Friday, February 11, 2011

Madness vs. Mental Illness

Salutations, New Mad Nation.

My profoundest apologies for being a day late. Being Mad can take its toll sometimes. For example, I am addicted to a drug. That drug is called Trileptal. Under advice of psychiatry I started taking it to help me deal with my "bipolar II" symptoms. I am no longer convinced that this drug is actually helping, at least not in the way I want it to - I don't consider a total steamrolling of an issue to be dealing with it. Bury your demons in concrete if you like, but they'll still be there when the terrain shifts, and they'll be mad as hell that you put them there.

So, sometimes, my frustration leads me to not want to take my medication, or not care enough to stick to it, or to say "well maybe it's good to find out what I will find out if I go a day without." Often, I do learn something valuable when I do this, but it comes at a heavy cost: the withdrawal from the drug can shock my systems pretty badly, as they did last night, and it rendered me incapable of the thought-forms necessary to make Madness. Tonight, however, I am back on track, and I would like to use this opportunity to clarify the differences between Madness and Mental Illness, and why I think this is so important.

Though I detest the term "Mental illness" because of the images that it invokes, I recognize that there are some emotional/thought conditions that stem primarily from medical causes. There seems to be quite a bit of evidence that the condition known as "AD/HD" is primarily medical - caused by the body's inability to produce certain chemicals that aid in ability to focus, chemicals which can be supplied through medication to increase that focus. Personally I would never call this an illness, because the terminology just seems wrong to me - but I wouldn't necessarily call it "madness" either. A person with the AD/HD condition, if they are lucky and get decent meds, may live a pretty "normal" life. They may even get out of it without being completely flattened out by those meds. In this case, the word "Madness" need not apply. It would seem they have a medical condition that can be cured by medical means, so more power to them for seeking that route.

To be perfectly honest, I don't know how much I believe that such a scenario actually exists, but I suppose that without much evidence to the contrary at present, I have to concede its possibility. Some conditions termed "mental illness" are primarily medical, and so Medicine may do what it likes with them (though I would still prefer they not call it a 'mental illness.') But if we are going to have this Mental Illness language, it should apply exclusively to things caused only by purely medical issues. And, conversely, the language of Madness need not apply to all of those who are thus dubbed "mentally ill."

I have said before that Madness is a rallying cry for those whose emotions, whose thoughts, are "disturbed" by the world around them. To expand on this, anyone can be Mad, if they have been ostracized, otherized, or downright ignored because of the way they think and feel. Anyone who has tried to bring their concerns to the table, tried to validate the pain or fear of their existence, only to have it shot down: these are the Mad people. Many of them have probably been diagnosed with a "mental illness;" some of them may even have a legitimate medical condition that causes that "illness." But not all of them.

"Mental illness" happens to people who seek help from psychiatry. Some of them are wise to do so; others are merely desperate. It happens when you need answers and you are given one in the form of a diagnosis, something that comes packaged with a pre-approved treatment scheme. It is not (necessarily) the only way of understanding or processing the feelings that lead you to seek help.

Madness means you have a problem that society is not recognizing properly; it may see your dissatisfaction, your fear, your pain, your hate, or whatever other "negative" feeling you have, but it will probably invalidate it by calling it "illness" and trying to medicate/therapize it away. Rarely will prolonged, seriously felt feelings be given validity once the possibility of "illness" has been invoked.

Madness means you look at things very, very differently than those around you, and they dismiss your ideas out of hand. Perhaps they do this because you sound "crazy"; perhaps they do this because they know you have a diagnosis, and the diagnosis is an easy way for them to not have to listen to anything you have to say. This is one of the reasons I hate diagnoses.

The most important point that I have been building to here, however, is that not only can one be Mad without being "mentally ill" (diagnosed or otherwise), but one can have a "mental illness" without being Mad. Many with a diagnosis are totally complacent with the system; they feel understood, at least by psychiatry, or they agree with those around them that their own feelings are incorrect and that they need more treatment. Perhaps they are totally fine; perhaps they have that purely medical condition that requires a purely medical solution. There is nothing social about it. They are not Mad, they have a treatable condition.

