I wrote the other day about my mental dichotomy as regards wanting to be able to manage my episodes of madness and not wanting to lose my mentalism altogether, mainly as it has such a large bearing on my sense of self.
I was surprised but pleased by the level of response from others with mental health difficulties that I received to this post. Aside from the comments left on the page in question, I received a number of messages on Twitter and even a couple of emails.
I was further surprised that there was not a single person that disagreed with what I had said. One individual even commented that after 30 years of pain they would not flick the metaphorical switch to which I referred and allow themselves to be rid entirely of their condition(s).
In fact, over the course of my life I’ve only met one other person that would choose to flick the switch (my cousin S, who has severe agoraphobia and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder). Everyone else does not want to be rid of their problems, or at least not entirely.
So what is this all about? Why do we not want to lead ‘normal’, happy and contented lives?
As I stated in the aforementioned post, and in the subsequent comments, if you are mental then that mentalism becomes an inherent, completely entrenched part of your personality. As such, whether you like it or not, it has become you, or at the very least part of you. To lose it, surely, would be to lose part of your personality and therefore part of yourself.
Then there’s the fear element. If being mental is all you know (or at least all you’ve known for some time), how can you reconcile ‘moving on’ with where you are at present? If being mentally ill is your reality, how can you even conceive of having another reality? What will it be like, how will it feel, what way will you behave? The idea of living in what is effectively another mental dimension is a petrifying prospect when you have little to no conception of what that alternative dimension is like.
Apparently it is not just us lot. There has been an emergent trend in some quarters since, apparently, the ’60s, towards “Mad Pride“. Factions of Mad Priders are people who want to actively embrace their mental illnesses, and throw away their medications and do not engage in traditional forms of psychotherapy as a consequence. They want to encourage their mad episodes. Others that come under this umbrella term seek to reclaim the supposedly offensive terms “mad” or “insane” and to educate the public on mental health matters. Read an interview with an advocate of the throw-away-your-tablets side of the movement here. Indeed, view the UK’s official Mad Pride website here.
So, what do we think of this, eh, folks?
It seems to me from the aforementioned articles/websites that “Mad Pride” means different things to different people or groups. Some throw away their tablets and stick two fingers up to the psychiatric establishment.
I cannot and do not agree with this; in fact, I think it’s nearly as worthy of shitting on as DBT. It’s one thing to be scared and contemptuous of normals and normality – whatever that actually is – but it’s another to stand up and say, “it’s fabulous that I am psychotic today. Oh, the plant is talking to me! Fucking great! Bring it on!”
The reality, or at least for me, is that episodes of psychosis, panic and all sorts of mania are frightening whilst you’re in them. They are not fucking pleasant. They are not fucking fun. Why would you actively choose to invite this when you can minimise the frequency and duration of same?
The dichotomy lies in the innate effect these episodes have on one’s long term psyche. How do my manias, panics, episodes of sheer madness effect me in the long-term? Regardless of some sort of diagnostic answer to that question, the truth of the matter is that the incidents in question shape my personality along the way, and it is probably this most of all that I fear losing. That does not mean I want to encourage the actual incidents when they come. Their complete absence is not what I want, but it would be good to be able to manage them and live a functional life, something that at present I cannot do.
The advocate interviewed in one of the above links claims that without (traditional) psychotherapy and medication he is still able to live a functional lifestyle whilst still having schizophrenia. I find this difficult to believe at all, but regardless of whether or not it is true, just because he can manage does not mean that the rest of us can. My current medication is rubbish, but I know from experience that some types of it can help you manage a day-to-day lifestyle, without becoming a normal entirely. At the very least, medication can “take the edge off” a rotten and chronic feeling of, in my case hitherto, depression. As regular readers will know, I am also intensely reliant on psychotherapy and cannot imagine not engaging in it at present.
The result, for me, of abandoning these treatments, regardless of how frustrated they may make me at times, is simply not one I wish to contemplate. I find it difficult enough to cope as it is, and can’t imagine the darkness of the alternatives. That would be really rather unmanageable, and all I want is manageable, thank you very much.
