couldn't get us taken down either and we trolled the fuck out of her lawyer. She eventually hired a hacker on ghost bin to take it down. The account behind the page was a sock. She had maybe 15% in the primary, we destroyed the Kickstart to her gubernatorial campaign as revenge for all the disabled peeps she fucked over.”
20) “Writing the laws of thermodynamics in sharpie on the whiteboard on Acadia's long term care unit.”
21) “I chopped up a bunch of underwear, doused it in cooking oil, and tried to light it on fire in a barrel my front yard.”
22) “At the call center I worked at, they took me in the office one day and said jeans were against the rules. So I told the manager that I'm a black magician and it's my religious obligation to wear jeans purely in spite of the arbitrary rule against them. I then proceeded to tell him that ‘professional’ is an abstract concept and there is no reason I can't wear jeans beyond their say so, he told me he would talk to HR. Next Monday they changed the rule and everyone could wear jeans. I would get high and drunk all day while talking to customers. Even tripped on mushrooms one day. I'll never forget my buddy asking me how I was doing that day and I looked him right in the eye and said, ‘If they gave the flash Adderall would he slow down?" Funniest part is that I was a top performer and corporate would invite me to meetings to help them write new scripts.
23) “I was given a ‘magical’ test to determine my 'personality disorder' and the results came back that I had either a) not understood directions or b) purposefully mislead them. I just didn't know how to answer absolutes and sometimes things were true and sometimes they aren't so I answered their BS test that way. I literally broke their system.”
24) “Writing about my visions publicly on Radical Abolitionist.”
25) “One time I was homeless and tripping balls on cough medicine and I found a seagull with a broken wing at the park. He let me pet him and I named him Jerome.”
26) “One time a white coat prescribed me Zoloft for PTSD and said, ‘If you start thinking about killing people go to the psych unit in the emergency dept.’ I responded, ‘Why would I go to the place where the people I would think about killing are?’”
27) “Protesting against our middle school for trying to make us dissect a frog. And maybe the time in high school when we were told by a substitute teacher that we'd be watching a movie in class, we asked if it was mandatory and she said it was unless we had an emergency. I stated that I was having a Starbucks emergency (Starbucks was across the street and we wanted coffee) and walked out, followed by the rest of the class.”
The stories reflect badassery and rebelliousness. They reflect resistance against the mental health system, the school system, immigration detention, the police, the workplace, and sanism of all kinds. They reflect rejecting social norms and finding pride, joy, and community in madness. This is what it can mean to choose madness. This is what it can mean to celebrate something that society has deemed despicable, burdensome, dangerous.
In case you were wondering about my answer to this question (it’s only fair), I’ve written about most of the crazy things I’ve done in other blog posts on Radical Abolitionist, but here was the answer I gave:
“Mine is a tie between 3:
1) Mailing a box of poop to my best friend’s ex
2) Writing an exposé on my ex’s cult
3) Taking a bunch of Xanax and Gabapentin and passing out at a site visit to AIPAC when I was in seminary
All 3 were well deserved, I promise.”
So now it’s YOUR turn to answer the question. What is the craziest/Maddest thing you’ve ever done? How do you choose madness? How do you refuse the ideology of cure, a society that has us believe that madness is to be conquered and defeated?