I am not terribly interested in those like this. Why? Because they already have advocates. They are taken care of by a system that is working actively to legitimize their conditions as normative, nothing to be afraid of or stigmatize, etc. etc. Groups like NAMI and even the NIH work every day to protect the medical sanctity of such issues, and for those who really are experiencing a purely medical phenomenon, that works great.

But it doesn't work so great for those of us who have social aspects to our Madness, aspects that get more or less ignored, or otherwise totally rescripted according to the Medical model. Every feeling we have is second-guessed as stemming from some nebulous "depression" or "bipolar" within us, when the reality is that our depression and "bipolar" is more likely than not a result of the actions taken around us. And every step taken towards the dominance of Mental Illness is a step taken towards reinforcing that second-guessing; it is a step away from acknowledging that people can be seriously fucked up by the cruelty of others. It is a step towards ensuring that all dissatisfaction, all dissent with authority, can be neatly categorized as a "mental illness" and treated into oblivion.

Perhaps I sound like an Orwellian apocalypse crier right now, but I don't think the possibility is too far out there. Children who don't obey their parents are sometimes diagnosed with "Oppositional Defiant Disorder." SERIOUSLY? That's not a mental illness, that is a child not wanting to listen to their parents. Maybe the parents are making wholly reasonable demands; maybe they aren't. Parents can really suck. Most of the time they give in to despair or frustration because dealing with a human child is damn near impossible. So yeah, maybe your kid doesn't want to listen to you. Even if you are being totally reasonable, they may have their own reasons for not wanting to listen. Maybe this shouldn't be treated as an illness, but rather the sign of a strong thinker in the making; an independent soul capable of changing the rules to better suit their vision of the future.

Oh, but the academy and the institutes wouldn't like that, would they.

Psychiatry works for its funders. That is primarily the concerned parents, the government, and other big corporations like Universities. Think about it. They can try all they want to be objective, but some bias is bound to slip in. It always does, no matter the field in question, the task is always to determine what that bias is. With such authoritative figures behind them, psychiatry has no choice but to view "deviation" as "aberration" and to do everything it can to undo it.

Okay, there are some exceptions to this, I'm sure, especially in things more like humanitarian psychology. Good; maybe they will stand by me some day when the Mad seek recognition. For the most part, however, Psychiatry supports Mental Illness and in doing so takes legitimacy away from the condition of Madness. I believe there are many people who are "mentally ill" who are, secretly, Mad themselves, but afraid to admit it because of the challenge that is inherent in that reality. Perhaps others are so glad to have some kind of relief from their pain that they are willing to accept the drawbacks, the side-effects, the sense of lacking, because they don't believe there is anything else; they have accepted the theories of medicine as ultimate truth. Some with "mental illness" may not even have need of Madness; their truth is as simple as the theories say and they are content.

And some, "mentally ill" or not, stand in fury against the way in which "mental illness" is still used as a social discourse to annihilate the legitimacy of social deviance. If children can be diagnosed with ODD, how long before adults can get the diagnosis for having revolutionary ideals? The principle criteria for "mental illness" are supposedly that they caused distress to the self and to others. Being a revolutionary is nothing but distress when trapped in a broken society; should one accept their feelings as incorrect and bow down to the status quo, or stand up for their beliefs? When does this kind of idealism become "mental illness?" It's all in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

In my eye, it makes you Mad. And I like Madness.

Hopefully this clarifies a bit what I mean when I use this two different terms...Madness is social, Mental Illness is medical. They can overlap, but they certainly don't have to - however, currently, most who are Mad will be considered Mentally Ill because that is how society currently understands emotional dissatisfaction with society. Mental Illness upholds the status quo as "normative" and all deviations from that as "ill." Madness suggests the opposite.

My fondest salutations to the New Mad Nation tonight; remember that the above are merely my proposed definitions and thinkings and suggestions and ideologies; I am not trying to define your existence, for to do so would make me as bad as Psychiatry. But if you like what I'm saying, well, let me know - the more Madness, the better. :)

See you next time.

-R

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