A Consensus: Nobody Likes ‘Sane’! Do We Have ‘Mad Pride’?

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?


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9 Responses to “A Consensus: Nobody Likes ‘Sane’! Do We Have ‘Mad Pride’?”

  1. My problem with Mad Pride is that it’s so polarising. There’s a half way point between completely sectioning every mental and nobody getting any treatment and that’s the point which people really need to reside in.

    I used to be incredibly ashamed of being mental and hide it from everyone. Over the last couple of years I’ve become increasingly open about it and most people at work know about it as do people at church etc. The only people who don’t know the ins and outs are my family for obvious reasons.

    The response at work has been interesting. I’ve become the union rep of choice for people with mental health issues because they know that I’ll fight for them and am a bit more knowledgeable about how things are. I’ve also become someone folk come up to to ask about things. I’ve had numerous ‘my doctor’s put me on antidepressants’ conversations. But then mental ill health is very prevelant in my line of work for many reasons. My employers are remarkably bad at dealing with it which is difficult.

    As to whether I want to get better. I don’t know. I think my mentalness is a result of the trauma I’ve experienced. To lose that means in some ways to turn my back on my family and my past. I’m not sure I want to do that. It’s finding a healthier way to coexist between the two. I think I would feel guilty if I wasn’t mad. In some ways it’s also a protection. The shit I deal with at the moment is my way of avoiding (a lot of the time) the reality of the shit I had to deal with and I’m not sure how I could cope without my security blanket.

    I’ve been living with this since the events happened as a young child. Finding different ways of dealing with the trauma. Who am I? Who would I be without these things? How can I be me and not be who I am? I don’t know

    Hugs xxx

    • Yeah, exactly, leaving it behind would be to entirely recreate yourself. I really do get that, and frankly find the idea terrifying. I hate much of myself, but on the other hand, this is me and I want to keep it that way. I know that makes no sense at all but what in our respective lives does make sense, let’s be honest?

      I know our lines of work are quite different but we have one thing in common – the mental illness isn’t uncommon yet the employers are ridiculously bad at dealing with it. I didn’t really bring it up much before I left work, except in the few weeks prior to the start of my absence, when it would have been obvious to a dead horse that something was wrong. Apparently they all know now why I’m not there, and I don’t care. I just don’t want to see them anyway.

      It’s interesting though that your status as a union rep has allowed you to make something of your madness too. Unpleasant and oppressive as it may be, at least you can use it to some advantage for people, and I really think you’re to be commended for that.

      By the way, I completely agree with your point about Mad Pride. I think I spent about seven paragraphs trying to convey what you managed to do pretty astutely in one 🙂

      Take care hun xxx

  2. […] came across this really interesting article about sanity. Reading through it I picked out a couple of things that I thought were […]

  3. Wow. @bourach is right to rave about your writing. Me, I guess I’m what most people would call ‘normal’, whatever that is; and I’m sure if most people could see the weirdness in my head … which I am not ready to talk about publicly … well my facade of normality would come crumbling down. You’re right: us ‘norms’ need to be educated… but in truth, I think us ‘norms’ (again I ask, what is normal? I like the mathematical definition: at 90 degrees to everything else) need to acknowledge that none of us is ‘normal’.

    I guess one difference between us is that I’ve somehow managed to contain my ‘madness’ — if madness it is — and I bounce it around a few trusted friends instead of seeking medication or seeing a shrink. But who would I be without it? It is part of me, and more so recently recognised.

    You are who and what you are: we all are; and I admire your ability to reflect upon and analyse what you’re going through. Thank you.

    • Thanks for your kind words Phil, both here and on your own blog.

      I think you’ve raised an interesting point; the issue of masking one’s mental problems. To most of the world, until the last few months at any rate, there was almost no one that would have worked out that I was mad. I was, and still am at times, adept at hiding the litany of woes and psychosis that my mind harbours.

      Anyway. Thank you again for your kind words, and I do wish you well with dealing with your own issues. Do not feel ashamed of not openly discussing them; it is a personal matter and even if you wanted to share it, it takes time.

      Thanks and take care 😉

  4. The switch question is an interesting one, but has quite a few problems with it. Psychology has long known that what people will say to something and what people will actually do are quite different, and it’s not just lying to conform/rebel against a social norm or something like that, it can often be lying to themselves as well, and often they’re not even aware of it. What state of mind someone is in at the time is also critical, as I’m sure in the middle of one of your ‘episodes’ your much more likely to switch.

    Personally, I think the question comes down to identity. People who see their mental illness as part of their identity won’t do the switch because they don’t want to destroy their identity. It’s the same with work, people will valiantly stick to a crappy line of work because it’s part of how they identify themselves. My heavily media influence opinion is that when people then are forced to switch to a different type of job, they justify it as only temporary, and eventually realise that the new job is better.

    Thus I think a better thing to offer would be to have mentally ill people trial being ‘normal’ for a year, and then see if they want to return to their former selves.

    • As regards to your first point, obviously this had crossed my mind. I may well – we all may well – be bullshitting ourselves, who knows; it is an issue. If so, I suppose its a defence mechanism of sorts. Madness is my only reality, and as I understand it, is the only reality for some of the other folks here. I think you’re quite right that if I could ‘switch’ when I’m going mental, I probably would – but then I think about it later, and there are some aspects of madness that I like. The voice, for instance, although he’s new on the scene. My advocacy of and empathy for those in similar positions (even if I fail to extend them to myself).

      It is, of course, in large part about identity. Maybe another identity is better, as in your analogy about a job, but I don’t want to ever be in the position where I don’t remember what this was like (to some extent, anyway), as I want to be able to understand the situations of others who are experiencing similar.

      Nevertheless, none of us nutjobs would be seeing psychologists or psychiatrists if we didn’t want some semblance of normality, and to that end I do quite like your idea of ‘trying normal’ for a period of time, and seeing how it goes. Now, to get to the point where that is a viable option…

      • Hmmm, I don’t see how being cured of something means you forget the experience. A smoker remembers what it was like to be a smoker long after they’ve kicked the habit. Then again, most people forget what it’s like to be a teenager pretty quickly.

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