I remember when,
I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place
Even your emotions have an echo in so much space
And when you’re out there
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough
I just knew too much
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
If the doors of perception are cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
There could be plenty of reasons one may be feeling off-balance, even seriously psychotic. They could relate to diet, lifestyle, disruption of the gut ecology, trauma, drug use and so on. In any case, even in these instances of material cause, I think as a society we are approaching mental illness improperly. As far as possible treatments go, there are so many alternatives to allopathic drug dependency, and I won’t be going into those here. But in this post, I just want to look briefly at a factor that many wayfarers through madness encounter and that is the continued and pervasive ‘’Stigma’’ of mental illness.
Stigma originally meant to be burnt on the hands with a hot iron, to be marked as disgraced or infamous. To be branded. And that is just what we do when we murmur about those ‘’who are suffering from their nerves’’, The utter foolishness of attachment of taint to others is the lack of realisation that madness is as close to us all as our heart beat. The false belief in invincibility – this illusion makes us blithe and ignorant. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, people who recover from it find it hardest of all of those who have ever had long-term illness to get work, find a meaningful relationship, and be socially included. Less than a quarter of people with mental unwellness find that they are sympathetically treated. And the media often is complicit in maintaining a stigma about mental illness – portraying those who suffer as violent or hopelessly introverted or somehow weird and disabled.
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
I have seen people with cowed shoulders shuffle out from therapists offices, mumbling gratitude, hardly proud enough to breath the same air as their so-called sane mentors and ‘healers’. I have seen young people in hospital wards, zonked out of their mind on cocktails of chemicals designed, apparently, to ‘cure’ them. I have seen people grow old behind glassy eyes, hidden away in their communities, excluded and pitied, medicated from their acute perception of a reality that makes the majority uncomfortable. And these are the sick people? These are the ones that the majority of the population looks down on? And they are looked down on…this is statistically proven, this fear of mental illness, as if it was contagious, as if it was not one breath, one stumble away from so-called normality. These people who look down on those who have suffered any form of mental illness are blind – living in a world where they have fooled themselves that they are not as susceptible as the other to ‘’losing’’ their so-called ‘’minds’’.
Even the word Neurosis is ugly, conjuring as it does some personal failure, some below average level of intelligence. And – God Forbid! – psychosis, even worse! Those are the violent ones, the ones we don’t want living in our communities, the ones we would not trust with our children. Neurosis, a dysfunction of the nerves, or an inept psychological response to ‘’reality’’ – a condition that at one time saw droves of women, primarily, being confined to ‘’Bedlam’’, labelled hysterical and neurotic, when in fact what was most likely happening was a revolt in the psyche at the repressive lives they were forced to lead. Is the modern-day epidemic of depression and anxiety not similarly a revolt of the soul against the repression of meaning in the world?
Maybe we were meant to be untidy, unruly, chaotic, half mad monsters, and the ones who are ”sane” are the ones who deny it.
Many of the best minds we have seen on this planet have struggled with psychiatric illness. Jung underwent profound psychosis, if not full on schizophrenia..
‘’..while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision : I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country…I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision lasted about an hour. I was perplexed and nauseated and ashamed of my weakness.’’
Beethoven had severe panic disorder, as did Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sigmund Freud, Emily Dickinson, Isaac Asimov, Nikola Tesla, Sir Isaac Newton, and WB Yeats. Darwin was often paralysed by panic disorder, unable to come up on deck while on his journeys to contribute to the theory of evolution.
Schumann, Woolf, Nijinsky, Tolstoy, Keats, Heminway, Edgar Allen Poe, Van Gogh, Plath, Michaelangelo, Dickens, Kahlo, Rothko, Pollack and many, many more – all stuggled with madness. Heck! It seems almost compulsory that in order to be a creative genius you have to struggle with some form of mental illness!
And in the spiritual arena, madness has often been a precursor and accompaniment to psychic breakthroughs, and internal alchemy. Not always, of course, nor is every madness a sign of spiritual breakthrough and much of it needs more mundane readjustment of the lifestyle..but…
The shaman is the person, male or female, who..has an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him totally inward. It’s a kind of schizophrenic crack-up. The whole unconscious opens up, and the shaman falls into it.’’
(Joseph Campbell – The Power of Myth)
“If the human race survives, future men will, I suspect, look back on our enlightened epoch as a veritable Age of Darkness… They will see that what was considered ‘schizophrenic’ was one of the forms in which, often through quite ordinary people, the light began to break into our all-too-closed minds.”
Dr RD Laing.
“It is justifiable to regard the term ‘sickness’ as pertaining not to the acute turmoil but to the prepsychotic personality, standing as it does in need of profound reorganization. In this case, the renewal process occurring in the acute psychotic episode may be considered nature’s way of setting things right.”
— Dr. John Weir Perry
“Attempts to wake before our time are often punished, especially by those who love us most. Because they, bless them, are asleep. They think anyone who wakes up, or who, still asleep, realizes that what is taken to be real is a ‘dream’ is going crazy.”
And why do so many with minds gripped by so-called madness believe they are the Messiah? Consider this possibility..the words of Paul Levy, Tibetan Buddhist, who used to hand out calling cards with ‘’the Messiah’’ written on them in his local town…
the thing is to just point out we are card-carrying members of the consensus-reality under a collective spell and part of awakening almost always involves some sort of ego inflation. It’s necessary to break out of that inertia.(Paul Levy)
It does not mean you ”are” the Messiah – just that some part of you is breaking the conditioning , and maybe came on a bit too strong…
But take Heart!! We are not alone, or weird, or bad, or deserving of stigma – madness is eminently treatable, when the splintered parts of the psyche are reintegrated into a wholeness, when the soul is retrieved.
”I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light stream- ing out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible mad houses granite cocks! monstrous bombs!
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river!
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood!
Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years’ animal screams and suicides!
Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all!
the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell!
They jumped off the roof to solitude! waving! carrying flowers!
Down to the river! into the street! ‘’
From..’’Howl’’ by Allen Ginsberg