Crazy Person vs. Madwoman

(This is a reprint of a post that I made at my other blog in May of 2006 --posted here especially for NameChanged, who asked for something like this in response to my stimulus request. Thanks to all who suggested topics -- I'll be getting around to them in coming days.)

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I just want to state for the record, right off the top, that I am definitely a madwoman.

There can be no doubt about this whatsoever, as far as I’m concerned -- plus, it is a thing in which I take great pride.

I will also say that I am not crazy.

I have been crazy, in this lifetime — this incarnation — as this current persona.

It would do no good to deny this or attempt to cover it up — there are records. So, instead, I tell people quite readily that I have been institutionalized, not once, but three times, as a bona-fide crazy person.

Not for long periods of time, admittedly, but these days I actually think you have to kill other human beings to be institutionalized as a crazy person for long periods of time.

But while I was a crazy person, I did see the inside of a loony bin several times.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still mad as a hatter, and I intend to stay that way.

I’m just not crazy anymore.

I’m taunting you, of course — prompting you to ask me the question “So what’s the difference?” — a question that you can’t ask me right now, because you’re reading this and I’ve already written it, and the best you could do is leave a comment to this post, and by then, you’ll have already read my answer to the question I’ve just taunted you with.

(Sorry — just having a moment of cat-and-mouse fun with the dynamics of blogging there.)

I think that madness is essentially just another name for a state of peculiar genius — a willingness to think in ways that are, dare we say — “outside the box”/”slightly wacky”/”beyond the beyond”?

I don’t think this has anything whatsoever to do with ability to think in this way.

I believe, instead, that it has everything to do with the willingness to think this way.

On the other hand, being “crazy”, in my opinion, is the choice to abrogate one’s own power and say “I am too different/sensitive/damaged/insert-your-own-excuse-here to be responsible for or to myself.”

To whit: When I was “crazy”, I chose (never for a moment think that this wasn’t a choice, no matter how much I denied it at the time) to give my life over the social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, friends, fellow inmates, and various hospital personnel, in exchange for having them care for me — feed me, house me, attend to me, prescribe medication for me, pay attention to me, etc..

It didn’t take me a real long time to figure out that this might not be the most ideal exchange in the world for me.

True, I didn’t have to be responsible for myself — I could lip off, act out, and generally whine and moan to my heart’s content — after all, I was crazy, dontcha know.

The trade-off was that I didn’t get to decide the following: when and what I ate/drank, when or for how long I slept, what chemicals were introduced to my system, or how my time was spent.

Not so fun, in the long run. Kind of, like, “friendly” prison. (Okay, not always so friendly — just depended on who was on shift.)

So, why am I going on about this?

It bears on that item I brought up in my last post — namely, the issue of
capability vs. choice.

When I look back on my loony-bin days, I am acutely aware that my choice to acquiesce to institutionalization was just that — a choice — however unconscious I was of it at the time, and no matter how much I didn’t see it as a choice.

The proof of this is that, when I became fed up with the untenable trade-off of all my power for all my responsibility, I figured out a way to get my trip together and get myself out of the institution — and I watched other “inmates” do this as well.

It seems to me to have had little or nothing to do with my state of “capability”.

I have had many interesting conversations with other “crazy” people, both while in and out of the bin — no doubt about it, every single one of them was completely mad — but I also think that all of them had made a choice to step into being “crazy”.

I can almost grasp and remember when that moment of choice came for me — I recall it as a sort of psychic “letting go” — an “oh fuck it” whispered softly to the Universe. I then slipped into the role of victim of my own experience and mental process.

That role felt somewhat comforting at first, I think — it reduced the complexity of my life to just think of myself completely as someone that this was “happening to” — and professionals of all variety were happy to support me in this idea that I “couldn’t help it” — that I was “mentally ill”.

I realize that my saying this will probably send some people into fits. They might call it “blaming the victim”, or claim that I am minimizing the seriousness of mental illness. I’m not. I recognize that there are actual conditions such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder and MPD and post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism, and I recognize that they are real because I have experienced some of them.

I also know many people who “have” these dis-eases, and live with them without becoming “crazy” — without giving up their responsibility to and for themselves — or who become crazy and then un-crazy themselves.

Fifteen hundred (who knows, maybe even a hundred) years ago, my fellow inmates and I might have lived at the edge of the village and been sought for our “wacky ideas” as shamans, seers, and healers. We would have had a job, not in spite of our madness, but because of it.

In fact, cultivating our madness would probably have been part of the responsibility of that job.

In some sense, that is what I am doing today — my “job” is to be this madwoman — to bring forth what many in our society would (and probably do) scoff at as woo-woo nonsense at best, and utter insanity at worst.

So, when someone asked me this week whether I thought that it was possible that someone could be drug-addicted “beyond the point of no return” — to a point where they literally could not be responsible for themselves and their self-care ever again, I said that I didn’t think that this was possible.

