What if, For Some, Mad Pride is a Celebration of Reactions to Pain, Not Necessarily Pain Itself?

What if, For Some, Mad Pride is a Celebration of Reactions to Pain, Not Necessarily Pain Itself?

Emily S. Cutler

One of the most common objections to Mad Pride is the notion that it is not helpful or beneficial to find pride in one's pain or suffering. "I understand LGBTQ pride or Black pride because those identities don't inherently cause suffering apart from societal oppression," I often hear. "But pride in madness? Pride in something like depression? How can I be proud of something whose definition literally includes the experience of suffering?"

Let me start by saying that many people do find pride in their experiences of pain and suffering, and their pride should be respected. People should have the right to experience pain just as much as they have the right not to (and both of those rights need to be expanded).

But for a lot of people, finding pride in pain is intensely difficult. Or the idea of finding pride in, or accepting, their pain - physical or emotional - has been used against them in oppressive ways. Perhaps they have been denied access to pain medications or shamed from using substances to mitigate or "escape from" their suffering. So Mad Pride might seem impossible, if not threatening, to them. 

It is for this reason that I wonder if, for some, Mad Pride could mean celebrating reactions to, and not necessarily internal experiences of, pain.

I think a great deal of psychiatric treatment revolves around the idea that emotional pain is an inevitable part of life that just needs to be tolerated or gotten through. The vast majority of mental health services do not attempt to change the circumstances or systemic factors in an individual's life that have driven them to experience pain, but rather, the individual's response to their pain. The overarching goal of conventional mental health treatment is to control a person's behavior - to ensure they don't react to the pain they feel in any sort of way that might be "dangerous" to themselves or others.

Our standard response to suicide, for example, is involuntary commitment. Most people don't expect locking someone up and depriving them of their bodily autonomy for 72 hours to reduce the amount of emotional pain they experience in any meaningful way. The goal is merely to restrict a person's body - to ensure that they cannot escape their pain by ending their life. 

Another common mental health intervention, Dialectal Behavior Therapy, teaches us to "tolerate distress" and "radically accept" the circumstances that are driving us mad. It's about learning how to experience emotional pain without reacting. Without lashing out in anger or ragefulness toward the system or individual(s) causing us pain, without failing to function in the workplace, without making others uncomfortable or being burdensome onto those around us. 

What if Mad Pride is about resisting the narrative that we should tolerate pain? What if it is about celebrating our right to take whatever action we choose to cope with, reduce, or react to pain?

That is what Mad Pride has come to mean to me personally. It is about the right to scream and cry out and lash out in rage and make plans to escape through suicide if it comes down to it. It is about the right to use drugs, alcohol, sex (and rock 'n' roll while we're at it) to cope with an oppressive, pain-inducing society, because perhaps the satisfaction of having rebelled can at least give us some solace. It is about being (sometimes creatively, sometimes destructively) maladjusted to the world and letting those in power know just how fucking crazy they have driven us. 

Maybe it doesn't sit well with many people (myself included) to be proud of feeling depressed. But could we take pride in the ways we might react to it? Could we take pride in our lack of functioning within an oppressive capitalist framework, or indulging in negative thinking in a world that shoves positivity down our throat (I know I certainly enjoy dragging people down who seem too cheerful or content with the overall state of how the world is), or our choices to cope through substances or self-harm? Could we take pride in doing whatever it is we need to do to react to, and not suppress, our depressed feelings? Could we take pride in not working, instead of shoving our feelings down in order to function in the workplace, or sleeping, instead of enduring the fatigue, or being a pessimist, instead of pretending to be happy? 

Can Mad Pride be about embracing a lack of self-control or self-discipline? Can it be about giving in to our impulses, reacting to our base instincts? 

I think Mad Pride can be about resisting and escaping pain just as much as it is about embracing it. In a society that tells us to "grin and bear it," to "man up," and that "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," going crazy in response to pain, refusing to just "tolerate it," is an act of rebellion. And I think we can all agree that rebellion should be celebrated.

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