In slagging off this “Mad Pride” stuff, though, I am conscious that there is another element to it – a side that is not ashamed of being insane, a side that wishes to educate the public in open and direct terms about the realities of life with mental illness. A side that is not just not ashamed of being mentally fucked, but actually proud of it.
I can see more merit in and feel more empathy with this. The public do need more education about mental illness, as despite many shifts in attitudes in the 20th and 21st centuries, there is still an incredible amount of discrimination and ignorance surrounding mental health issues. People do not realise that being a crackpot is the mental equivalent of having a chronic physical illness. This has always annoyed me – I do get not understanding the problem because you haven’t experienced it, but I do not get these cunts that are not even willing to acknowledge that their awareness is skewed. They label us as psychos or freaks (not that I haven’t done so, I suppose) and think we’re all a fucking danger to society and should be locked away. We become an easy target for their abuse.
Or then there are the twats that are not as hostile as this, but through ignorance or fear or whatever it is, simply try to turn a blind eye to the entire problem.
But I digress. The point is, the public do need educated on mental health problems, and whilst there is certainly a movement towards that from many organisations (Mind, Rethink, Time to Change etc), there is still a lot of work to be done. The other point made is that the Mad Pride people are not ashamed of being mental – indeed, they are proud
Am I ashamed, am I proud or am I neither? How do I feel about this idea?
I don’t think there is a short answer to this. As it happens, I am not ashamed, or at least not consciously. I didn’t choose this in the first place and regardless of what some new-age fuckwank twats may tell you, I can’t help it. Before someone argues, “yeah, but you don’t want rid of it bitchface, do you?” I would contend that not wanting rid of it and not being able to help it are distinct and are certainly not mutually exclusive. So, if it’s not something I can change, why would I be ashamed? Additionally, why would I be ashamed of something so seminal to my actual person? Furthermore, madness makes me think. Thinking makes me question. Questioning encourages intellect.
And yet, there must be part of me that is shamed by it, because if not why do I not broadcast it to people? Most people in my real life have only rudimentary awareness of how doolally I am and, although I’ll discuss it in some ways if asked, I don’t go around doing so just for the issue for the sake of it. This blog, aside from a few selected personnel, is anonymous. Why would this be the case if I were not ashamed? On the other hand, is it shame or just tact?
I do argue that I anonmyise this and feed only parts of the story to people I know as I wish to protect them. When I read back through this blog, or when I reflect on past experiences, I don’t find them especially disturbing. However, I know non-mentals do, or at least could. It’s like protecting C; why would I wish to contaminate their minds, unless they specifically want me to do so? Even then I am not that comfortable with it. Even then they are not that comfortable with it.
But I’m not sure it’s just about that, really. Perhaps if society cleared up its act regarding mental illness and discrimination was reduced, I would feel more in favour of complete public forthrightness about my ailments. I don’t think it’s necessarily about me feeling shame per se, but I do recognise that I could be intensely stigmatised if I were more open.
So are Mad Pride the right people to help reduce this stigma? I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but until there is a more general shift in societal attitudes (which would be better brought about by the NHS and the aforementioned voluntary organisations) I think that they will just be dismissed as nutjobs or psychos, in the convenient way that many nutjobs or psychos are normally dismissed.
For my part, I think I’m actually opposed to them as an entity. Not because I am ashamed and not because I disagree with the provision of mental health education, but because the more noise they make about being proud to be mental, the more they actually alienate us from the rest of society. Paradoxically, although factions of them seek to change attitudes, in my view the more attention they draw to actually being mental, the more they distance themselves (and, by proxy, other crackpots) from the rest of society. Education needs to be more subtle than the methods they advocate, especially when some of their own elements feel that abandoning treatment is a sensible and desirable course of action.
Yet, to complicate matters further, although we should be accepted by mainstream society insofar as that is possible (obviously I draw the line at people like Ian Brady or Peter Sutcliffe, both sufferers of mental illnesses), part of me does feel that we shouldn’t be ashamed of the fact that we are so clearly different from others in whatever nebulous way that may be. If almost all people from my admittedly very anecdotal survey agree that they wouldn’t switch off their mental health problems, then surely there must be something in them that feels being crazy is something of which we should not be ashamed, and indeed that has something to add to our lives as well as much to take away?