It’s true for me that when I went “crazy” there was still some niche in me that knew exactly what I was doing — that I was asking — maybe even screaming — to be taken into the arms of the system, to give up my power and my responsibility and become a child again — to be a helpless crazy person.

I don’t regret that journey to crazyville — it taught me a lot, and changed me irrevocably. Once I had allowed myself to “go crazy”, there really is no way that I could ever pretend that I was “normal” again.

So, much of the work of psychiatrists and drugs and social workers is essentially wasted, in my opinion, because that is what they endeavor to do — to return you to “normal”, which, in my experience, is impossible.

For, once I had loosed my grip on my own consciousness and responsibility, I now knew that this is an option — and in all the years since, I haven’t been able to un-know that.

It’s difficult for me to explain how pivotal this tiny piece of knowledge is for me. Prior to my time as a crazy person, I had spent about ten years as a social worker, and I worked with many people who were mad, mentally ill, and/or crazy. I remember sitting across the desk from them, helping them “manage” their lives.

In my first trip to the hospital, I sat across the desk from a woman who was in the role that I had played for so many years, and saw her looking at me in a way that I found utterly familiar — the way I had looked at those with whom I had worked — as if she were gazing into some far distant universe to which she had neither the technology nor the desire to travel — a universe that was a virtual impossibility for her to inhabit, or even to fully imagine.

I wanted to scream at her “No, wait — you don’t understand! — I’m you!”

I think, though, in that moment, I already knew that I was no longer her — and that I could never be her again — that I could not, and would never, fully return to the other side of the desk.

Looking at a postcard of a place that you haven’t visited and think you will never travel to is very different than looking at a postcard of the place where you were born and raised, knowing that you will never return.

That metaphor doesn’t fit exactly for me, I suppose, because I do visit that "birthplace" — I walk free in the world of “normal” people (which I now consider are simply people who don’t know — yet — that they have the option of going crazy) — but I walk in that place as a covert visitor now, an undercover alien who has adopted the costume and affect of the natives but whose observations of the culture are informed by that other universe and the long trek to and from it.

I recognize, though, that I was not the victim of a kidnapping — but rather the intrepid launch team, pilot, and captain of the voyage. I do not believe that this assignment was thrust upon me — I am absolutely convinced that I volunteered for this dangerous and exciting mission.

This was, admittedly, hard to see from inside the crazyness — or maybe, having gotten myself into such a fine pickle, each day it became more challenging to re-take my responsibility, because there was such a continually-mounting pile of it to shoulder.

Energetically, I am sending the person whose friend asked me whether he might be drug-addicted beyond the point of no return -- whose whole community might be considering him incapable -- my full vote of confidence in his complete ability to “un-crazy” himself. I believe that in granting him his responsibility, I am granting him his power.

When I was hospitalized, the friends who were most helpful to me were those who had been to that universe and back. They didn’t look at me with mournful and pitying eyes, and they gave me good advice, based in direct experience.

One of them said to me: “Get your money’s worth. Do crafts.”

When I discovered that my bill would be more than $15,000 for the first 4 days (including a $32 tube of chapstick), I took her counsel and threw myself into the various needlepoint, sculpting, and leatherwork projects available to me, under the watchful eyes of the occupational therapist.

I tooled a black leather belt that I still have, and stamped a phrase on it that demonstrates to me that, even though I was in the depths of self-pity and victimhood at the time, some part of me understood all of this as a conscious and choiceful act. The belt simply said:

“Going there. And coming back.”

Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:57 PM  

6 comments:

NameChanged said... December 12, 2008 at 8:27 PM  

Thank you. I might send you an email to further discuss this. I am blessed to "virtually" know your madness.

getoffmyskittle said... December 13, 2008 at 9:12 AM  

I love your blog so much. Thank you for writing it.

Jess said... December 13, 2008 at 11:13 AM  

I don't really have anything to say about this particular post, but when I read the line about getting your money's worth, like getoffmyskittle, I guess, I felt it was a good excuse to drop by and say how much I love this blog.

Really, this is one of my favourite blogs.

Llencelyn said... December 14, 2008 at 9:05 AM  

Hmm. This has definitely given me food for thought. It ties in tangentially to a post of my own that I've been sitting on for a very long while, regarding this disconnect between responsibility and power as a teenager.

Interesting.

quixote said... December 21, 2008 at 8:26 AM  

PD, you're talking about human beings here, so I'm not sure it has to be either/or. Madness can have a brain chemistry component. Based on the evidence -- but no personal experience like yours of both sides of the issue -- I'd think there would be a spectrum of responses. With a really severe chemical imbalance, there might really be no personal choice. The less severe the imbalance (or the more active the medial prefrontal cortex is? ;-) ) the more you might be able to affect the outcome.

??

jiml8 said... March 16, 2009 at 8:53 AM  

congratulations.

It certainly appears that you took the long road to it, but you have grown up.

Too bad more people don't do that.

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